UPDATE: Chief Arbiter Bayat Leaves Iran; IM Khademalsharieh Leaves National Team
More chess talent leaves Iran. | Photo: Zhang Yanhong/FIDE

UPDATE: Chief Arbiter Bayat Leaves Iran; IM Khademalsharieh Leaves National Team

SamCopeland
NM SamCopeland
|
70 | Chess Politics

Update: Quotes from Chief Arbiter Bayat have been included in this report. 1/16/20

Iran has been the center of much turbulence recently on and off the chessboard. Ongoing protests in the country seeking political reform are the second such uprising in the last two months. Iran also shut off the internet throughout Iran (affecting tens of thousands of Chess.com users, who forfeited daily chess games, which Chess.com restored) and cracked down on the protests.

Iran's political turbulence and strong religious governance have resulted in the recent departure of many stars of the chess world. The most notable such departure is Alireza Firouzja, the first-ranked junior in the chess world, who is living in France and left the Iranian Chess Federation after Iranian players were told not to play the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships to avoid playing Israelis. Previously, the Iranian Chess Federation forced Firouzja to forfeit rather than playing FM Or Bronstein in the 2019 Grenke Chess Open.

Additionally, the 15-year-old FM Borna Derakhshani was removed from the Iranian national team in 2017 for playing GM Alexander Huzman in the Gibraltar Chess Festival.

Alireza Firouzja
Alireza Firouzja, considered by many the most talented player of his generation. | Photo: Maria Emelianova / Chess.com.

Shohreh Bayat is the most recent Iranian departure. Currently Bayat is serving as the chief arbiter of the 2020 women's world chess championship in Shanghai, and she has declared that she will not be returning to Iran. In Shanghai, Bayat was photographed not wearing her hijab. Iran requires all women to wear the hijab in public settings in Iran and requires sportswomen abroad to wear the hijab. When Bayat's non-compliance received attention, she stated that she would not return to Iran. Her father was quoted in the Iranian Students News Agency on January 10th:

Me, her mother and even the head of the Iranian Chess Federation tried hard to convince her to come back to Iran but she says she will not because she is worried about going on with her activities in Iran and wants to continue in another country with the help of the International Chess Federation.

Bayat was commended on Twitter by the FIDE vice president and former world championship challenger Nigel Short, who is currently commenting on the same women's world chess championship.

Short followed up in a statement to Chess.com:

She is the top female arbiter in Asia. She has an excellent knowledge of the laws and, as a former player herself, a good feel for situations that arise during competition. In a word, she combines expertise with common sense...As regards her former post as general secretary of the Iranian Federation—you don't get such positions in Iran unless you are better than the men. She is a trailblazer in terms of women's rights.

Short, who has served as a coach to the national Iranian team, also asserted that the hijab will never be made compulsory by the current FIDE administration.

UPDATE: Bayat provided these statements to Chess.com via messenger. Bayat also provided these quotes to other media outlets including the New York Times and BBC.

After round three, I saw that my image from round two was headline news in most major media in Iran. The accusation in these articles was that I deliberately had no headscarf in order to protest against the hijab ... I was shocked and panicked. Then I noticed that the federation had also removed my entirely unobjectionable picture from round one from their Telegram social media channel. I realized that they had condemned me by this flagrant act of purging. Then the federation asked me to write a post in support of the hijab. In my conscience, I could not do it ... Not wearing the hijab is a crime in Iran which is punishable by arrest, invalidation of the passport or prison ... I believe people must be free to choose what they want to wear. I have never worn the hijab out of choice ... It is frustrating that some people are more concerned with what I wear than in my achievements ... I would love to return to Iran but only if I'll be safe.

Bayat also noted that the Iranian Chess Federation has been unable to guarantee her safety should she return to Iran.

I asked the Iranian Chess Federation to prepare a letter for me, saying that I will be safe if I come back to Iran, but they said it is impossible to provide me such letter.

Bayat is one of many Iranian women players who have drawn attention and censure for violating the hijab requirement. IM Dorsa Derakshani was removed from the national team in 2017 for being without the hijab at the Gibraltar Chess Festival. WGM Mitra Hejazipour was expelled from the national federation on January 2 for not wearing the hijab at the recently-concluded World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship; she had previously opposed boycotts of the women's world chess championship held in Iran.

Hejazipour is already living in Brest, France. On January 2, the Iranian Federation asserted that only IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh and WGM Atousa Pourkashiyan were still representing the federation, but Khademalsharieh has since announced on Instagram that she is leaving the national team, saying simply "Resignation from the national team ..." in a post that received over 60,000 likes.

Sarasadat Khademalsharieh

Iran has also lost athletes outside of chess; Kimia Alizadeh, the 2016 taekwondo bronze medalist and Iran's only female Olympic medalist, just announced that she will settle in the Netherlands.

Currently remaining in Iran is Parham Maghsoodloo, the 2018 world junior chess champion. Maghsoodloo also raised eyebrows for playing an Israeli in the blitz event of the Sunway Sitges Chess Festival. At the time, it was speculated that this meant that Iran had lifted restrictions against playing Israeli players, but its more recent prohibition against participation in the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship suggests this is not so.

Parham Maghsoodloo, Iran Chess
Maghsoodloo playing in Sunway Sitges. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
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