Photograph: Maria Emelianova

To clear the record, I am Jewish and I have never supported the Iranian regime. Most of the world, including me, strongly denounce the extremists of all religions. However, we cannot simply punish individuals who are themselves victims of these extremists without carefully learning all the facts and hearing their sides.

What I am asking is for people to take their time and read the opposing views. We have now heard from some players who qualified for the upcoming Women’s World Championship. One demanded boycott while the other pleaded for the event to go on.

The Commission for Women’s Chess (WOM) has not taken any official position. We are actively talking to female players who qualified for the upcoming Women’s World Championship for their feedback.

WOM was NOT involved in the bidding process, nor were we involved in the process to award the bid. We had no vote. I personally found out about it after the fact. The delegates from 159 countries were in Baku at the General Assembly. They were told of this bid, and it was their place to voice their objections or concerns. None of the 159 delegates representing their countries, including the United States, objected.

Therefore, everyone who questions the decision to award the Women’s World Championship to the Iranian Chess Federation should direct their inquiries to these delegates, including the US which represents Nazi Paikidze who demanded for a boycott.

It is very unfortunate that countless people do not know the facts or details used various social media to attack, demean, insult, and threaten members of WOM when we have absolutely nothing to do with it. Our job is to find out the facts, listen to views and opinions of all parties, then try to come up with what is best for women’s chess worldwide. We simply cannot take a rushed judgement without looking at the whole picture, especially when this can potentially harm many female chess players.


Boycott of world chess championship ‘would hurt women in Iran’

Leading player urges contenders to look beyond hijab law, to the boost contest would give women’s sport in country
Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent
Friday 30 September 2016 13.31 EDT

One of Iran’s most respected chess players has hit back at calls to boycott next year’s women’s world championship in Tehran over rules about the wearing of the hijab.

A number of chess players, including the US women’s champion, Nazí Paikidze, have called for a boycott of the February 2017 games over concerns that they will have to comply with the Islamic republic’s compulsory headscarf law.

But Mitra Hejazipour, a woman grandmaster (WGM) who won the 2015 Asian continental women’s championship, told the Guardian on Friday that a boycott would be wrong and could undermine hard-fought efforts to promote female sport in Iran.

“This is going to be the biggest sporting event women in Iran have ever seen; we haven’t been able to host any world championship in other sporting fields for women in the past,” Hejazipour, 23, said from Tehran. “It’s not right to call for a boycott. These games are important for women in Iran; it’s an opportunity for us to show our strength.”

Her comments were echoed by Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian woman who spent five months in jail in Iran for campaigning to allow women to watch men’s volleyball games in stadiums.

Ghavami, whose time in jail drew international attention, said from Tehran: “The world must hear the pro-reform voices of people inside Iran and not ignore these pleas by isolating the country.”

Ghavami said millions of people in Iran believed in women’s right to choose whether or not to wear the hijab and had shown their opposition to the policy. She was referring to women risking arrest by defying the morality police and lobbying to obtain social rights such as being able to play more sports.

Calls to boycott the country would only serve to hurt women in Iran, she added. “I am firmly against the international community using the compulsory hijab as a means to put pressure and isolate Iran.

“Day by day, Iranian women are becoming more empowered and are pushing aside traditional, legal and political discrimination … Those who are worried for the situation of human rights in Iran, if they are really serious, have to acknowledge these efforts and see these capacities.”

Wearing the hijab has been an integral policy of the Islamic republic since the 1979 revolution. Foreign dignitaries have adhered to the rule while on Iranian territory.

Paikidze, a Georgian-American who holds the titles of international master and WGM, told the Telegraph on Thursday it was “absolutely unacceptable to host one of the most important women’s tournaments in a venue where, to this day, women are forced to cover up with a hijab”.

But Hejazipour, an MA student at Tehran University and one of Iran’s five WGMs, pleaded with her compatriots to come to her country despite the rule. “I understand that it may be difficult for them to wear the hijab, but I want to tell them that if they show understanding and patience, and if they come to Iran, there’s also a positive side to look at,” she said.

“Iran is a beautiful place and has an amazing culture. If Iran can host this event, it will be a big step for us; it will help our women chess players and it will boost women in other sporting fields. It will pave the way for them, too.”

Elham Yazdiha, a Turkey-based Iranian sports journalist, said she was confident Hejazipour’s view reflected the voice of sportswomen in Iran. “Calls for a boycott will only disappoint Iranian women and destroy their hopes,” she said.

It was a shame, Yazdiha added, that Iranian sportswomen who were already facing restrictions at home faced additional restrictions from abroad. Iranian female basketball players have been barred by international bodies from playing in world events because of wearing the hijab.

Women can vote and drive in Iran but discriminatory laws persist. In court their testimony is worth only half that of a man and they also face inequality over inheritance rights. But they have a strong presence in civil society. Women in Iran have held senior government jobs; the country currently has a number of female vice-presidents and one female ambassador.

Despite the restrictions, many people in Iran are proud of representing their country. In 2013, Shirin Gerami became the first female triathlete to compete for Iran in the sport’s world championship. In August this year, Kimia Alizadeh made history in Rio as she became the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal.

“Women’s sport in Iran has expanded in recent years in various fields – you can realise that by seeing the growing number of medals sportswomen are bringing to Iran,” Hejazipour said.



Female chess players protest wearing hijab at Iran world championship
By Elizabeth Roberts, for CNN
Updated 7:35 AM ET, Fri September 30, 2016

(CNN) Some of the world’s top female chess players are upset that the next world championship will be held in Iran, where players are expected to wear head scarves.

The US women’s champion, Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, will not be taking part in the event in Tehran next February due to her concern over the issue.
“Iran has hosted chess tournaments before and women were always forced to wear a hijab,” Paikidze-Barnes told CNN. “We don’t see this event being any different, forced hijab is the country’s law.”
This, she said, is “religious and sexist discrimination.”
She added: “If the venue of the championship is not changed, I will not be participating. I am deeply upset by this. I feel privileged to have qualified to represent the US at the Women’s World Chess Championship and to not be able to due to religious, sexist, and political issues is very disappointing.”

Islamic dress

Islamic codes of behavior and dress are strictly enforced in Iran. In public places, women must cover their heads with a headscarf.
Susan Polgar, the chairman of FIDE’s Commission for Women’s Chess, has so far not received any complaints from players on the matter. However, she said, if complaints come in, the commission will handle them “professionally and diplomatically.”
Polgar, who is retired from competing, said she has never had to play a tournament wearing a headscarf. However, she said that speaking personally, she would not have an issue with wearing one out of respect for a country’s culture.

Why Iran?

Iran was the only country which made a proposal to host the event, a World Chess Federation (FIDE) spokeswoman told CNN in a statement.
She added that since there were no objections from any of the other 150 national chess federations — including the US — FIDE’s General Assembly accepted the proposal.
FIDE is “reviewing all possible solutions for the players’ comfort and will discuss all the issues with the organizers in Iran during meetings in the next few weeks,” said the spokeswoman, adding that the organization had so far not received any complaints from players competing.
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