Boycott Iranian Chess? A reply

Posted by David Smerdon on Oct 4, 2016 in Chess, Gender, Non-chess, Politics |

EDIT:  Nigel Short responded with an addendum that “the Iran bid was not mentioned in the FIDE General Assembly Agenda. It was sprung on Delegates as a surprise.” This procedural anomaly is worth mentioning in light of my shielding FIDE from blame in the text below.


Too-long-didn’t-read version:  I don’t support a mass boycott of the upcoming women’s world chess championships in Iran, or removing Iran’s right to host. My reason is that it will hurt, not help, gender equality, particularly in Iran. This will probably make me unpopular.

The chess world has been rocked in the last week by a fresh controversy, this time the awarding of hosting rights for the Women’s World Championship to Iran. The main tinder box was US Women’s Champion Nazi Paikidze issuing a statement that she will boycott the event rather than wear a hijab and acquiesce to sex discrimination, a provocative comment that was irresistible to the mainstream media (see these articles in Fox News, The Telegraph, CNN and of course the Daily Mail). Other notable chess celebrities, such as Nigel Short, Emil Sutovsky, Tatev Abrahamyan and Sabrina Chevannes, have strongly and angrily come out in support of her boycott.


This is a tough issue for me, and I’ve sat in nervous silence for a week while deciding whether to write about it. As many know, I’m a strong defender of equality and women’s rights, particularly in the chess world. And yet try as I might, I cannot support the proposal to withdraw Iran’s hosting rights and move the championship. My main reason for this, as ironic as it may seem, relates to defending and empowering women.


My opinion has landed me on quite an unfamiliar side of the political divide. Across the gorge are friends and others whose beliefs I generally respect, while some of those besides me are traditional ideological foes. This is an uncomfortable position to be in, particularly seeing as this debate seems to have brought out the worst of ad hominem in people, so I will tread carefully.


I’ll start with an obvious clarification. I’m not a supporter of the Iranian governmental regime, and many of its policies that engender the oppression of women are simply indefensible. Neither am I a ‘defender of Islam’, just as I don’t specifically promote any religion. (And let us not forget that almost every major religion, taken at its fundamental level, demands gender discrimination, with the notable exception of Pastafarianism.) Several of the public criticisms of having Iran as host seem to be well-intentioned, but use the guise of “defending women’s rights” to champion an anti-Islam agenda (thereby employing another logical fallacy, that of tying). Opposition to freedom of religion has no place in this debate. Others have argued that FIDE has put women’s lives in danger by awarding the host to an unsafe country, a not unreasonable objection, but also one not supported by precedent.


I do not at all oppose the right of an individual (or team of individuals) to boycott this or any other event, nor their right to publicly state their reasons for doing so. But here we are talking about a mass, organised boycott and potential removal of Iran’s hosting rights, and as such, it’s important not to conflate the issues above. First, many international events (and here I mean world championships for both genders, European championships and world senior, youth and junior events) have been held in countries that are predominantly Muslim, are suffering unrest, face high crime rates, have a historically bad record on human rights or have deep political conflicts with other nations. Players from thirty-four countries were not permitted (by their own nations) to participate in the 1976 Olympiad in Israel. In 1978 at the chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires, some players could allegedly hear the shots of executions of political dissidents by the Argentinian junta as they played their games (it is estimated that between 10,000 and 30,000 citizens were killed during the Dirty War of 1976-1983). At the 2006 World Student Championships in Lagos, participants were not allowed to leave their hotels without armed guards. There are many stories of corruption and human rights abuses carried out by the Aliyev-led government of Azerbaijan, a great supporter of international chess and host of the recent 2016 Olympiad. (Incidentally, former Olympiad champions Armenia could not participate for fear of violence.)


And of course there have been similar moves in other sports: many objections were raised to China’s hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympiads for reasons of its human rights record, while the US famously boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. My point is that one cannot simply exclude a country as host due to political or religious objections, or because the conditions aren’t favourable to a particular country. That’s not the way of international sport. So let’s turn now to the one viable issue at stake: whether a participant should be forced to wear a hijab.


