Top-ranked female chess players have been told that if they want to compete in next year’s world championships, they’ll have to wear hijabs—because the competition will be held in Iran.
Grandmasters have accused the World Chess Federation’s Commission for Women’s Chess of ignoring the implicit sexual and religious discrimination, reports the Telegraph.
US women’s champion Nazi Paikidze told CNN she would not participate unless the championship venue was changed.
“I am deeply upset by this,” she said. “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.”
It has been illegal in Iran for women to go without a hijab since 1979. Failing to comply can lead to arrests and fines.
Former Pan American champion Carla Heredia echoed Paikidze’s concerns, telling The Telegraph that no institution or government should force women to wear hijabs. “This violates all what sports means. Sport should be free of discrimination by sex, religion and sexual orientation,” she added.
The chair of the Commission for Women’s Chess, American grandmaster Susan Polgar, urged players to respect “cultural differences.”
“I have travelled to nearly 60 countries. When I visited different places with different cultures, I like to show my respect by dressing up in their traditional style of clothing. No one asked me to do it. I just do it out of respect,” she said. “I personally would have no issues with wearing a head scarf (hijab) as long as it is the same to all players.”
The World Chess Federation—which is also known by its French acronym, FIDE—said it has not received any formal complaints from anyone eligible to compete in the 2017 championship. The Federation noted that Iran has hosted several other international chess events recently.