For a reason that defies understanding, the Commission for Women’s Chess of FIDE, the World Chess Federation, has chosen to have the next women’s world championship in—yes—Iran. And you know what that means: push your pawns wearing a hijab, or get arrested. Or don’t come at all.
That last option seems to be what many women grandmasters are choosing, at least according to an article in yesterday’s Torygraph, called to my attention by angry chess player Will G. In fact, given his familiarity with the game and the federations involved, I’ll just let Will comment on the Torygraph article. I’ll indent text from the article, and put Will’s comments in quotation marks, flush left. My own remarks will be flush left without quotations.
First, an opening quote from Will: “I’m an avid chess player, and am livid about this. FIDE often hosts major events in places with serious human rights problems (Russia, of course, but also China and the Gulf States of Qatar and UAE), but this is an explicit endorsement of misogyny.”
From the Torygraph:
The world’s top female chess players have reacted with horror after being told they must compete at next year’s world championship wearing a hijab.
Within hours of Iran being revealed as its host country, the prestigious event was plunged into crisis as it emerged players taking part face arrest if they don’t cover up.
In response, Grandmasters lined up to say they would boycott the 64-player knock-out and accused the game’s scandal-hit governing body Fide of failing to stand up for women’s rights.
Fide’s Commission for Women’s Chess, meanwhile, called on participants to respect “cultural differences” and accept the regulations.
From Will: “‘Respect cultural differences’: the last refuge of a regressive scoundrel. You don’t need morality police roaming the streets to enforce your culture, and if you thought those differences were respectable, you’d never tire of telling us why.”
And famous women players are revolting. As Will notes:
“From the article, I’m pleased to see the women of chess are not putting up with this. American champion Nazi Paikidze has joined others in refusing to go. She had a brief Tw**tfight with Susan Polgar, who has had a checkered history as a renowned chess educator and administrator of the USCF. Paikidze deals amicably, while Polgar takes any public disagreement as an insult.”
I looked up Polgar on Wikipedia, and found that she does indeed have a checkered (or should I say “chessed”) history with the U.S. Chess Federation. Will adds this:
“In the article, Polgar is quoted as saying:
“I believe the organisers provided beautiful choices [of headscarf] for past participants… I cannot speak on behalf of others but from my personal conversations with various players in the past year, they had no real issues with it.”
At any rate, here’s some revolt against the hijab rule by Nazí Paikidze, 2016 American champion, International Master, and Woman Grandmaster.
Nazi Paikidze, the US women’s champion, also raised concerns about players’ safety in the Islamic republic.
She said: “It is 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.
“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.” Paikidze added: “I am honoured 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.”
The U.S. Department of State has issued a warning about travelling to Iran saying citizens risk being unjustly imprisoned or kidnapped because of their nationality.
Her statement on Instagram:
And the Torygraph reports this:
Nigel Short, the British former world title contender, said: “There are people from all sorts of backgrounds going to this, there will be atheists, Christians, all sorts of people.
“If you are deeply Christian why would you want to wear a symbol of Islamic oppression of women?”
This from Carla Heredia, battling with Polger.
Former Pan American champion Carla Heredia, from Ecuador, added: “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.
I’m really glad that women are fighting back against this. I can see donning a hijab or removing shoes as a sign of respect when entering a mosque (I’ve done the shoe thing many times, as well as made sure I wasn’t dressed immodestly), BUT NOT IN A WHOLE COUNTRY! It’s simply theocratic oppression of non-Muslim women to make them cover their heads while playing chess in your country, pure and simple. After all, in Saudi Arabia you must cover yourself, but not in the special compounds where foreigners live. Why can’t the chess venue be considered such a compound?
It would serve FIDE right if there were a mass boycott of the Championship. It’s time to stop celebrating the hijab and see it for what it is: a shackle worn on the head.
Lagniappe: reader Pliny the in Between has a relevant cartoon: