Protest against playing the Women's World Championship in Iran

by André Schulz
9/29/2016 – During the Chess Olympiad 2016 in Baku the General Assembly of FIDE made two important decisions which concern major tournaments. FIDE decided to play the Chess Olympiad 2020 in Khanty-Mansiysk and to let the Iranian Chess Federation organise the Women's World Championship 2017. This decision caused furious protests because in previous tournaments in Iran the women participants were forced to wear a headscarf.

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The World Championship for men is played every two years but the women play every year for the title - with changing formats. One year the Women's World Championship is decided in a match between the reigning World Champion and her challenger,  the winner of the FIDE Grand Prix series, the next year a mini-match knock-out tournament with 64 players is played. If everything goes according to plan. If.

Currently, the world's best female player is Hou Yifan from China. In 2010 she became the 13th Women's World Champion after winning the knock-out World Championship in Antalya, Turkey. One year later, in 2011, Hou Yifan defended her title in a match against her challenger, the Indian Humpy Koneru. But at the knock-out World Championship in 2012 Hou Yifan failed to defend her title again: in round two she played against Monika Socko from Poland, lost the mini-match, and was eliminated. The Ukrainian Anna Ushenina became new World Champion. But because Hou Yifan had won the Grand Prix series, she had the right to challenge the new World Champion to a title match in 2013 which the Chinese won clearly and without any trouble.

Hou Yifan

In 2014 things got complicated. No city or federation was willing to host the knock-out World Championship scheduled for 2014 and FIDE decided to move the match to 2015 to have more time to find a host. But now the new date of the knock-out tournament clashed with Hou Yifan's schedule and she decided not to play in the knock-out tournament even though this meant to forfeit her title.

Mariya Muzychuk won the knock-out tournament to become new World Champion and in March 2016 had to defend her title in a match against Hou Yifan, who had won the Grand Prix series again. Hou Yifan won the match against Muzychuk clearly and regained the title.

After this match Hou Yifan, the old and the new World Champion, publicly protested against the World Championship format. She quit the Grand Prix series in which she was playing and declared that she would no longer start in a knock-out World Championship. Previously, the Chinese had again and again asked FIDE officials to change the World Championship format and had proposed to adapt the format of the Men's World Championship. In vain.

Currently the FIDE has difficulties to find organisers for major tournaments and matches, and not only for women's events. The sanctions of the US government against Russian businessman had an impact on chess and and also affected FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Now the women's knock-out World Championship has never been a tournament that was easy to sell and the decision of the World Champion to withdraw from the tournament did not help to make it more attractive for sponsors.

Originally, the knock-out Women's World Championship 2016 was scheduled to take place from 11th to 31st October. But when FIDE did not find an organiser for the event, the tournament was quietly deferred to February 2017. And when the General Assembly of FIDE met in Baku during the Chess Olympiad the delegates decided that the World Championship tournament was to take place in the Iranian capital Tehran.

A decision that soon provoked furious protests.




In previous women tournaments in Iran all participants had indeed been asked to wear a hijab, irrespective of their religion or country.

Female grandmasters at the Grand Prix tournament in Tehran.

In February 2016 the Iranian Chess Federation was host of a Grand Prix tournament and all participants, including the non-Muslim, were asked to conform to the customs of the country and to wear a headscarf in public - and thus during the rounds. The participants complied to this wish and after the tournament praised the hospitality of the organisers and the good playing conditions. However, comments about reports of this tournament often criticised this religiously motivated dress regulations.

Moreover, the US State Department issued a travel warning for travels to Iran. 


Reigning US Champion Nazi Paikidze already declared that she would not take part in the World Championship tournament even though she qualified.The English newspaper "The Telegraph" quotes her as saying "It is absolutely unacceptable to host one of the most important women's tournaments in a venue where, to this day, women are forced to cover up with a hijab.

I understand and respect cultural differences. But, failing to comply can lead to imprisonment and women's rights are being severely restricted in general."