The hijab is a head covering worn predominantly by Muslim women, originally as a symbol of “modesty and privacy” (Wikipedia). Less than 50% of self-professed Muslim women wear one, though statistics here are unreliable. Iran’s government is somewhat unique in that it follows what is commonly (though inaccurately) called Sharia Law, in that the principles of Shia Islam are hardwired into the Constitution. Practically, this means that citizens can be arrested for breaking those principles, including with regard to dress. Men cannot wear shorts in public places. Women must have their hair covered by a scarf or hijab, though for tourists and foreigners, the punishment for forgetting is usually a request to get one. As with men, legs should be covered, but all the way to the ankles (sandals or bare feet are allowed).


At the championships in Iran, the female players will be required to adhere to the Iranian dress code. This has been the case at all international chess events held in Iran (including the 2016 Women’s Grand Prix, in which 12 of the world’s top female players took part). Many other countries have strong cultural norms that follow these principles, although there may not be legal punishments in play. At two world junior championships in India in which I competed, both foreign boys and girls felt some cultural pressure to dress to cover our legs; in fact, refusal to do so actually led to the male and female events being segregated into different rooms!


After that very long setup, we come to the key point. The main question is whether or not FIDE’s awarding the hosting right to Iran, which means women must wear hijabs during the games, constitutes gender discrimination. First, 165 member nations of FIDE had a chance to vote against Iran’s bid, and none did, so I’m not even sure FIDE or its Commission for Women’s Chess could be blamed in any case. (This issue really does make for strange bedfellows.) Secondly, the wearing of the hijab is an Iranian law, not a rule made by the organisers. And finally, covering the head is by and large a reflection of the cultural values of the host country that are admittedly tied to its religion, in much the same way that a woman would take off shoes before entering a Hindu temple, remove her hat at a Christian church or funeral, or refrain from touching a Buddhist monk. To some individuals, I can understand that a hijab might symbolize oppression, but only if that is one’s stance against Islam; in that case, a personal boycott is the appropriate action. If the players were required to drape themselves in the Iranian flag, that might be another issue. But here, the players aren’t being asked to do anything more than what any other tourist or visitor to Iran is asked.


(As an aside: A good point was raised by IM Elizabeth Paehtz, who wondered how women would be permitted to be alone with their male trainers, which may also defy Iranian principles. This is something that could materially affect the players’ preparations as it has done for Iranian girls competing in events, and I hope a solution is found.)


Finally, why does this issue matter, if at all? The truth is, it matters a whole lot. Iranian chess has seen something of a revolution in the last decade, and the national team at the Olympiad was one of the standouts. The federation has organised several large tournaments and events, including the aforementioned Women’s Grand Prix earlier this year. While women do suffer oppression in everyday life in Iran, as has been well documented, chess is a medium through which they can travel, engage in bilateral cultural exchange with their western counterparts, earn respect and standing among their male peers at home, and potentially even foster an independent career. For girls, it provides a complementary source of education, along with all the associated benefits, as well as rare opportunities to interact and compete with boys on a more even footing.


I’m not the only one who thinks this. GMs Adly and Al-Medaihki, for example, have spoken out strongly on this matter. But on this point, I can’t do better than re-quote the statement of Mitra Hejazipour, a women’s grand master from Iran and winner of the 2015 Asian continental championships. She pleaded:


“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. 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.”


In an interview with The Guardian, she went on to say that such a move would ‘isolate Iran and ignore progress that Iranian women have made in the country.’


I agree. For me, the key test is to consider: Would the lives of Iranian women and girls be better or worse if all major events were banned in their country? I have carefully weighed the evidence, and I believe it is in the best interests of promoting equality and lifting Iranian women out of oppression for the championships to go ahead. This is probably going to make me unpopular among some of the more opinionated in the chess world, but I can’t compromise my beliefs on this. Individuals such as Paikidze may wish to boycott it, as is their right. But please, let’s keep sight of who the real victims are here, and look at the big picture: supporting equality for women, everywhere.


