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Boycotting the chess world championship

Women keen to compete in next year’s world chess championship will be forced to don a hijab.  This announcement immediately prompted calls to boycott the event.  I can understand the misgivings of some Iranian women who welcome the chance to compete in an international event on their home turf. For example Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian woman who was jailed for her part in a campaign to allow women spectators at men’s volleyball games, opposes the boycott.

Ghavami, whose time in jail drew international attention, said from Tehran: “The world must hear the pro-reform voices of people inside Iran and not ignore these pleas by isolating the country.”

But the statement from Fide’s commission for Women’s Chess, exhorting participants to respect ‘cultural differences’, glosses over the fact that only women have to modify their dress, and also brushes aside (unlike Ghavami) the struggles of many Iranian women to defy the law on this issue.

US chess champion Nazi Paikidze-Barnes has made the difficult decision to boycott the contest:

“Some consider a hijab part of culture. But I know that a lot of Iranian women are bravely protesting this forced law daily and risking a lot by doing so,” she told Alinejad. “That’s why I will not wear a hijab and support women’s oppression. Even if it means missing one of the most important competitions of my career.”

She has explained and defended her decision in forthright but measured tones.  People might reach different conclusions about how best to support women in Iran over this issue, but Paikidze-Barnes’ attitude seems far preferable to that of Susan Polger, US Grand Master, with whom she has been sparring on twitter:

I personally would have no issues with wearing a head scarf (hijab) as long as it is the same to all players. I believe the organizers provided beautiful choices for past participants of Women’s Grand Prix. I cannot speak on behalf of others but from my personal conversations with various players in the past year, they had no real issues with it.

This is pretty sickly stuff – why should chess players, forced to wear this garment, be mollified by the fact there are ‘beautiful choices’ available – and of course it is not ‘the same to all players’, and her reference to ‘choices’ was ironic when the issue here is that there is no choice for women who wish to take part.

Hat Tip: Sarah