Players who qualified for the World Championship according to FIDE

Qualified are:
 2016 World Champion, runner-up and 2 semi-finalists of 2015 WC
 Hou Yifan (China)
 Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine)
 Dronavalli Harika (India)
 Pia Cramling (Sweden)
 2014 and 2015 Girls' Junior Champion
 Aleksandra Goryachkina (Russia)
 Nataliya Buksa (Ukraine)
 5 highest rated players (plays over 30 rated games) from average rating February 2015 to January 2016
 Humpy Koneru (India)
 Ju Wenjun (China)
 Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine)
 Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia)
 Zhao Xue (China)
 51 players from Women's Continental and Zonal qualifiers
 For Europe Top 14 of 2014 and 2015 of European Championship not already qualified (28)[5][6][7]
 Russia Valentina Gunina (E14)
 Russia Tatiana Kosintseva (E14)
 Georgia (country) Salome Melia (E14)
 Ukraine Natalia Zhukova (E14)
 Georgia (country) Nana Dzagnidze (E14)
 Georgia (country) Nino Batsiashvili (E14)
 Georgia (country) Lela Javakhishvili (E14)
 Bulgaria Antoaneta Stefanova (E14)
 Romania Cristina-Adela Foisor (E14)
 Poland Monika Socko (E14)
 Georgia (country) Nino Khurtsidze (E14)
 Russia Alina Kashlinskaya (E14)
 Armenia Elina Danielian (E14)
 Russia Anastasia Bodnaruk (E14)
 Russia Marina Guseva (E15)
 Russia Olga Girya (E15)
 Ukraine Inna Gaponenko (E15)
 Russia Ekaterina Kovalevskaya (E15)
 Georgia (country) Bela Khotenashvili (E15)
 Russia Alisa Galliamova (E15)
 Germany Elisabeth Paehtz (E15)
 Russia Daria Charochkina (E15)
 Armenia Lilit Mkrtchian (E15)
 Russia Anastasia Savina (E15)
 Hungary Hoang Thanh Trang (E15)
 Georgia (country) Sopiko Guramishvili (E15)
 Turkey Ekaterina Atalik (E15)
 Italy Olga Zimina (E15)
 Asia (12): 2014 and 2015 Asian champions
 Irine Kharisma Sukandar (Indonesia)
 Mitra Hejazipour (Iran)
 Zonal champions
 Zhu Chen (Qatar) (Z3.1)[8]
 Akter Liza Shamima (Bangladesh) (Z3.2)[9]
 Pham Le Thao Nguyen (Vietnam) (Z3.3)[10]
 Dinara Saduakassova (Kazakhstan) (Z3.4)[11]
 Tan Zhongyi (China) (Z3.5)[12]
 Zhai Mo (China) (Z3.5)
 Ni Shiqun (China) (Z3.5)
 Huang Qian (China) (Z3.5)
 Emma Guo (Australia) (Z3.6)[13]
 Americas (8): (unknown)
 Africa (3): (unknown)
 2 FIDE nominees: (not yet announced)

Article in The Telegraph...

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


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Chessspawnvt Chessspawnvt 10/4/2016 11:05
Please sign the petition and pass the link along to others.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/4/2016 09:05
Whether or not to have Women's World Championship is a very interesting topic, but I will not address it here, since it is completely irrelevant from the point of view of the debate we have.

Since we already have a Women's World Championship and it is going to be hosted in Iran, I will address the issue of the headscarf. Any country which organizes such an event should respect the religions, beliefs and habits of the people going to participate. Since Iran does not respect any non-Muslim belief and habit contradicting to their Muslim belief and habit, Iran is clearly unsuitable as a host for such an event.
gmwdim gmwdim 10/3/2016 05:33
Unfortunately many of the players will probably travel to Iran anyways because they need the income from participating.
CostaMaison3 CostaMaison3 10/3/2016 12:56
Why we bother? It depends solely on the participants. If most participants are fine with wearing this small cloth then we should move on.
I personally see wearing a hat, a mask, glasses, shoes or this small cloth is not an issue.
Nowadays, there are much worse restrictions on chess players than before such as access to their cell phones which is acceptable by everybody. Furthermore, the player are force to attend the press conference irrespective of their game result, which is demanded by the audience but more difficult to adhere by the player than wearing a small cloth.
sivakumar R sivakumar R 10/2/2016 05:30
Iran forgot to mention another important rule - queen (on the chess board) must wear a head scarf too. I'm sure FIDE will promptly nod......
Chessspawnvt Chessspawnvt 10/2/2016 01:37
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the World of Islam, women may face virginity testing before being allowed to start university. Perhaps this is required of women entering Webster University in St. Louis?
amazme1 amazme1 10/1/2016 11:36
No one in their right mind should go to Iran. Enough said.
Jacob woge Jacob woge 10/1/2016 01:44
Option 1: Stay away. Option 2: All accompanying men wear head scarf as well.
fons fons 10/1/2016 12:12
Agree 100% with Chessspawnvt.