David McDonald
Oct 4, 2016 at 10:23 pm

Hi David,

I agree with the sentiments as you have so eloquently expressed. I too am a supporter of “female rights” (having mentored a number of fine young women in the business environment), despite being somewhat jaded by “the feminism movement” per se (I am 63, and overexposed to the hyperbole of all movements). However, I am interested to hear how your line of thought compares to the activism generated in sport with respect to the boycotts of the Springboks and Proteas back in the 60’s and 70’s of the 20th Century.

Dave Mc (Canberra)

Peter M
Oct 4, 2016 at 10:45 pm

tl;dr Change happens (slowly). Women are the masters of their own destinies.

I live in Australia. I was raised as a Catholic. I am now 61. When I was young, Catholic nuns wore habits that are not so different from the burka.

For a number of years I was a member of a male Catholic order of brother (monks). I experienced first hand the changes that our dress went through. Basically the changes were lead by progressives who wanted to put the brothers more in touch with people we met, rather than have our dress code inhibit everyday interactions.

The brothers had more independence than the nuns, so I assume that the nuns had a harder fight to obtain permission to change their dress code. But change they did.

Who lead this change? In a sense the teens of the 1960s did. The changes that came across to religous orders originated in the freedom that the teenagers of the 1960s won from their parents. These teens as they grew older questioned their peers who had entered religous life, asking “Why do you have to dress like that in these modern times?”. This simple question slowly lead to change.

To take another tack, the banning of the burkini on beaches in France seems somewhat short-sighted. If you look at photos of beachgoers from the early 1900s, you will see the women then dressed in very similar bathing costumes. To me, criticising the burkini seems akin to criticising one’s grandmother for what she wore to the beach in those times. It’s not something I would do.

Here at my home in Australia, we have a Muslim couple from India renting next door. After 6 months, she is slowly winning some freedoms. Initially her husband did not allow her to leave home. She spent the day cleaning and cooking. She told me she was extremely bored. Now I see her walking to the local library on her own. Obviously she feels safe living here in Australia and has convinced her husband that she should have this freedom.

The strange part of this topic for me is to read comments by males mandating how women should dress. I made one glaring error when preparing for my wedding. I made a suggestion about the bridal gown. Tears ensued. Lesson learned. I now never suggest to a woman what she should wear.

If you observe women meet each other the first thing they do is complement each other on what the other is wearing. “That color suits you!” “Where did you buy those shoes? They’re gorgeous”.

Stand back guys, the women will sort this out. They will have a bewildering variety of head scarfs that we can surely observe with admiration. Let them decide how they will personalise this fashion accessory. We benefit.

Oct 4, 2016 at 11:33 pm

“But here, the players aren’t being asked to do anything more than what any other tourist or visitor to Iran is asked.”
And how many female tourists and visitors does Iran have each year (let us exclude people already used to wear sharfs or nijabs) ? Why is that?

“I don’t support removing Iran’s right to host”
If many female top players decide not to play then what is there left to host?

I agree with Peter that we should let women decide for themselves.

Rob Bostrom
Oct 4, 2016 at 11:48 pm

Mr. Smerdon’s main argument is that attending the chess event in Iran empowers women. This empowerment – if true – is indirect. There is however a direct dis-empowerment of women attending the even by the hijab requirement. It is much better for women to stand up for themselves and oppose oppression (yes, Islam is oppressive, read the Koran, look at Islamic countries, not much argument there) than it is for them somehow to have “alleged” solidarity with Iranian women.

Actually the best case is for a boycott so that the country of Iran realizes that their oppression of women is unacceptable. In Germany in the 1930s, it was Ok to go along with Nazis on a few things, the thought was that Jewish impositions were not a big deal. Then all of a sudden it became a big deal and it was too late.

Opposing oppression of women is a big deal. Being forced to wear a hijab is a big deal. Woman chess players should not cave in. Susan Polgar and FIDE do not have your back. This is not a religious or political or cultural issue (Islam is a combined political/cultural/religious system) but a personal issue. As a chess player, you can wear what you want!!

