Worldwide chess championship to be hosted in Iran, women competing told they “must” wear hijabs

If the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) has any intention of shedding old boy’s clubs attitudes from competitive chess, they ought to reconsider where they’re hosting the 2017 World Championship: Tehran, Iran–where women are legally obligated under penalty of fine, jail time, and lashes to adhere to a modesty code which includes wearing the hijab.

Here’s the good ish news: Grandmasters are threatening to boycott if the women competing are forced into a hijab. I’ll argue in a moment that it’s not enough to give competitors an exemption from Iran’s modesty code.

The world’s top female chess players have reportedly been told they must wear hijabs if they wish to compete in next year’s world championships.

The next Women’s World Championships are due to be held inTehran, Iran in March 2017 but several Grandmasters have threatened to boycott the tournament if female players are forced to conform to the country’s strict clothing laws.

Iran, which has been welcomed back into the diplomatic fold aftersigning a nuclear deal with the US and several other countries last year, is a theocratic country which strictly polices how women dress, behave and where they go.

If a woman is caught without a headscarf by the country’s notorious “morality police” she could face arrest or a fine.

Chess’ governing body, FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs), has come under criticism for its decision to host the tournament in Iran and was accused of failing to stand up for women’s rights.

English chess champion Nigel Short tweeted that the FIDE was flouting its own statutes against sex and religious discrimination.

Short has a very valid point. The organization, in recognizing the sexist attitudes common particularly among older Grandmasters, has explicit policies against sex discrimination. Yet it is impossible to reconcile this policy by choosing to host it in a country that will literally whip you for not adhering to a government mandated modesty code strictly aimed at women.

What this does is reinforce the notion that women’s bodies are a commodity, something to be regulated to reflect the interests of society (read: men). That should horrify you. Absent from this line of thinking is the woman’s agency, and this is why even Muslim and Middle Eastern feminists openly disavow obligatory modesty dress codes for women. It is appalling enough that any woman is subject to morality police, be they French or Iranian, but hosting the Championship in Tehran puts women at significant risk. Either they conform, or risk arrest in a draconian country that is all too trigger happy to sentence anyone they can reach with corporal punishment–public whipping.

Even if Iran can be persuaded to grant exemptions to the competitors, FIDE is effectively forcing the competitors–especially the women–to risk their lives on the word of a totalitarian regime that has institutionalized second class status for women. I don’t know about you guys, but I am not one to trust the secret/morality police of a nervous totalitarian.

Sign the petition to relocate the Championship here. You can find the Twitter of FIDE’s President here, I tentatively propose the hashtag #NothingMoralAboutIt. The FIDE Secretariat can be reached at

I want you to message either or both expressing the unacceptable choice thrust upon competitors, and especially competing women. And since this is the internet, I have to say some stuff that should probably be obvious anyway:

  1. Mention this platform. We are freethinkers dedicated to the wellbeing of people. Let them know who we are!
  2. Keep it firm, but respectful.
  3. Absolutely no threats of any kind.
  4. Be insistent.
  5. Do NOT call for immunity just for the players. That is akin to a tacit endorsement of the cruelty inflicted on Iranians daily. The event must be relocated entirely.

FIDE needs to hear the implications of this choice. It is absolutely appalling that this was ever considered.

Dear Fédération Internationale des Échecs,

I write to you concerning the decision to host the next World Championship in Tehran, Iran. I am chiefly concerned with the risks inherent in subjecting competing women to Iran’s imposed modesty codes, including but not limited to, the hijab. These codes are often violently enforced by Iranian officials through fines, imprisonment, and public lashing. It was only in May this year when 35 Iranian students were sentenced to 99 lashes each because they had been caught clothed but without religious coverings at a private gathering.

It is unconscionable to ask the women who wish to compete to risk these penalties for the sake of so-called “tolerance,” when the penalties only exist to begin with for the express purpose of institutionalizing the subjugation of women. Worse still, agreeing to host in Tehran constitutes a tacit endorsement of the brutal human rights violations regularly perpetrated by the Iranian government, which has in the recent past unjustly prosecuted its LGBTQ, Christian, and Atheist citizens. Any of your competitors who are in these groups are likewise threatened by Iranian law.

I ask on behalf of many concerned freethinkers for FIDE to reconsider their host for 2017. Please do not make the competitors who are women, LGBTQ, Christian, and/or Atheist, choose between their participation and their safety. Violently enforced intolerance is not a principle that deserves tolerance. We can do better by the persecuted Iranian minorities as well as the players who would be at risk in attending.


Writer at FreeThoughtBlogs



  1. says

    So they’re kicking women in the face, especially Iranian women by lending credibility to that fuckery.

    Even if Iran can be persuaded to grant exemptions to the competitors, FIDE is effectively forcing the competitors–especially the women–to risk their lives on the word of a totalitarian regime that has institutionalized second class status for women.

    Even if Iran would give a 100% guarantee, it would even make things worse since it would give the regime in Teheran legitimacy and good PR.

  2. Ed Seedhouse says

    Just to clarify, and not to in any way justify, it is the Woman’s World Championship that will be held in Iran. Men are not allowed to compete (though I am not sure about FIDE’s attitude to the trans gendered I suspect that it is also pretty ugly).

    The point, such as it is, is that male players, not being permitted to compete, can hardly take part in the boycot. Well, some of the women have male coaches so they can (and should) be expected to boycott as well.

    The open world championship in which women are theoretically permitted to complete (and even have, though rarely) is not being held in Iran. The candidate’s tournament was held this year in Russia and was won by Sergey Karjakin who will play a 12 game match with Magnus Carlsen in November in New York to decide the title.

  3. John Morales says

    Just a note: the Women’s World Chess Championship is a woman-only event.

    The World Chess Championship is accessible to both men and women.

    Two different events.

    Not relevant to the issue at hand or the points you raise, but it certainly confused me initially when reading the post.

  4. smrnda says

    I read an annoying article in the nytimes about how a boycott ‘wont’ help the women of Iran.’ Maybe it won’t, but that isn’t the issue. It isn’t the job of women from outside Iran to subject themselves to sexist, religious inspired ‘modesty rules’ for any reason whatsoever. The article was full of obnoxious patronizing nonsense, the whole ‘but it’s just a hijab, get it on your heads you uppity western women all in the name of international competition!”

    It wouldn’t oppress Iranian women if they traveled to some other nation, free to wear or not any such attire, with any such compulsions absent for all other women.