- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Nazi Paikidze, the reigning U.S. women’s chess champion, is protesting next year’s World Chess Championship competition in Iran because women players will be required by law to wear a hijab.

“I think it’s unacceptable to host a women’s World Championship in a place where women do not have basic fundamental rights and are treated as second-class citizens,” she wrote in an Instagram post over the weekend.

Ms. Paikidze, who was born in Russia and now lives in Las Vegas, started a Change.org petition asking organizers to either change the location of the 2017 event or to make it optional for women to wear a headscarf, which is legally required in Iran.

“In its handbook, FIDE explicitly states its guiding moral principles and one of them is that the organization ‘rejects discriminatory treatment for national, political, racial, social or religious reasons or on account of sex.’ (F.01(1)(2)). Yet, by awarding the Championship to Iran, it is breaking that pledge to its members and subjecting them to discrimination on all fronts,” the petition states. “These issues reach far beyond the chess world. While there has been social progress in Iran, women’s rights remain severely restricted. This is more than one event; it is a fight for women’s rights.”

FIDE, the world chess federation, said in a statement that Iran “was the only country which made a proposal to host the event” and that no other member nations made any objections, the BBC reported.

“There were no complaints from the players or officials and everybody respected the laws of the country, including the dress requirements,” FIDE’s press officer Anastasiya Karlovich said in the statement. “It is not a FIDE regulation or requirement to wear a hijab during the event. I would kindly refer you to local laws or regulations such as wearing the hijab, if you kindly check the UK foreign office website for more information you will find there ‘You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend.’ “

Since announcing her campaign, Ms. Paikidze has faced backlash with claims she doesn’t understand Islamic culture and Iranian society.

“For those saying that I don’t know anything about Iran: I have received the most support and gratitude from the people of Iran, who are facing this situation every day,” she responded on Instagram.

“I’m protesting FIDE’s decision not because of Iran’s religion or people, but for the government’s laws that are restricting my rights as a woman,” she said, the BBC reported.

British chess player Nigel Short has been tweeting in support of Ms. Paikidze’s campaign, describing “scandalous religious and sexual discrimination against women players in Iran.”

The international director of the English Chess Federation, Malcolm Pein, agreed with Ms. Paikidze’s cause, telling Heat Street, “I deplore the choice of Iran as a venue for the competition.”

“I strongly disagree with women being compelled to comply with a religious edict in order to compete at a sporting event as that contravenes the principle that sport should be for all,” Mr. Pein said.

The president of the Danish chess union, Poul Jacobsen, also criticized Iran’s “harsh” laws and said officials should lobby for a change.

“We usually have the attitude when traveling to a championship that we should participate with respect for the places we go. This is harsh, however,” he told the Copenhagen Post. “I think we should try to influence the conditions rather than not have a tournament.”

Officials from the United States Chess Federation told Heat Street that they had yet to announce their view.

Susan Polgar, chair of Fide’s Commission for Women’s Chess, defended the federation and said female players should respect “cultural differences” in other countries.

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