Here is a quote from Mr. Smerdon: “The strange part of this topic for me is to read comments by males mandating how women should dress.” This is exactly the point. Iranian men are presuming to tell chess playing women how they should dress. This is unacceptable.

It is far better to not hold the chess event or move it to a free country than to go along with the oppressive Iranian state. Don’t imagine that there is “solidarity” when you cave in to wicked rulers. If you want solidarity with the Iranian women, oppose this chess event to start with and next, find a way to modify their oppressive political/cultural/religious system that they must deal with 24/7. A tall order to be true, but a journey starts with a single step ….

Oct 5, 2016 at 12:16 am

“And how many female tourists and visitors does Iran have each year?”

Some 1.5 million foreigner, non-islamic female tourists, out of a total of 5 million (anually).
In certain parts of the country, e.g. Kish Island, “even” bikinis are allowed. Of course this is not indicative of any sort of freedom, as the places where these are allowed are special “women only” beaches.

I mostly agree with Smurfo’s view.

David Smerdon
Oct 5, 2016 at 1:04 am

Hi Rob. Just a small point: That quote wasn’t from me, but another commenter.

Oct 5, 2016 at 2:43 am

Some 1.5 million foreigner, non-islamic female tourists, out of a total of 5 million (anually).

Your numbers must be for the men + women if I look at
What is the ratio between men and women? I have a strong suspicion this won’t be 50-50.

Besides the Louvres had in 2015 already 8,7 million tourists see

No Iran is not a popular touristic country, Of course it is impossible to proof that this has to do with the laws applicable in the country but we can very well imagine it does.

Craig Burley
Oct 5, 2016 at 10:37 am


Thanks for a thoughtful piece.

I disagree almost in the entirety; to quote Sam Ramsamy, one of the most powerful and effective organizers and activists of the anti-apartheid era, “there can be no normal sport in an abnormal society.”

I supported the anti-apartheid boycotts of South African sport (and would have seen it go much further; I have much admiration for those Olympians who refused to compete against white South Africans competing under flags of convenience) throughout the 80s as I was growing up. I would and do feel equally strongly about boycotting sport under, and propagandized by, the Iranian regime.

Obviously, your mileage may vary. Many are not as bothered by Iran’s state treatment of women, because the state is a theocracy and they are only imposing a type of religious observance on their people. For me, that is precisely the point; Iran normalizes only one restrictive religous observance and objectively oppresses women, just as South Africa normalized only one racial heritage and objectively oppressed Africans and non-whites. Both are wrong, both insidious, both are desperately looking for international friends and to normalize their deeply abnormal societies.

I think–after long reflection–we should deny them the opportunity to do so, and boycott sport in their shitty country.

Oct 5, 2016 at 12:26 pm

The issue has not been highlighted, but by sending the World Championship to Iran, FIDE is ensuring that players from certain countries cannot participate, which is discriminatory in itself, regardless of the dress rules.
Of course this is nothing new – FIDE often holds title events in places which are effectively inaccessible to certain players – think Libya 2004, Dubai 1986 and even Baku 2016 – but usually says on accepting the bid that they will overcome the diplomatic obstacles so that everyone can play. Of course that never happens.
So Iran should be rejected for the same reason that Israel should be rejected for a World Championship event – it discriminates against players who cannot travel to that country.

Bill B.
Oct 5, 2016 at 1:55 pm

Suppose there were a country in the world that required men to wear a veil when in public. A huge percentage of men would not go to that event. It would be a no brainer.

Why should Paikidze have to give up her right at the chess championship (admittedly a longshot) for just making a choice most men would not even think twice about.

Oct 5, 2016 at 4:12 pm

When there will be chess tournaments in the west–
Muslim women will be forced to remove the burka and wear large cross necklaces.

Of course this will be for womens equality.

Oct 5, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Burkas are a symbol of submission to islam.
Their main purpose is to stop male lust–because certain people cannot contain their urges at seeing womens hair. They have to “Act”.

