Alireza Firouzja to play for France

by André Schulz
7/9/2021 – The French Chess Federation has announced that Alireza Firouzja will be naturalized in France. The current number 1 player in the junior rating list will represent the French Federation in the future. It will take some time for the change of federation to be completed.

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Alireza Firouzja, born on 18 June 2003 in Babol, Iran, is the world’s best U-20 chess player. The 18-year-old leads the junior ranking by some distance, with a 2759 rating.

Firouzja has virtually taught himself chess by playing on the internet. At the age of 12, he already won the Iranian National Championship in 2016 and was called up to the Iranian national team. In 2016, he played in the Asian Team Championships and was the best player on board 4. In 2016 and 2018, he also represented his country at the Chess Olympiads. In March 2018, Firouzja received the grandmaster title. In August 2019, he became the second-youngest player after Wei Yi to surpass the 2700 rating mark. Simultaneously, Firouzja was frequently invited to play in supertournaments. 

Alireza Firouzja is one of a whole series of Iranian talents who have attracted attention with their success in recent years. However, the Islamic Republic of Iran prohibits its athletes from competing against athletes from Israel in international sporting events, including in chess, and thus hinders the development of their talents. Israeli players also take part in the many open chess tournaments around the world. If an Israeli player is paired up against a player from Iran, the Iranian player is not allowed to compete according to the rules of his country and loses without a match. Otherwise, he and his family face severe sanctions in his home country. FIDE has explicitly reprimanded this practice and threatened the Iranian Federation with expulsion. In their response, Iranian officials have claimed that the players voluntarily make such decisions.

As a result of the political pressure, many Iranian players have already left their country. At the 2019 World Rapid Chess and Blitz Championships, Alireza Firouzja no longer competed under his country’s colours but under the FIDE flag. In the rapid section, he was the runner-up behind Magnus Carlsen.

Currently, Alireza Firouzja lives with his family in Chartres and is apparently well looked after by members of the C'Chartres Échecs club, with their president Francois Gilles. 

As has been suspected for some time, Alireza Firouzja will join the French Chess Federation. The federation announced yesterday that Firouzja will be naturalized in France. The national authorities thanked Francois Gilles and the mayor of Chartres, Jean-Pierre Gorges, for their efforts. 

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja in Paris | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

FIDE allows a change of federation even if a player has already participated in international team competitions for another federation. Originally, this regulation was intended for a change of federation after naturalization or a change of residence to another country, as in the case of Firouzja. In practice, however, there have been and still are numerous changes of federation without a real change of residence. This is tacitly tolerated by FIDE and not questioned further. The World Chess Federation charges an administrative fee (250 euros) for the change of federation. After the change of federation, however, a suspension period of two years is imposed for international team competitions. The new federation can shorten this period by paying a ‘transfer fee’ to the player’s previous federation. This can amount to several thousand euros, depending on the playing strength of the transferring player. Some federations, such as the US federation, do not pay such transfer fees as a matter of principle and leave it up to the player to shorten the waiting period.

In the case of Firouzja, the French Federation points out that it may be some time before the top player gets to represent France in team tournaments. Apparently, no agreement has been reached with the Iranian Federation.

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.

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