Chess players expelled from Iran’s National Team and the Women’s World Chess Championship controversy
After the Women’s Brazilian Championship final, prodigiously won by Juliana Terao, Women’s Chess is highlighted once more here in our website. However, this time, there’s no reason to celebrate.
[ Dorsa Derakhshami, wearing the hijab – controversial subject]
Expelled from Iran’s National Team
In February 20th, the IM Dorsa Derakhshami (2373), 18 years old, was expelled from Iran’s National Team and prohibited from disputing any tournament inside the country. The reason: Derakhshami didn’t use the hijab (a veil that must cover a woman’s head, in the Islamic doctrine) in the recent Gibraltar tournament – where, oddly, another controversy involving women in chess had already happened, with the at least strange protest made by Chinese chess player Hou Yifan (2651).
[Hou Yifan after her “exotic”protest in Gibraltar]
In reality, the punishment wasn’t only for Dorsa. The FM Borna Derakhshami (2236), 15 years old, was also banned from playing for Iran’s National Team. The sanction came for a different reason than his sister’s, even though it was made public in the same Gibraltar tournament. Borna faced, in the first round, the Israeli GM Alexander Huzman (2557). Still, 38 years ago, because of the political issues between the countries, Iranian players are prohibited from facing Israeli players in tournaments.
[Borna Derakhshami: banned from representing Iran’s National Team]
About the controversies and the players’ situation, Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh, head of the Iranian Chess Federation, stated: “The first step is ban [the players] from participating in Iranian tournaments, and there will be no chance given for them to be in the National Team. Our national concerns have priority above all others. There is no tolerance for the ones who trample Iran’s ideals and principles”.
Women’s World Championship: Would you abide by such a requirement?
And it is precisely Iran – Teeran, more specifically – that is hosting the Women’s World Championship, since the previous champion, Hou Yifan, once again, gave up her crown as a protest against the currently utilized system (in her opinion, the current World Champion should enter the tournament in the finals, like it’s done in the Men’s World Championship, and not in the beginning).
A total of 64 players dispute, in 20 days and through a keys and qualifiers system, who will be the new Women’s World Champion. The tournament, held until March 3rd, is already in its finals. The title will be disputed between Chinese WGM Zhongyi Tan (2502) and Ucranian GM Anna Muzychuk (2558), which is Mariya Muzychuk’s (2554) sister – the chess player who lost the World Championship to Hou Yifan.
[Muzychuk guarantees her presence in the finals by winning against the Russian GM Alexandra Kosteniuk (2549)]
Another detail that brought attention in the competition was the absence of many players that didn’t abide by one of the mandatory conditions imposed by the event’s organization – all the women must wear the hijab. Yes, it’s about it again.
The already mentioned previous World Champion Mariya Muzychuk was one of the players who didn’t fly to Teeran. She made, for an Ucranian news channel, the following statement: “I decided not to go [to World’s Championship] and it’s pretty obvious that Iran is not a proper country to host such a big event. And it is just plain wrong that those players who refused to fly to Iran and wear the hijab lose their right to fight for the World’s Championship title. (…) My sister, Anna, signed the contract. We talked about this – but, for her, winning the World’s Championship title is a lifetime dream.” Ironically (or not), Anna is really, really close to finally make it.
[The previous World’s Champion, Mariya Muzychuk, was one of the players who boycotted the Women’s World Championship at Teeran by refusing to wear the hijab]
The Argentinian IM Carolina Lujan (2383) also gave up on going to the competition. She posted a great, solid text to explain her decision in her personal page on Facebook. In an excerpt, Lujan states: “The mandatory use of the hijab doesn’t seem to be a simple dress code. It means so much and, due to my personal beliefs, my convictions and my values, I’m not willing to be forced to wear it. Moreover, due to the misinformation that we have about your culture, a small misunderstanding could make me be arrested, or worse.” The FIDE informed me that it was the only [mandatory] condition [to host the competition] and there was no other option. I believe that is always possible to make a choice, and that FIDE should reflect upon the current way Women’s Chess is being dealt with. Only a few [players] receive FIDE’s support, there are no clear regulations, the schedules aren’t updated and the enrolling conditions get worse every year.”
[The IM Carolina Lujan also refused to participate in the Women’s World Championship due to the obligatory use of the hijab]
However, not all the women players maintain the same opinion about this subject. The Cuban WGM Yaniet Marrero (2255) stated that initially “it was a little bit controversial because we weren’t used to wear it, but I think that it was an interesting experience and, by doing that, we contributed to bring more attention to chess and improve its popularity in Iran”. Russian IM Anastasia Bodnaruk (2463) also share similar thoughts about it: “People have different beliefs, and this may affect the participation [of women players] here. It didn’t affect me because I’m not attached to this kind of thing. Each person has their own way of thinking and it’s necessary to respect it.”
And you? What’s your opinion about it? Does FIDE have the right to demand the use of the hijab in such a huge event? Is it a cultural issue that must be respected, or is there more to this discussion? Leave your thoughts in the comments here.
Written by Equipe Academia de Xadrez Rafael Leitão on 26-02-2017