This is fine for them–who are we to judge what they do?
But should we really be importing them by the millions (especially without their women?). It wont end well.

Oct 5, 2016 at 6:46 pm

When in Rome. ..

Oct 5, 2016 at 8:48 pm

“When in Rome” applies when you go voluntarily.
Forcing someone to go somewhere (there is a big cost to her career if she doesnt go) and then forcing local conditions on them–and then saying “When in Rome” is idiotic.

Oct 5, 2016 at 9:37 pm

““When in Rome” applies when you go voluntarily.
Forcing someone to go somewhere (there is a big cost to her career if she doesnt go)” what hysterical rubbish. Show one instance of their being a big cost to a player boycotting on personal grounds?

Who is really being idiotic here mate?

Oct 5, 2016 at 11:03 pm

The WCC has the biggest prize $$$ of all tourneys. She is a professional and this is her career. She either has to give up on $$$ doing her job or be forced to wear a burka.

Just in case you didnt get it ($$$ prize $$$ = big cost/penalty)

Michael Freeman
Oct 5, 2016 at 11:54 pm

The effectiveness of boycotts using sport is a complex subject. The comments made so far canvas both the views that they do help, and that politics and sport should not be mixed.

Even within countries it can divide families, as this particular discussion is dividing chess players. The 1981 Springbok rugby tour to New Zealand is a text book case of that divide. But, with hindsight even those who didn’t agree with boycotts now believe that the sporting boycotts of South Africa helped bring change.

Will a few chess players boycotting this event bring change .. very probably not.
Will FIDE moving the event change Iranian law .. probably not.

But did those suffragettes in NZ in the 1890’s and other parts of the world in later years fighting for the right to vote give up as it was a hard battle, certainly not.

But I would like to hear the views of those who are impacted, the players themselves. So far one US player has been very vocal, and Nigel Short suggests that another has spoken. That leaves another 62….

Lets fight the battle the players wish us to.


[…] piece is well thought out and articulate as usual, and I usually agree with his thoughts on various chess […]

David Smerdon
Oct 6, 2016 at 2:09 am

Greg Shahade makes some good points (and if you guys haven’t read his excellent article on comparing the treatment of women in chess, poker and CrossFit, make sure you do). The real acid test will be how many women of the 64 competitors credibly threaten to boycott. I don’t mean complain or ask for changes; I mean will not compete unless the venue is changed. A complication here is that the women should have made their objections known to their federations so they could have voted down the bid, but if it’s indeed true that noone KNEW about the bid, then this point is moot.

Let me throw out a somewhat random number and say if seven (>10%) of the 64 players will not compete in Iran, then I would support a change in venue.

Jonathan Sarfati
Oct 6, 2016 at 2:13 am

A ChessBase report stated:

“In February 2016 the Iranian Chess Federation was host of a Grand Prix tournament and all participants, including the non-Muslim, were asked to conform to the customs of the country and to wear a headscarf in public – and thus during the rounds. The participants complied to this wish and after the tournament praised the hospitality of the organisers and the good playing conditions. However, comments about reports of this tournament often criticised this religiously motivated dress regulations [sic].”

There we have it: the head covering is religiously motivated (as almost everyone really knows even if it’s politically incorrect to admit it). Thus forcing women to wear it is imposing a religious position upon them. The same would be true if the tournament were held at a Christian funeral and women were forbidden from a hat, or at a Hindu temple forbidden from shoes, or at a Pastafarian ceremony being forced to wear a collander. So GM Short is surely right that FIDE is violating its constitution to have an important tournament there, because 1.2 says:

“FIDE … rejects discriminatory treatment for national, political, racial, social or religious reasons or on account of gender.”

Oct 6, 2016 at 2:45 am

You guys keep pretending these girls have an “absolute free choice” to boycott.

