A Chess Championship Boycott Over the Hijab

Top female chess players in the world say they won’t compete in Iran if they’re forced to wear the Islamic headscarf.

A female chess player in Iran
A female chess player in Iran (Hasan Sarbakhshian / AP)

NEWS BRIEF Some of the best female chess players in the world are calling for a boycott of next year’s world championship being held in Iran, protesting the mandatory use of the hijab. But one Iranian grandmaster is pleading for those chess players to reconsider.

Mitra Hejazipour, the winner of the 2015 Asian continental women’s championship, said a boycott could set back efforts to promote female participation in sports in Iran. She told The Guardian on Friday:

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.

The move, she says, would isolate Iran and ignore progress that Iranian women have made in the country.

Other top chess players are remaining firm on their boycott threat, saying the headscarf is a symbol of oppression for women. Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, the American champion, told CNN:

If the venue of the championship is not changed, I will not be participating. I am deeply upset by this. I feel privileged to have qualified to represent the US at the Women's World Chess Championship and to not be able to due to religious, sexist, and political issues is very disappointing.

The hijab has been an Iranian policy since the 1979 revolution, which brought strict religious laws to public life.