Ousted Iranian Player: 'My Wardrobe Should Not Be Anyone's Business!'
Last week the Iranian Chess Federation removed two players from being able to represent their national team, or playing future events inside Iran. IM Dorsa Derakhshani, the number-two female in Iran, and her younger brother FM Borna Derakhshani were both punished for separate actions that had occurred weeks earlier at the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival.
Borna's "indiscretion" seems to have sparked the reaction. In round one, the 15-year-old was paired with GM Alexander Huzman from Israel. Instead of taking a forfeit loss, as sometimes happens during these pairings, he played the game (Iran does not recognize the existence of Israel).
IM Dorsa Derakhshani, for the moment, is still listed on the FIDE site as the number-two female in Iran. (All photos courtesy Sophie Triay for the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival.)
Hot on the heels on the intensely-debated subject of women boycotting the women's world championship due to required headwear, Dorsa's removal came from her choice of attire. She did not wear a headscarf during the event in Gibraltar.
"Unfortunately, what shouldn't have happened has happened," Iranian Chess Federation President Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh said in a statement. "Our national interests have priority over everything," He said a more formal policy would be in place soon and he would offer no "leniency" for those who flaunt Iran's "ideals and principles."
In Dorsa's first public statements since the ruling, she spoke at length to Chess.com. Interspersed in the interview, Chess.com also offers background from GM Stuart Conquest, the tournament director in Gibraltar, GM Nigel Short, the former coach of the Iranian women's team, and GM Elshan Moradiabadi, a former leading grandmaster from Iran who now represents the United States as of January 1, 2017.
Despite several inquiries, Pahlevanzadeh did not respond to Chess.com's request for comment.
MK: Is it just you and your brother that play chess? Or do you have other siblings? Do your parents play?
DD: Yes, he is my only sibling and we both learned chess from our dad. I remember my parents playing together on a small chess board before I started to take chess lessons. I was going to public classes in Iran Chess Federation for little more than a year and I ended up winning Iranian Youth Championship Under 8 in my first appearance! After that I won the national youth many times and also won Under 20 National Championship in 2013. I won Asian youth three times in a row in 2012, 2013, 2014 and was runner-up in 2011. My brother was in the classes with his milk bottle at age of two! He followed the same path and won Iranian Youth Championship and also was runner-up in Asian Youth [Championship].
Dorsa and her mother enter the closing ceremony in Gibraltar.
MK: You are living in Europe now, is that right?
DD: Yes, I live in Spain. I’ve decided not to participate in Iran national team tournaments since 2014 so it made my decision, to move, much easier. Last time I represented Iran in a FIDE event was World Youth Chess Championship 2015. And as for national team, I’ve made my decision and despite many invitations from federation such as Olympiad 2016, Asian Cup 2016, etc., I’ve already made my decision not to play.
MK: I’ve never seen you with a headscarf. When was the last time you wore one?
DD: Well, whenever I’m in the country I respect the rules fully and wear it. Also whenever federation was sending me to tournaments which I was representing Iran and I was using government money, I respected them and wore head scarf. World Junior 2015 (which I became sixth) and World Youth Chess Championship 2015 were the last tournaments I did. Logically, when I’m not living in Iran and I travel with my money, my wardrobe should not be anyone’s business! I don’t know why they attacked me after [all these] years!
[GM Nigel Short, coach of the Iranian Women's National Team from 2006-2007, never coached Dorsa, but told Chess.com: "All women wore hijabs during my chess training, of course -- it is the law. I have never seen any Iranian woman wear a hijab at home, and I have been many times.]
MK: What does the headscarf represent to you?
DD: It’s a dress code which I respected and will respect whenever I’m inside the country.
MK: Have you ever been warned or anything like that by the Iranian Chess Federation to wear a headscarf?
DD: No! I’m not the only one among top players who doesn’t play by rules! The difference is I actually have a conscience and enough decency for deciding not to make troubles for chess in Iran by not playing for the national team, while another member of national team just wears it in front of cameras and asks each photographer to warn her before taking picture so she can wear it! In my eyes this is a lie and when you use a federation and have a contract with them, you have to respect them and do as you are told.
Dorsa playing round nine in Gibraltar.
Actually, the way we found out about Iran federation banning us is somehow ironic! I woke up and saw my phone is filled with Instagram follow requests! So I knew something was up but I had no idea what. Later that day my high school friends told me about the interview the Iran Chess Federation president had done without even a word to us! Shouldn’t there be a warning as first step? Or a simple fact checking with us about my brother round one? Or if federation wanted to be really alert and responsible, shouldn’t have they done a simple double check
with my brother before start of round one?