1) Low rank chess players hardly make any money
2) Big money tournaments for women are very few
3) This is the WCC (not just your local weekend tournament)
4) Muslims have a history of reacting violently to criticism
5) It is [1 individual] vs [FIDE and a whole country]
6) There is a massive Politically Correct culture–where if you arent “TOLERANT” you get sacked, backlash, black listed, labelled with made up PHOBIAs etc
7) Women biologically are more likely to just go with the flow and keep out of trouble

Point is–its not in a vacuum–there is huge pressure on these girls.
There should be an anonymous vote.

David Smerdon
Oct 6, 2016 at 4:59 am

“Women biologically are more likely to just go with the flow and keep out of trouble, etc etc”


GM in-law
Oct 6, 2016 at 11:44 am

Loving the lively debate. Perhaps male players should seize this opportunity to don the hijab and face off against the world’s best female competition in cognito… Look out ladies, I’m coming for ya!

Oct 6, 2016 at 1:32 pm

Paikidze won 25000 dollars in 2016 US Women’s.

Even if she made Runner-up here (very unlikely), after the FIDE tax, it is only 24000. And she has to pay expenses.

The main other woman who has voiced disapproval, is Kosteniuk who is also richer than most I presume.

At the recent Russian blitz/rapid champs, lots of women discussed. Sutovsky (ACP) claims to have spoken to more than half by now, and the “vast majority” do not support boycott (see SportsExpress interview).

Five participants (8%) is probably baseline figure for any WWC, given life aspects. 18/64 (28%) protested over 2010 in open letter (and some later noted there was FIDE blowback over this), and 2008 had five from Georgia and some others like Krush decline over safety. I think something like 10 participants is more reasonable number to determine whether this is a showstopping item (OTOH, it is almost universally agreed that the women would rather not have such conditions).

Oct 6, 2016 at 1:56 pm

Discrimination is difficult issue. No one expects this as be-all and end-all of FIDE’s existence, and any court would put this in balance with other aspects (the exact balance depends on how strongly FIDE binds itself to this principle, e.g. compared to minimum expected in Swiss law, which must cover all types of organizations).

Short keeps bringing up FIDE Statutes. The cynic notes that by having women’s events (but no men’s events) in the first place FIDE already “discriminates” in favor of them, and Short has been railing against this in one way or another for some time. He quotes IOC principles, but there again they have explicitly rejected the open/women’s splitting of events previously. IMO the commensurate benefits of open/women’s in chess (higher participation, similarly with youth/senior events being “age discrimination”, though FIDE makes no Statute therein) currently makes this OK. It’s not same issue as hijab of course, but makes any gender discrimination argument rather difficult to force through.

The question of “religious discrimination” is more volatile, and seems to depend on how you view the hijab/headscarf (many Muslims terming former when worn by a believer, while latter for dress code minimum). The European Court of Human Rights had some strong statements in two cases implying they might be inclined to think its source was indeed religious (the cases prevented hijab-wearing based on secularity of states), but those are decade or two old by now, and judicial result would be completely unguessable today. Given there’s no consensus on this matter, hard to blame FIDE (legally) to me. Better to allow FIDE itself interpret how far to take underlying principles in given circumstance.

Note to previous: Wikipedia lists 11 absentees in 2008 (six from Georgia).

Oct 6, 2016 at 2:14 pm

” but if it’s indeed true that noone KNEW about the bid, then this point is moot. ”

Bid indeed came up unexpectedly. On the other hand, General Assembly is not proper FIDE organ to accept bid in first place. (Common purpose of Agenda item was formally only to report on organizational aspects with various events, give GA chance to comment and WCOC to follow up, if necessary.) Regulations indicate only Presidential Board, or FIDE president himself should accept WWC bids. As GA was meeting, for convenience “bid” was presented superogatorily when in Baku.

By failing to object, legal rights (CAS) by federations probably lost, but IMO (above analysis) likely thin argument on legal merits anyway. In other direction, participants receive legal rights (standing) only upon when FIDE makes contract to them. First I think need to complain internally, get platform at next GA (2018) to make speech, etc., then if still unhappy with any final resolution could engage big lawyer firm (CAS, European Court). IMO, thoroughly unlikely.