How the chess world has been able to put up with FIDE for this long is beyond me. Start a new federation already. FIDE is fubar and just sitting around hoping for it to magically get better is not going to change anything, that much should be clear after all these years.

It doesn't have to be big at first; all you need is a few of the bigger chess countries to join up.

What does FIDE really do apart from the rating system? They don't organize tournaments, they just give permission for others to do so.

So to get started all you need is to figure out a way to organize a world championship cycle and a rating system. Once you have that the rest will fall into place soon enough and FIDE will become irrelevant before you know it.

It looks like a big endeavor but it isn't. Rome wasn't built in a day. All you need is a start.
Chessspawnvt Chessspawnvt 9/30/2016 09:50
To fightingchess: Women living in Iran do not agree with your assessment. See the following:
fightingchess fightingchess 9/30/2016 09:12
chess popularity is rising rapidly in iran. if iran is willing to host these events, let them do it. a hijab is not a big deal.
Chessspawnvt Chessspawnvt 9/30/2016 07:47
It is quite ironic that FIDE Women's Commission co-chair Susan Polgar finds nothing wrong with holding this event in Iran. The irony is to be found in Webster University holding a a conference on human rights focused on equality before the law. ... y-law.html

Webster University maintains a policy of inclusion and diversity that is set out as follows:

"Operational Definition of Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity embraces all human differences while building on the commonalities. It serves to eliminate discrimination and exclusion based on race, color, creed, national origin, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, disability, religion or military status." ... ement.html

Perhaps someone should tell the Women's Commission co-chair that she may want to consult the appropriate office at Webster and hopefully change her FIDE position.

Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement
Loretto Hall 363
(314) 246-8250
Chessspawnvt Chessspawnvt 9/30/2016 04:12
I suggest that one consider Putin's relationship to Kirsan and Filatov of the Russian Chess Federation. Both are staunch allies of Putin and owe much of their wealth and power in chess to him. Russia seeks closer relations with Terhan and FIDE's holding of this championship there will only help Russian political interests by bringing the prestige of a WCC tournament to a sought after ally to balance the West's alignment with nations like Saudi Arabia. Recall please that Russia recently used Iranian air bases to attack forces in Syria. Nothing in FIDE's world happens in a global political vacuum. So much for Gens Una Sumus.
Andrea Mori Andrea Mori 9/30/2016 02:20
Do not confuse tradition with coercion. Hijab may be a traditional woman's outfit, but nowhere else people must wear traditional outfits. Before 1979 wearing hijab wan not compulsory for Iranian women (as many pictures prove) thus there's even not a continuity of usage that would allow to think to pass this coercion as "tradition". In my opinion FIDE has made a bad blunder awarding a women's competion to a country where women *must* adhere to a strict dress code that most of the supposed participants regard as demeaning and degrading.
NJD NJD 9/30/2016 01:20
Anyone from America, Canada or Western Europe considering going to Iran should have their heads examined.
ChessPro888 ChessPro888 9/30/2016 09:12
Iran never respect other country culture and religion. When they attend the soccer world cup in Germany, they asked the organizer to take all the cross of Christianity symbol down from the room at the hotel they stay. Now in their country, they forced all participants to ware hijab! This is ridicolous. The motto of chess is GENS UNA SUMUS. So, Iran has to respect all other countries participants because their all one big family.
mistery mistery 9/30/2016 08:46
My goodness, this is all so shocking. First off the ridiculousness of the rules of the WWC changing EVERY YEAR! I actually don't care so much what the rules are as long as they are consistent. They ought to be consistent across sexes but also there should be continuity over time.

