American Chess Player Refuses To Participate In Championship In Iran Because Of Hijab Rule

Nazi Paikidze-Barnes will boycott next year’s world chess championship because religious laws in Iran require her to wear a hijab, despite not being a member of the religion.

The Russian-born United States women’s chess champion, along with other fellow players, has called for the World Chess Federation to move the championship to a different country or persuade the Iranian government to make wearing a hijab voluntary, not mandatory. Paikidze-Barnes says that requiring women to wear hijabs infringes on their fundamental human rights and it’s a condition that should be contested by the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE).

“I think it’s unacceptable to host a Women’s World Championship in a place where women do not have basic fundamental rights and are treated as second-class citizens,” she wrote in a post on Instagram. The 22-year-old organized a petition calling for FIDE to do everything that’s in its power to force a change, either by moving the tournament or influencing Iranian officials.

The federation responded by defending its decision to host the event in Iran, despite concerns regarding human rights violations that threaten to compromise the integrity of the game. “There were no complaints from the players or officials, and everybody respected the laws of the country, including the dress requirements,” Anastasiya Karlovich, a spokesperson for the World Chess Federation, wrote.

Some of Ms. Paikidze-Barnes’ comments have also alienated Iranian players, including Mitra Hejazipour, an Iranian grandmaster, who has defended the decision to host the championship 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,” Ms. Hejazipour said. “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.”

Ms. Paikidze-Barnes took to Instagram on Wednesday to respond to criticism saying that she’s not against a person’s right to religious expression and that she’s only defending her fundamental human rights. “I am not anti-Islam or any other religion,” she wrote. “I stand for freedom of religion and choice. I’m protesting FIDE’s decision not because of Iran’s religion or people, but for the government’s laws that are restricting my rights as a woman.”