Nigel Short alternatively, suspects (seriously?) Kirsan has Iranian oil deal. If so, why present to GA?

Oct 6, 2016 at 3:58 pm

Millions of years of evolution (David did you actually go to University? I forgot–those are marxist brainwashing factories.):

Females have children and take care of them, taking as few risks as possible. If the kids lose the mother, they die as well. This has been natural law for millions of years of evolution. Putting a few women in air-conditioned offices doesnt change instincts overnight.

Have you ever been around women at all in your life?

Think of anything extreme–its always men doing it.

Seriously, how much denial do you have to be in–not to see this?

Oct 6, 2016 at 6:48 pm

“Think of anything extreme–its always men doing it.” – like childbirth? 😉

Oct 6, 2016 at 10:18 pm

Yes women love taking risks, which is why they are the majority of: police, fire fighters, soldiers, miners, prison guards, formula 1 drivers, astronauts, hedge fund managers, high stakes gamblers, drug dealers, criminals, explorers, body guards, bouncers…

And men can have children–its just we choose not to.
Women and men are exactly the same biologically.

You people are absolutely nuts. The denial is huge. The double think is crazy.

Oct 7, 2016 at 11:42 pm

Smurfo – first of all let me say I’m a big fan of yours. I enjoy your Banter Blitz’s and have a great respect for your intelligence and humour.

But I think you’re wrong here. You don’t empower women by acquiescing to their disempowerment. I’m not saying I support a boycott, but non-Iranian nationals should not be forced to submit to purely Iranian laws. Women should simply dress as they please and if the Iranian chess federation excludes/forfeits them for showing hair that should be recorded and stay in the history books as a permanent stain on the character of their society.

Let me ask you – supposing Jewish players were required to wear a yellow star under some similar law; would you encourage them to go along with it because it might hypothetically in some other sphere encourage or nurture Jewish culture and identity? I very much hope you wouldn’t.

Oct 9, 2016 at 11:55 am

Interesting article, although not much I have sympathy with at all. “Realist” was making the most sense to me, until those 3 last lines, hehe. His ‘When in Rome’ point seemed perfectly relevant and well-put, and to be rudely accused of idiocy for making it.. well, I don’t think Axiom’s comment should have been permitted to appear; it’s crass, rude and little else. (The point being, the “No-one’s forcing you to play there” argument against objecting to holding it in Iran is silly – it’s not some insignificant weekend tournament but the world championship. It surprises me that some people can’t see the difference.)

To mention just one point – this sentence puzzled me: “Others have argued that FIDE has put women’s lives in danger by awarding the host to an unsafe country, a not unreasonable objection, but also one not supported by precedent.” I couldn’t imagine how whether someone’s life has been put in danger or not could be “supported by precedent” or otherwise, except by looking at whether anyone has been harmed in the past, which it doesn’t seem is actually what you do in the fascinating history you give. It seems to me an example of ‘tying’ together (thank you for the concept!) 1. whether the competitors’ lives will be in danger 2. whether this is the first time it’s been held in an unsafe country, or such a thing is normal. As I read it anyway.


[…] Also see editorials on the topic by IM Greg Shahade, a frequent contributor to this site, and opposing viewpoints from Iranian WGM Mitra Hejazipour and  from GM David Smerdon. […]

