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Iranian Chess Arbiter Clashes With FIDE Over Human Rights Attire
Shohreh Bayat. Photos: Priva/Lennart Ootes.

Iranian Chess Arbiter Clashes With FIDE Over Human Rights Attire

PeterDoggers
| 253 | Chess Politics

The Iranian international arbiter Shohreh Bayat was reprimanded by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) for wearing pro-human rights clothing at the 2022 Fischer Random World Chess Championship in Reykjavik. While FIDE considered it "unprofessional," Bayat pointed out that a dress code for arbiters does not exist.

Bayat, a 35-year-old Iranian who lives in England, was one of the arbiters at the Fischer Random World Chess Championship which took place October 25-30, 2022 in Reykjavik, Iceland. During the first day of play, under a dark grey glittering open sweater, she wore a t-shirt with the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom" in support of the civil protests against the Iranian regime and its violation of women's rights.

Soon, she was asked to stop doing this.

Shohreh Bayat t-shirt
Shohreh Bayat (second from the left), alongside the Icelandic organizers. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The Icelandic organizers did not have a problem with the t-shirt. It was David Llada, FIDE's Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, who approached Bayat and asked her to wear something more neutral the next day.

Bayat pointed out to Llada that a dress code for arbiters does not exist. The next day, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich came to the tournament (as Bayat pointed out, wearing jeans and a t-shirt himself but that was only briefly after his arrival). He did not talk to Bayat about her clothes, but in a Whatsapp message, he told her not to mix politics with chess and asked her to stop wearing the t-shirt. Bayat asked for a written request, which did not materialize. 

Arkady Dvorkovich in jeans and t-shirt
Arkady Dvorkovich watching the tournament. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

At first, Bayat sent an emotional reply but deleted it before Dvorkovich had seen it. She decided to give herself a day to think about the situation, and wore something neutral. The next day, however, she appeared in the playing hall with a blue shirt and a yellow skirt—deliberately in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

"It was to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people," said Bayat.

Although her pro-Ukrainian stance could easily be connected to Russia's invasion and the ongoing war, she was referencing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' shooting down of a Ukrainian Airlines plane, on January 8, 2020, which killed all 176 passengers and crew aboard.

Shohreh Bayat Ukrainian colors
Shohreh Bayat wearing Ukrainian colors. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

In a statement for the media, Llada explained why FIDE responded to Bayat's attire in Reykjavik the way it did:

"While we respect Ms. Bayat's political stance and activities, any FIDE officials need to follow political neutrality while on duty, and of all the official positions one can hold, that of an arbiter is the one that demands higher standards of integrity, neutrality, and discretion. No matter how noble or uncontroversial the cause is, doing activism from that role is inappropriate and unprofessional."

Paul Meyer-Dunker, the President of the Berlin Chess Society, argued on Twitter that Dvorkovich's request to Bayat to change her attire was "contrary to the values of sport, the chess world, and the FIDE Charter." He referred to paragraph 4.3 of the Charter (here in PDF):

4.3 FIDE is committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights.

For Bayat, the fact that there is no official dress code for arbiters is crucial: "I am an arbiter, I am the first person who follows and who has to follow rules and regulations, as long as they exist. The whole point is that they cannot ask me to follow unwritten rules. When it is written, I would be the first person to follow it."

Llada told Chess.com that FIDE is working on a dress code.

Around the time the tournament ended, the term limit for the FIDE Arbiters Commission came to an end. According to Bayat, who was a councilor for four years, she was removed from the commission because of the incident. Chess.com has seen a message from a high-ranked FIDE official, who told Bayat: "I know you got removed from the commission because Arkady was furious with you."

Llada denied this and pointed out that all FIDE Commissions undergo a profound renovation every four years. This time, more than 60 percent of all commission members changed positions. "Already before Reykjavik, Shohreh was invited to the Women's Commission, because we think her expertise is also highly valuable there," said Llada. "But she declined."

Bayat said she cannot be a member of the Women's Commission right now because a delegate of the Iranian Chess Federation is also on the commission. She would have to work with someone from a federation that attacked her three years ago.

Shohreh Bayat Fischer Random
Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi at the Fischer Random World Championship, with Shohreh Bayat on the left. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In January 2020, Bayat worked as an arbiter at the Women's World Championship in Shanghai. Photos appeared online where she was not, or not properly, wearing a hijab, a requirement in Iran for women in international public settings. Fearing a likely severe punishment, Bayat never returned to Iran since.

She sought asylum in the U.K. where she now lives with her husband. She plays and referees under the English flag. In 2021, she won the International Women of Courage Award for being a champion for women’s rights and ignoring Iranian government threats.

Although she doesn't consider herself an activist, on Twitter Bayat does not shy away from the message she wants to send. She denies it is political: "What I stand for is a human rights message, independent of the country."

According to Bayat, FIDE President Dvorkovich is not accepting criticism of Iran due to his proximity to the Kremlin, and Russia's ties with Iran. Dvorkovich was an Assistant to Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev between 2008 and 2012 and served as his Deputy Prime Minister from 2012 to 2018.

Bayat: "It is not me who makes chess political, it is Arkady."

It is not the first time FIDE struggles with the Iranian situation. In a letter from June 2020, Dvorkovich strongly urged the Iranian Chess Federation to change its policy where athletes from Iran are not allowed to participate in games with Israeli citizens and to confirm in writing its position on the admissibility of such games. "Failure to give such confirmation will force FIDE to discuss the compliance of Iran's Chess Federation's values with the principles of FIDE and the IOC," wrote Dvorkovich. 

However, new cases continued to occur, as recently as December 2022. At the Sunway Sitges tournament, GM Amin Tabatabaei suffered a forfeit loss as he couldn't play his Israeli opponent in the first round. At the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championships, the Israeli top grandmaster Boris Gelfand was awarded three forfeit wins for the games he was paired against Iranian opponents. While the International Judo Federation gave Iran a four-year ban after it pressured one of its fighters not to face an Israeli athlete, the International Chess Federation hasn't taken any concrete action yet.

Meanwhile, FIDE has approached Bayat and stressed that her contribution to FIDE Arbiters' Commission during the last four years had been very important. The sides are planning to continue working together in the future.

"I wanted to create a general awareness among the chess community and address that FIDE should not be political," said Bayat. "We should stand for the right things when the time comes. I am aware that there are many injustices in the world and I cannot fight in many directions. I chose that my fight is for women's rights in Iran rather than FIDE, but I have to address serious problems when there is an elephant in the room."

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