Dispute over dress code can not isolate Iranian women

October 4, The Iran Project – The next year’s Women’s World Chess Championship due to be held in Iran has been subject to controversy in light of the dress code issue.

The Islamic Republic of Iran was awarded the hosting rights for the women’s World Chess Championship during the FIDE General Assembly in Baku in September this year.

By the way, Tehran holds a special place in India’s chess legacy. It was the venue for the country’s maiden world title in the sport – won by Viswanathan Anand in 2000. Five-time world champion Anand dwelt on what he described a ‘pleasant and memorable experience’ during the 2000 World Championship, asserting that it’s largely a personal decision of players.

Anger of Critics

Apparently, the story began when several grandmasters have made objection to the dress code required by the Islamic Republic for the March 2017 finals.

Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, the 2016 American Chess Champion, in an interview with Masih Alinejad, the foreign-based journalist critic of the Iranian government, has boycott the first Women’s World Championship after being told that the women should compete wearing hijab.

Meanwhile, the world chess body, FIDE, has ruled out moving next year’s women’s World Championship out of Iran.

Supports of Iranian Social Media Users

But the move has been widely criticized by large number of Iranian social media users, describing it as a hindrance on the way of women’s sports in Iran. The Iranian social media users also under a hashtag which means ‘No to boycott of Iranian women’s sports (#نه_به_تحریم_ورزش_زنان_ایران) trying to broadly echoed their protests globally.

For instance, Mitra Hejazipour, 23, a woman grandmaster who managed to win the 2015 Asian continental women’s championship believes that a boycott would be wrong and could hinder efforts to promote female sport in Iran.

“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,” Hejazipour said from Tehran.

“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.”

FIDE Endorsement

In a meantime, world’s top chess official Susan Polgar believes that the women players need to respect ‘cultural differences’ after many of the highest-ranking female players have called for a boycott of the next year’s world championships in Iran. 

“If any player has a problem with it, she can and should voice her opinion to the Commission for Women’s Chess or FIDE and we can address it in our next meeting,” she added.

“I kept hearing in recent years about media bias and dishonesty. I never really paid attention to it until today. All these articles from major media sources either got the facts wrong or simply completely made up,” Polgar said.

Hungarian Grandmaster Polgar said in a statement that she would have “no issues with wearing a headscarf as long as it is the same for all players”. 

She said: “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.”

In addition, Elham Yazdiha, a Turkey-based Iranian sports journalist, believed that she was confident Hejazipour’s view reflected the voice of sportswomen in Iran. “Calls for a boycott will only disappoint Iranian women and destroy their hopes,” she said. 

It is also worth mentioning that the Iranian female basketball players were also barred by international bodies from playing in world events because of the dress code.

Iranian Women Progress

Despite the international restriction created against the Iranian women over the dress code, they have a strong social presence in the society.

Women in Iran have held senior government jobs; the country currently has a number of female vice-presidents and one female ambassador, as well.

Notwithstanding the restrictions, many people in Iran are proud of representing their country. In 2013, Shirin Gerami became the first female triathlete to compete for Iran in the sport’s world championship. In August this year, Kimia Alizadeh made history in Rio as she became the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal.

In the end, it should be noted that such propaganda that guided by certain groups and so-called human rights and women rights advocates will not hinder Iranian women sports and would not isolate them.

The international community is also expected to respect the cultural diversity of other countries, dress code in particular.