Jude Acers
Oct 12, 2016 at 4:33 pm

Sir David .. Whoah!! epic thought provoking prose..indeed Well.. the obvious courtesy first: OH MAN LOVED THE SMERDON GAME VERSUS WORLD CHAMPION CARLSEN/ Baku 2016 Olympiad … and your writing on the Scandinavian Defense is epic wonder……….. Ok here we go mate ..thanks for your all terrain survey of the Iran human rights ..Walters /USCF featured you as fabulous powerful counterpoint ARGUMENT IN THE JUST UP US CHESS FEDERATION MEDIA SURVEY .. in 60 plus years this has never been seen.. just the point and counterpoint of this savage worldwide media chess/human story is an unheard of Mandela moment for the heavily censored US chess federation. I do not believe in the tooth fairy though a nickle was once beneath my pillow a long time ago.. Smerdon admits the single case of chess trainer not able to go the grandmasters hotel room but heading to a public park ( accommodation…how nice!) , the pro US travel caution advisorys also never really happen in the privileged world of Sir David. No Mandela moment for grandmaster Smerdon. If hundreds of gay people have been murdered by Iran well gee that is tough, if women are massively discriminated against routinely well what the hell do we care? We have our own problems to worry about.. Take the Iranian money and run .. slip out the back jack..Lets let sleeping dogs and an occasional dead Irqnian women lie. You see it is all so simple.. Nothing matters Sir David…No do not take a stand in the sand. iT WILL WORK OUT… lets just roll the dice on womens lives.perhaps slight danger and slight discomfort … and just send worldwide Iran/Fide critic Nazi to Iran will work out, don’t worry be happy. That Nazi has sent a “no way Jose” via the New York Times, CNN, and hundreds of newspapers will be ok..she has been heard. Reforms are coming. Believe. Again thank you for your courageous thoughtful writing and the items you most graciously allow in rebuttal which totally cover your in denial mode.Perhaps you authored it for discussion alone.. And good winds to you always and Sir David be glad you are not a woman in Iran.Freedom is not free Sir David…you have to be prepared to fight for it and sometimes you even have to die for it. JUDE ACERS/ NEW ORLEANS Louisiana (America)

Jonathan Sarfati
Oct 22, 2016 at 5:23 am

Kasparov wrote on Facebook:

I fully support US women’s chess champion Nazi Paikidze-Barnes in her brave protest against the world chess federation (FIDE) hosting its women’s world championship in Iran. Forcing women to play with mandatory hijab in a country with little regard for human rights, especially women’s rights, is disgusting even for this corrupt FIDE regime. You can read and sign Ms. Paikidze’s petition here, and although FIDE doesn’t care what players think as long as the money comes in, it is an opportunity to draw attention to Iran’s record, and FIDE’s. (Much as the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games brought a spotlight to Russia’s horrific anti-LGBT laws.)

Peter D
Oct 25, 2016 at 12:14 am

Come to Queensland, the skin capital capital of the world (with box jellyfish an optional extra in northern waters).
Dress appropriately:
“Provides excellent protection from jelly fish
UPF50+ the highest industry rating, providing excellent sun protection”

Just pointing out that my sister, a medical doctor, thinks burka style swimwear and hats are a good idea as a protection from skin cancer.

I actually thought the ladies with their colorful scarves looked great at that previous major tournament in Iran. Sorry I cannot find the photos. I think it was on I mean look at these great head scarves, I like them.

Okay I’m going back to the chessboard. I have enough difficulty trying to work out the problems there.

Cathy Depasquale
Nov 7, 2016 at 11:43 pm

It isn’t at all clear that it is best for women in Iran to stand by as non-Muslim women agree to wear this public symbol of their oppression. Various female human rights activists consider that this legitimises the regime in Iran and is therefore the antithesis of helping the suppressed half of the population.

I briefly touch on it here:

David Smerdon
Nov 9, 2016 at 1:28 am

That’s a very reasonable argument. I’m certainly no expert on how best to influence change in gender-unequal countries (although this is actually currently part of my work). I guess what I was trying to say was that because there is no clear answer, the other female participants shouldn’t feel forced to boycott, or be accused of failing to support women’s rights, if they participate. But I don’t think I conveyed this message very well in hindsight.

Cathy Depasquale
Mar 27, 2017 at 7:03 am

David and others, does it not change your mind the teensiest bit on this subject that a top Iranian female player has now been banned from playing for Iran because she declined to play Gibraltar with headcovering?

David Smerdon
May 21, 2017 at 6:25 am

Pretty horrible story. I’m not sure it changes my overall position: I think banning players, whether it’s directly (as in this case) or through indirect pressure (the boycott) isn’t the way to go. Certainly, we can agree that the Iranian women are suffering, and it’s their cause we want to champion. We can still differ on how best to do it.



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