The Hijab protest in chess

10/7/2016 – Who is currently in the news, which chess player is dominating the headlines in the straight press? It is not Magnus, Nepo or Anish, but a 22-year-old US/Georgian IM who is boycotting the Women's World Championship in Tehran because of the requirement to wear a hijab of headscarf. Failure to do so in Iran can result in a fine or a prison term. This has unleashed a flurry of attention in the international press.

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The hijab is a veil traditionally worn by Muslim women in the presence of adult males outside of their immediate family, which usually covers the head and chest. What a women's tournament with mandatory hijabs looks like can be seen in our Women's Grand Prix reports by Alina l'Ami from February this year (see also links at the bottom of that report).

International news media reports (selection)

Oct. 4 2016, Indian Express: Iran’s hijab law triggers scepticism among players before World Chess Championship
In February next year Iran will host a rare international women’s event – the world chess championship. Though, the tournament is still four months away, the tournament has created a buzz around the world. There is skepticism, outrage and plain amusement over Iran’s insistence on all women, including visitors, wearing hijab in public. Failure would result in a fine or a prison term. A day after Iran was awarded the championship, US champion Nazi Paikidze pulled out. Many may take her lead. Paikidze, the highest-ranked American, said she would ‘rather risk her career than be forced to wear a hijab.’ Indian Grandmaster Koneru Humpy, who has decided to compete, recalled how ‘uncomfortable’ it was during a Grand Prix in Iran earlier this year.

Oct. 5 2016, Washington Times: Champion U.S. chess player protests Iran World Championship over hijab
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.

Oct. 5 2016, BBC: The 22-year-old chess star boycotting Iran World Championships over hijab
Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, a 22-year-old champion chess player, is boycotting next year's World Chess Championship competition in Iran. "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 says. In Iran women are legally required to wear a hijab or headscarf. Nazi says she will not wear the hijab and "support oppression".

Oct. 5 2016: Calls for chess boycott over Iran's hijab laws
Calls for a boycott of next year's Women's World Chess Championship in Tehran, in protest at Iran's strict hijab laws, have prompted a big debate inside Iran in both the official and social media. At stake are two of the most current and contentious issues in Iran – equal participation for women in sport and increasing resistance among growing numbers of Iranian women to their country's compulsory Islamic dress code.

Oct. 5 2016, Washington Post: The American chess champion challenging Iran’s hijab fetish
Article by Asra Q. Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement; and Masih Alinejad, a journalist for the Voice of America Persian service and founder of My Stealthy Freedom, a campaign to oppose compulsory headscarves in Iran.

Oct. 6 2016, ABC News: America's Female Chess Champion Boycotts Iran Tournament Over Hijab Law
After learning that the 2017 Women's World Chess Championship would be held in Iran, America's top female chess player announced this week that she would boycott the tournament in the name of women's rights.

Oct. 6 2016, Fox News: Thousands sign US chess champ's petition to strip Iran of world championship over hijab law
Thousands of people have demanded that Iran be stripped of the right to host the women’s world chess championship because it will force players to compete in hijabs. At time of writing, 4,000 people had added their names to a petition by the reigning US women’s champion, Nazi Paikidze, who has said she would rather sacrifice her career than submit to Iran’s rules.

Oct. 6 2016, Washington Post: ‘I will NOT wear a hijab’
As one of the most successful women to ever play the male-dominated game of chess, Nazi Paikidze is used to having her moves watched closely. Her latest has drawn international attention: Paikidze announced last week that she will boycott February’s Women's World Chess Championship in Iran because the players will have to wear hijabs.

Oct. 6 2016, New York Post: US chess champ won't compete for world title if it means wearing a hijab
After years of playing with pawns and bishops, the reigning queen of US chess finds herself in the biggest stalemate of her career. The Russian-born star, who now lives in Las Vegas, told The Post she won’t budge unless FIDE — the world chess federation — moves the competition to a “no-conflict” zone or makes wearing the hijab optional.

Oct. 6 2016, Leon Watson in The Telgraph
The first woman to earn the title of chess Grandmaster has blocked more than 1,000 "trolls" on Twitter after becoming embroiled in the row over players being forced to wear hijabs. Susan Polgar, who chairs the governing body of the game's women’s committee, was besieged by angry users accusing her of failing to stand up for women's rights. The backlash followed widespread outrage at a decision by the sport's governing body to award the Women's World Championship to Iran and allow the strict Islamic regime to force female players to compete in hijabs.

