Nov. 8, 2020
FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich
Avenue de Rhodanie 54
1007 Lausanne, Switzerland
Dear President Dvorkovich,
Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee President, and many world leaders appealed for mercy in the case of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari who was sentenced to death for the crime of protesting. But at dawn on Sept. 12, 2020, the Islamic Republic shocked everyone by throwing a rope around Navid’s neck and executed him. The killing of a wrestler not only highlighted the injustices of the Islamic Republic, but also exposed the politicization of all sports in Iran.
The “United for Navid” campaign, launched by a group of prominent Iranian human rights activists and athletes and directed by human rights campaigner Masih Alinejad, calls on international organizations such as the International Olympic Committee, the International Chess Federation and FIFA to: suspended the Islamic Republic from international sports.
For years, the Islamic Republic has pushed its athletes to a forfeit matches to avoid facing Israeli athletes. This is contrary not only to the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play but also goes against the rules that many organizations have established against discrimination.
In chess, Iranian players have often defaulted their games against Israeli players rather than face punishment from the Islamic Republic. Today, many Iranian medalists and sports champions have fled Iran and are competing under the flags of other countries. After Iran withdrew its players from the 2019 World Rapid and Blitz Championship to uphold their ban against Israeli players, Grand Master Alireza Firouzja in December 2019, announced he would no longer player under the Iranian flag.
Women athletes are no exception to this rule, but carry double the pressure. They must observe the compulsory hijab in every sport they play. Mitra Hejazipour, a chess champion, was expelled from the Iranian national team for not wearing a hijab at the World Chess Championship. Dorsa Derakhshani, another WGM, was also banned from playing in Iran because she attended the 2017 Gibraltar Chess Festival without a hijab.
As you know, Shohreh Bayat refereed the finals of the 2020 World Women Chess Tournament, but she did not return to Iran due to security pressures brought to her by the hijab. The Islamic Republic even forces non-Iranian athletes to wear the hijab to participate in international competitions hosted by Iran.
In 2016, Nazi Paikidze, the US women’s chess champion, refused to participate in a chess tournament hosted by Iran due to mandatory hijab rules. In 2018, the Indian chess champion Soumya Swaminathan did not attend the Asian Chess Championship hosted by Iran due to the mandatory hijab rules.
Interestingly, Saudi Arabia did not require women to wear the hijab at the 2017 Fide World Lightning Championships in Riyadh.
Iranian women face multiple obstacles in all sports. To participate in swimming competitions, they must wear Islamic swimwear, they cannot wear sportswear in athletics, because the Islamic hijab must be observed. Women have no place in tennis because women’s tennis clothes are not Islamic. They cannot leave the country and participate in international competitions without the official permission of their spouse. Even women who are not athletes but are interested in sports cannot go freely to the stadium to watch and support their favorite team. Women’s sports teams cannot have a male coach and cannot even talk to and exchange information with a male athlete in the same field. In the cities, there are no sports facilities for girls interested in various sports, because for girls in the Islamic Republic, housekeeping and reproduction are only defined.
As the head of Russia’s organizing committee for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, you are familiar with the ban on women participating in football matches in Iran. In October 2019, under intense pressure from FIFA, the Islamic Republic opened a small section of Azadi Stadium so that a group of pre-selected women could play against Cambodia. But the FIFA pressure only came after a shocking self-immolation by Sahar Khodayari, known as the #blue girl. She set herself on fire in protest for a six-month prison sentence for attending a football game. However, to add insult to injury, the Islamic Republic has quietly resumed banning women from stadiums while FIFA is silent.
Khodayari’s death is a reminder that political inactivity by international organizations such as FIFA, FIDE and the IOC can not only perpetuate misery, but even cost lives.
Therefore, we request you to suspend the Iranian Chess Federation if it boycotts Israeli players. We also urge you to demand the Iranian Chess Federation not to punish women for refusing to wear the obligatory hijab.
There is no place for discrimination in sports.
United for Navid