Iran ban on chess players revisited

by ChessBase
3/7/2017 – Iran, the country that has just finished hosting the 2017 Women's World Championship, has been in the mainstream news of late for different reasons. In a remarkable incident during sidelines of the Championship the Iran Chess Federation banned two siblings for "hurting Iran's national interests" (e.g. not wearing a hijab in the Gibraltar Open). This has caused an international outcry, and now an Iranian player and computer scientist, Arash Akbarinia, weighs in.

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


It happened in the middle of the 2017 Women's Knockout World Championship, in which some of the world's top players did not participate, due to a dress code that mandated the wearing of a hijab. This led to an international outcry. Then a remarkable incident occurred at the sidelines of the Women's World Championship itself: the Iran Chess Federation banned two siblings, 18-year-old IM Dorsa Derakhshani and 15-year-old Borna Derakhshani, from domestic chess tournaments and the national team for – "hurting Iran's national interests."

IM Dorsa Derakhshani, banned for playing in Gibraltar without a hijab

Borna Derakhshani [Photo: Al-Ain Youth Chess] is being punished because he agreed to play and actually shook hands with Israeli GM Alex Huzman in the first round of the Gibraltar Masters

As a first step, these two players will be denied entry to all tournaments taking place in and in the name of Iran. The head of the Iranian Chess Federation, Mehrdad Pahlevanzadesh, said that national interests had priority over everything, and that stricter actions were on the horizon for the siblings for going against Iran's principles. "We're considering measures that will prevent similar incidents from taking place in future tournaments," he told Fars.

Borna Derakhshani lives in Iran. Meanwhile, Dorsa is a student in Spain. While Borna is no doubt a talented young boy, 18-year-old Dorsa is only the second female in Iran chess history to achieve the title of International Master. Our previous report contains a video interview, conducted by our editor Alejandro Ramirez. In it Dorsa talks about her chess, her move to Spain and her relationship with the Iranian Chess Federation.

Recently we received an article sent to us by an old friend, Sayad Arash Akbarinia, who is doing a PhD at Centre de Visió per Computador of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. He's a member of NeuroComputation and Biological Vision Team (NeuroBiT), working on "Computational Modelling of Visual Perception" under the supervision of C. Alejandro Párraga. Arash is an FM with a highest rating of 2413.

Mixing sport and politics

By Arash Akbarinia

During the past weeks the President of the Iran Chess Federation, Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh, who also is the Treasurer of Asian Chess Federation and carries a number of other important posts in FIDE, has threatened to "severely punish" two Iranian teen siblings, Dorsa and Borna Derakhshani, for allegedly breaking religious rules of the Islamic Republic outside of the country.

Dorsa an eighteen-year-old Woman Grandmaster, rated second among Iranian female chess players. She is also a full IM, quite a remarkable accomplishment for the Iran women's chess community, considering the fact that thus far only one other player has achieved this title in Iran. She is deemed guilty of participating in the Gibraltar Chess Festival without the "hijab", the Islamic head scarf that became compulsory in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution for any girl older than nine! Her younger fifteen-year-old brother Borna has committed an even more heinous crime of playing against (and probably shaking hands with!) an Israeli chess player in the same tournament. This is an act strictly prohibited for Iranian athletes, since the regime of Islamic Republic does not recognise the State of Israel.

Regardless of what political opinion one might have regarding the Israel regime, or any other country as a matter of fact, it is a senseless rule to mix sport and politics by dictating to citizens of a country that they must avoid any encounters with certain fellow global citizens. Therefore, forbidding Iranian athletes to face their Israeli counterparts in official tournaments such as World Cups and Olympics, is a futile mandate and clearly contrary to the sportive spirit of those events. This becomes ironically more bizarre when you extend this unconstitutional law to open tournaments, where the nationality or citizenship of a participant is not even a matter of question. Chess players from all over the world participate in open tournaments as individual entities, and they are not by any means official representatives of their countries.

It appears to me that Mr. Pahlevanzadeh, instead of defending Iranian chess players, a professional responsibility and moral obligation of his, has decided to take counterproductive measures by promising "severe punishment" for a game of chess played in an open tournament which first and foremost is not remotely related to the Iran Chess Federation and therefore simply not their business.

Similar reasoning is applied to the case of mandatory "hijab", an inhuman law that invades women's liberty and dignity by forcing them to cover their hair and body against their free will (please do not read between lines, my utmost respect for those who wear it freely and voluntarily as a matter of choice and their personal religion). This cruel law deprives women of their basic human rights – the right to wear what one wants in public. Yet it is only valid within the frontiers of the Islamic Republic, and no Iranian is obliged to obey it outside of Iran, even within the current discriminatory "Constitution of the Islamic Republic".

Therefore, again it seems that Mr. Pahlevanzadeh has decided, instead of defending one of the greatest Iranian chess talents, to blindly follow orders received from his superiors and pledge to ban Dorsa from national teams and participation in any national tournaments, merely because she has practiced her basic human right outside of Iran in an open tournament.

As a former Iranian professional chess player who knows Mr. Pahlevanzadeh rather well and collaborated with him in number of occasions, I was extremely disappointed by his comments. It should be expected of the President to progress towards respecting individual freedoms by striving to abolish these oppressive laws against Iranian women; and favouring friendship and dialogue over hostility and hatred by intending to clear sport events of any political interventions arising from the Islamic Republic or any other regime. Understandably on neither issue Mr. Pahlevanzadeh has all the necessary authority and power to solve them single-handedly; however it is desired from a man of his prestige and position to take steps towards progressive directions rather than regressive ones.

Press reports (click for full articles)

Many more international reports on the subject

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register