ACP President Emil Sutovsky sent an inquiry to FIDE, as he reports on Twitter

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josschess josschess 2/20/2017 05:33
Belachelijk dat deelnemers aan een Fide toernooi gedwongen worden bepaalde religieuze kleding te dragen.
Waarom laat de Fide zich voor dit karretje spannen?
Waardering voor de vrouwen die geweigerd hebben te spelen, ondanks het feit dat t om de wereldtitel gaat.
Andrea Mori Andrea Mori 10/9/2016 11:58
To those who comment "it's their culture": it is not, culture is rooted in tradition and such strict dress code has only been imposed recently in Iran by the theocratic government. In other words, it's a coercion based on a religious dogmatic view of social behaviour. Before 1979 Iran's society was rather secular and a forced complying to a religion imposed dress code was unheard of. Any of you believing in the principle of a solid separation between church and state should regard the imposition of wearing hijab, or even just a headscarf, intolerable if applied generally, even to foreigners and non-believers of that specific religion. It's a shame that FIDE accepted to have an official competion hosted by a country where such coercion s in effect.
jacersjacers jacersjacers 10/8/2016 11:43
Freedom is not free. You have to be prepared to fight and even die for it. It is destroyed In fractions...forced apparel for women rather than absolutely their choice hijab or not.... marching the gentleman toward mandatory apparel ..say a necktie and leather shoes required by law for gentleman shopping for groceries. That is how it starts.. a black man wears his pants a little too low for some protectors of virtue and laws are passed about this so called grave THREAT TO SOCIETY. You better believe I signed Nazi's petition and urge all TO READ IT AND USE JUDGMENT AND COMMON SENSE AS TO WHAT IS INVOLVED HERE..FIRST NAZI AND THEN YOU COULD BE NEXT FOLKS......and should she change her birth given name? HELL NO... the chimes of freedom sound..the bells of rhymney ...WE GET THE MESSAGE LOUD AND CLEAR. Jude Acers New Orleans, Louisiana
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 10/8/2016 10:30
The reliability of information provided by FIDE is not so important here. It's about Susan Polgar's reaction to it: she could, instead of accepting things as they are or how they are presented, take the consequences that are in line with her upbringing - her parents had more guts.
the vhiz the vhiz 10/8/2016 06:06
Imagine if the outrage if the requirements included wearing funeral-like all-white clothing and bowing to the prince and the queen? Actually these are real requirements at a real sporting event today. Which 5th world, backward country would have such requirements and you ask? Look no further than Wimbledon - in which all top male and female players participate and is followed by over a billion people in over 200 territories.
argiopas argiopas 10/8/2016 12:26
fightingchess fightingchess 10/8/2016 12:09
@pillsbury2016 some laws may exist but they are not in practice. thy are just there by regime to show its ideologies but they are not really in effect mostly because it is not practical to follow people around and see what they are doing in their privacy. iran is a combination of western values and islamic traditional ones. for instance if you look at how iranian women dress in public you will notice that.
NYTed NYTed 10/8/2016 11:29
Their Laws are Their Laws, But Your Rights are Your Rights. It really is that simple.
recluse52 recluse52 10/8/2016 11:28
this should have been sorted out prior to any arrangements of holding this event in iran
recluse52 recluse52 10/8/2016 11:21
don't hold the event in iran
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/8/2016 09:36
If a grandmaster violates the dress code in a tournament of a Western city, his punishment will be a vitriolic article. Also, the dress code is applied only to the tournament and does not apply to other places. Comparing the forced wearing of hijab to dress codes expecting suits to be weared is therefore invalid, even though I do not agree with dress codes expecting grandmasters to wear suits.

Comparing non-Muslim women refusing to wear a hijab to the practical application of Sharia law in no-go zones is offensive both to these women and to Chessbase readers, who are assumed to believe this nonsense:
1. Sharia law directly challenges the laws of the country, trying to apply their rules to the Europeans, who happened to make the mistake to accept Muslim immigrants and who happen to make the mistake not to use military force to make sure that the country's laws will be applied and the country's citizens will be protected.
2. Appliers of Sharia law and creators of no-go zones are aggressive, non-Muslim people's lives are threatened there, while women not wearing a hijab do not threaten anyone.
3. Not wearing a hijab is an individual decision, while applying Sharia law against the laws of the country is a social decision.
4. Women not wearing a hijab do not want to force other women not to wear hijabs, while appliers of Sharia law force others to live by those laws.
5. Not wearing a hijab enforced by religion is different from not accepting laws based on common sense.