[When asked what the "policy" is when paired with an Israeli, GM Elshan Moradiabadi explained to Chess.com: "I think the problem starts there. There is no written regulation about it. People know that the government has certain agenda and protocols but no one knows what exactly they are. Thus, we all knew there are certain things we need to follow but we were getting them from news or sportsmen of other fields who had experience in such situations but we never received any direct orders or instructions from the federation or Ministry of Sport."]
GM Elshan Moradiabadi, who coached Dorsa for three years. (Photo: Moradiabadi's Twitter account.)
MK: Your brother was also removed from the national chess federation for playing an Israeli. When he was paired with him, did your brother say anything to the organizers or become worried in any way that playing the Israeli would become an issue?
DD: Firstly my brother is just a kid! Secondly he was playing three tournaments in Gibraltar (both Challengers and Masters tournaments). We were staying in Bristol Hotel which was 40 minutes away from tournament hall and my brother usually would come to Caleta [the host hotel -- M.K.] in the morning and play his morning game in Challengers and have his lunch there and check pairings on wall for his Masters tournament.
Dorsa in round five in Gibraltar.
Round one was same too. He played his second round in Challenger and checked the pairings on wall and he was happy to have white with a 2550, and he went to the game. There was no flag or country name on pairings which were on the wall. Only after the six hour game he realized his opponent was from Israel and he went to arbiters and asked them to not let any other Iranian be paired against Israeli players. The arbiters were also told that their intention was to not let any pairing between Iranians and Israelis take part here but for the first round it slipped. I was actually supposed to be paired against IM Ori Kobo [from Israel -- M.K.] in round nine but the arbiters avoided it [This was confirmed to Chess.com by Chief Arbiter Laurent Freyd -- M.K.]. After the president of Iran Chess Federation talked to media about it, my father gave him a letter of what happened there and both Stuart Conquest and Laurent Freyd emailed him days ago but have not received any reply as of yet.
[Chess.com confirmed with Conquest that this interaction with Borna took place. Conquest said that Chief Arbiter Laurent Freyd felt bad about accidentally not changing the round one pairing in time, and that Borna had been the one to approach them after the round.]
MK: Officially, what are you instructed to do by the Iranian Chess Federation when you are paired with an Israeli? Is there a policy you are supposed to follow?
DD: We’ve never been instructed by the federation directly! I remember every year playing in world youth some of the Iranians were stressed about this but it actually never happened. As far as I know, it is expected from athletes to forfeit that match.
[The chess world generally tries to avoid these pairings, otherwise nations hostile to Israel will usually demand their players not show up as Dorsa explained. This has happened numerous times with teams slated to play Israeli in the Olympiad, for example -- M.K.]
MK: Did you still hope to play on the national team in future events?
DD: I’ve made up my mind years ago. Neither of us likes the format of selecting players.
MK: Will you fight this in any way, an appeal, or anything like that?
DD: I haven’t decided yet but I do not wish to disrespect my country so I will try my best to do what’s best for Iran chess.
[When asked if he thought the banishment to be draconian, Moradiabadi told Chess.com: "I am not surprised at all. The country's sport authority proved very rigorous and severe when it comes to these matters -- M.K.]
Iranian Chess Federation President Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh. (Photo: FIDE)
MK: Have you been watching the women’s world championship at all? Do you feel it should have been awarded to Tehran, given all the controversy? Did you make any statements before it began?
DD: I have been following the games daily. It seems like the players don’t really have a problem with wearing scarf and as Ju Wenjun said before, they just want to play chess! I did not make any statements; the country would not have changed anyways.
[You can read all of IM jovanka Houska's news reports here -- M.K.]
MK: You are higher rated than WGM Atousa Pourkashiyan, yet she and IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh got the wild card invites to the women's world championship, ostensibly from FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, but likely with input of the host federation. Did you feel like you should have received one of the invites? Would you have played if you did?
DD: Any chess player would want to play in World Cup. But I sacrificed playing in Olympiad. I would not have played World Cup either.
MK: Since the news came out, how has the chess world reacted to you?
DD: Very good! Chess world and also people in Iran have been sending us many messages offering their support and help.
People gave us some very interesting ideas about why federation attacked us now (after so many years of me not wearing scarf and about a month after the game between my brother and Huzman). Some told that the attack on us had suspiciously a perfect timing! Right after Iranian players all got knocked out from world cup on first round, someone tipped the reporters to start asking questions about my brother and I from federation president. We became the new talk of town and World Cup continuing without Iranians in it got forgotten by people and press!
[Even more recently, Moradiabadi is now the focus of the Iranian press for his FIDE transfer. In some foreign policy statements, Iran refers to the U.S. as the "Great Satan" -- M.K.]
MK: Do you have any plans to travel back to Iran in the near future?
DD: Honestly my schedule is fully booked with tournaments until middle of July. But I surely will find time to go back sooner or later.