I'm also appalled that FIDE would even consider hosting women's events in Iran. REALLY??? IRAN??? The UN has 139 members. 3, Sudan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia require hijab. Those should be the LAST choices to host a women's ANYTHING! I agree with Mr. Lafferty's last paragraph entirely. Baaaa!

I'm also appalled that two out of four previous commentators on this thread think the solution is to end women's tournaments! You are so sexist you can't even recognize it in yourself. There are women who will not compete in open chess tournaments because the environment is so hostile to people who are not men. Not to mention the sexism that exists in FIDE itself. Women's and girl's tournaments are a necessity until the chess playing community finds a way to reduce the sexism that is rampant in our community. Yes, in an ideal world, we would all compete in open tournaments and we would not need women's tournaments. But we are not in an ideal world. Until we get to that ideal world, we need to do every thing we can to give girls and women a safe environment to play chess.
hpaul hpaul 9/30/2016 03:27
We should long ago have stopped holding separate championships or separate tournaments for women. There's no serious justification for it. What's the meaning of being the "champion of women?" It's like being the "champion of left-handers." It's a meaningless distinction. Gens una sumus. Let's all play together.
Chessspawnvt Chessspawnvt 9/30/2016 03:19
FIDE, by it own principles, should never have an event for a World Championship in a country that violates norms of international law and human rights. To do so is itself a violation of international law. No human being should be placed in the position of having to choose to protect their rights by avoiding that which they have, in good faith, made their careers and livelihood.

The women who face being forced to comply with Iran's religious code that discriminates both against their religious/personal beliefs and against them because of their sex (men don't have to wear head cover as the women do) must not, as a matter of international law, be placed in such a position by FIDE. What FIDE is allowing and helping the Islamic Republic of Iran, a signatory to the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, do is to destroy the fundamental rights of these women chess players who do not want to wear the hijab. Any of these women or any national chess federation could take FIDE before CAS for monetary and injunctive relief. This is, unfortunately, not an inexpensive process. Any affected national federation could file a complaint with the IOC, with which FIDE has a formal relationship. Those are possible short term solutions.

The long term answer, IMO, is for chess professionals and their federations to unite and form a successor organization to FIDE. If the female and male GMs and IMs, including Carlsen, refuse to play another FIDE sanctioned, game, tournament or match until there is meaningful reform, things would change quite rapidly. If not, they could form a true democratic, transparent organization. But, as NIgel Short pointed out in an interview at the Olympiad, chess players are presently sheep with no backbone to do, not only what's morally right, but what is actually in their long term best interests. Baaaaaaa, Baaaaaaa
Brian Lafferty, Esq.
yesenadam yesenadam 9/30/2016 12:28
Thank you. News that isn't a press release is rare on here! This sentence made me laugh: "The sanctions of the US government against Russian businessman had an impact on chess and and also affected FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov." Not sure why. hehe.

Not sure why they have the WWC every year if it's so hard to find sponsors. Maybe every 2 or 3 years would be better. Then Yifan could worry about something else than defending her title every 5 minutes! Talk about respect - FIDE should show some to Hou. It's been disgraceful. (I was just thinking, it's almost like they want the 1993 split all over again - and I wondered who she could team with to split from FIDE.. then remembered Nigel is already a part of this very controversy!)

I did feel some sympathy for Iran reading this. I guess ultimately it's a matter of numbers. If almost every country in the world imprisoned women for not wearing a scarf on their head, it would seem normal. As it is, it seems insane. To most of the world, that is.
algorithmy algorithmy 9/30/2016 12:06
I say cancel all women tournaments. The whole concept is wrong and humiliating for women. and so is those absurd titles of WGM and WIM.
women chess tournaments are really big waste of money that should spent to promote chess in more important areas.