Clearly, forcing women to wear a hijab for religious reasons is like forcing Muslim people to eat pig meat, or denying them the right to pray towards Mecca. While a Western country is always tolerant to guests, Iran failed to be tolerant to Westerners. Basically, a great mistake of Western civilization is to be super-tolerant and super-correct to the people coming from a civilization which detests Western culture, but likes Western money.
pillsbury2016 pillsbury2016 10/8/2016 08:48
Is not only about wearing hijab. A woman can't visit a man in his hotel room and vice versa unless they are married. Such is the law in Iran and offenders can be severely punished. As most trainers are men and competitors women I suppose they will prepare their games in parks.
pillsbury2016 pillsbury2016 10/8/2016 08:46
There is one more outrageous comment coming from Susan Polgar and looks like nobody paid much attention to it

"I do not remember anyone demanded him to boycott or called him names because he decided to play and won. My question is why the double standard? Anand is a multi-millionaire. No one questioned him for competing. Most if not all of the 64 female players who qualified for the 2017 Women’s World Championship are poor. This title can change their lives on many levels. Why are they being attacked and insulted for choosing to compete?"

So THEY ARE POOR. 64 elite women chess players. Coming from the chief of FIDE women commission. No comment.
identity777 identity777 10/8/2016 06:49
kartik_ramkumar kartik_ramkumar 10/8/2016 05:12
well said bright knight..thay are saying just to wear a head scarf ..not the whole hijab..and it does not affect chess or the chess players in anyway..even in some of the elite mens chess tournament wearing suit is a a must.why cant we learn to respect other people and their culture atleast when u are in their place ?and boycotting tour only becoz of head scarf is meaning less..if course wont deny to wear a white short skirt and play in wimbeldon even if shesnt a tennis player..
Bright Knight Bright Knight 10/8/2016 03:57
Wimbledon requires all players to wear white, regardless of their color preference. If the British can force their favorite color on visiting players, why can't another country enforce what it deems morally correct. Besides, does it really affect the ladies' chess moves?
The_dragon The_dragon 10/8/2016 03:22
okay people, we have the freedom to do and act as we please , but one thing that does disturb me is being in other countries and other cultures that don't fit " our own " so we must respect the people and the culture of that country. it isn't the same rules all over the world and that's what makes us all different.
dbv dbv 10/8/2016 01:41
This is a chess tournament, not a legal/religious dispute- your sharia law analogy is ridiculous.

The great Titus The great Titus 10/8/2016 12:29
Why she shouldn't respect the customs of the host country?
All of you who complaint about them forcing others to follow their customs probably complaint also when they come to the west and want their own sharia courts and no go zones. If we should be allowed to have our own laws they should also.
BelowZero BelowZero 10/7/2016 11:51
When in Muslim countries, Westerners must adapt to Muslim cultural practices: women are prohibited from being seen without a headscarf. When Muslims are in Western countries, Westerners must adapt to Muslim cultural practices: Muslim women must not be prohibited from wearing a headscarf!

Heads the Muslims win, tails we lose. FINALLY young Ms. Paikidze has said ENOUGH. Three cheers for her, she is my hero.
fons fons 10/7/2016 11:25
@ Frits Fritschy: That information is presumably coming from FIDE itself, so not very reliable in this regard.
That being said; it could very easily be true: normal sponsors do not want to associate themselves with Ilyumzhinov and his crooks.
Chessspawnvt Chessspawnvt 10/7/2016 10:55
To Queeg: At the FIDE link you provide EVERY woman in Tehran at the GP is wearing a hijab. Your assertion is blatantly false. The women who played there have commented here and elsewhere that they were forced to wear the hijab and that some of them resented that, found them uncomfortable and that the hijab negatively affected their games. No woman at the Tehran GP was allowed to be seen in public anywhere with her head uncovered.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 10/7/2016 10:31
I think I agree with most of what you write, but your view on history may be a bit simplistic. First of all, it weren't mainly the USA that pressed for a coup against Mossadeq, it was Great Britain, who had the biggest interest in Iranian oil. Secondly, the Mossadeq government wasn't as stable as you seem to present it: it was really 'between a rock and a hard place'. Just as it is now, he was supported in the large cities, but outside of it, he had to deal with Kashani's islamic party - like things are still today. It was mainly the wanted or unwanted support of the communist Tudeh party that made the USA support the British strive for a coup.
mistery mistery 10/7/2016 10:24
Nazi is my new hero!
Queeg Queeg 10/7/2016 09:42
No-one will be forced to wear a hijab. At the Tehran GP held earlier this year, only local hero Khadem wore a hijab, all others wore headscarves. There's extensive photo coverage at to prove this. I could think of much better reasons to boycott this tournament than Iranian dress code.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 10/7/2016 09:27
As I understand from Susan Polgar's website, the choice was to go to Iran or to have no world championship at all. No one seems to be willing to put in money for a women world championship. Then just abolish it.
zookid zookid 10/7/2016 08:50
why do we feel the need to lean so heavily on the fide? other sports have multiple leagues and organizations around the globe, what (or who) is stopping anyone from forming a new chess organization that would promote chess and raise awareness? is it simply a matter of finding the big name sponsors to draw the elite players together? iran and the fide are not the enemy, they have their agenda and rules, and those that would like to see a change and have other options should support a step in a new direction...
Chessspawnvt Chessspawnvt 10/7/2016 07:02
Brava to Nazi for speaking truth to power. Sadly, her home federation, US Chess, has utterly failed to voice support for their national women's champion.

