Many of the world’s highest-ranking female chess players are boycotting next year’s world championships in Iran after being told that they’d need to compete wearing hijabs.
FIDE, the international governing body of chess, has been accused of failing to stand up for women’s rights in their selection of a host country, the Telegraph reports. Hijabs have been mandatory for women in Iran since 1979, and those not wearing the garment face arrest, a fine, or public admonishment.
Grandmasters have accused FIDE of disregarding sexual discrimination by selecting a place that would require the competitors to wear hijabs. Meanwhile, FIDE’s Commission for Women’s Chess has urged participants to accept the hijab regulations in respect of “cultural differences.” The U.S. women’s champion, Nazi Paikidze, is among the many players who are furious about the requirement. She told the Telegraph that it’s “absolutely unacceptable” for the organization to host one of the most important women’s tournaments in Iran:
“I understand and respect cultural differences. But, failing to comply can lead to imprisonment and women’s rights are being severely restricted in general. It does not feel safe for women from around the world to play here. I am honored and proud to have qualified to represent the United States in the Women’s World Championship. But, if the situation remains unchanged, I will most certainly not participate in this event.”
Paikidze also tweeted out a screenshot of a recent U.S. travel warning for Iran, in which citizens were warned that they face a risk of detention and arrest in the country.
The former Pan American champion, Carla Heredia of Ecuador, seconded Paikidze’s concerns:
“No institution, no government, nor a Women’s World Chess Championship should force women to wear or to take out a hijab. This violates all what sports means. Sport should be free of discrimination by sex, religion and sexual orientation. The obligation to use hijab is one issue, another one is that women can’t share room with a male if she is not married to him. So the question remains what would happen if women chess players want to share the room with a male coach or if women chess players want to prepare for the game visiting the coach’s room.”
Female chess players were already forced to wear hijabs at a smaller Grand Prix event FIDE held in Iran earlier this year, and, according to The Guardian, several players were angry then about having to cover their heads.