As for Susan Polgar, we see her clearly for what she is, FIDE's sock puppet.
yesenadam yesenadam 10/7/2016 06:47
I think calling this sexual discrimination is missing the point in several ways. Men and women are actually different, to state the obvious. I'm no expert, but I think the idea of calling something 'discrimination' is that some rule/law applies differently to men and women, without any relevant difference in reality. Like women being paid less for the same work. But in other areas, there is a relevant difference. Evidently Islam thinks 'being compelled to wear headscarves' is such an area.

For me, it wouldn't be any different if only men had to wear some item of headgear, or both sexes, or whatever. Being forced to wear it, or be disqualified, or flogged or imprisoned, is just macabre. Well, I guess it's a matter of us living in the 21st century, while some societies are still in the Middle Ages, at best. It is the West imposing its values, although in this case 'people shouldnt be forced to wear a headscarf' is a nearly universal value.

Also - I don't think it's been mentioned here - Iran had a modernising, liberal, democratically elected government until the CIA overthrew it in 1953 and installed the Shah and secret police (many US-trained), torture, censorship. Which makes the 1979 anti-American-flavoured Islamic revolution against that regime a lot more understandable. This Middle Ages stuff would be long gone without those events, it seems.

I greatly admire Nazi's stand on this issue. And although I virtually worship Susan Polgar (hehe), ughh she has been super-unimpressive on this. Gee. :-( (Her blurb "first woman to earn the GM title" is akin to the comments reported in that Telegraph story. "Oh, so she was the first woman GM" you might think, of course. Well no. Like her comments there, literally true, but misleading, unintentionally at best, but often intentionally, one has to think. It's a very unattractive quality. What's wrong with "ex-world champion" or something? She seems addicted to not telling the whole truth.)
geraldsky geraldsky 10/7/2016 04:36

Modesty is the best in all aspect. It's dangerous for women especially sexy like Nazi to play in Iran. Iran is not the best place for women to play chess tournament. But wearing hijab is better than wearing sexy. The problem here is not the hijab, but the other rules.
goeland goeland 10/7/2016 02:40
Well, in France, due to those terrible events, we have a lot of discussion, including about the headscarf. Not easy topic, nothing is black or white. Part of me completely agrees with the article, another part wonders wether its really so critical. After all, Iran is I believe quite an open society, respectful culture and civilization but maybe with some political constraints in the past years. Is it really so critical to wear a headscarf to be able to play in Iran ? not sure. Of course, principle of freedom says no, but life, like a chess game is not solved only by principles. All that to say that I agree with the author and disagree at the same time.
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 10/7/2016 02:35
Good! Now we have both Hou and Nazi who simply voting with their feet and thus show others that FIDE has no ethics, and this regardless of how many FIDE ethics commissions or seminars and meetings they organize.
abdekker abdekker 10/7/2016 01:51
The organisers of international tournaments (in any sport) should not discriminate against players based on sex, religion or anything else. Well done, Nazi. I've signed the petition.
bin bin 10/7/2016 12:39
I don't understand why people claim this is a political view? It is not. It is about people don't want to be forced to wear hijab in the turnament. When fide decides to make this turnament in Iran fide is basically saying "you are either gonna wear it or can't compete ther" ABSURD! !!!!!!!
Jarman Jarman 10/7/2016 10:40
I applaud her decision, which will exert international pressure on at least one of the senseless rules that have been oppressing the Iranian people - and women in particular - for decades. Hopefully other players will follow suit.
This also proves that chess is still relevant and newsworthy way beyond tournament and match results. Iran, your move.