Woman Grandmaster Soumya objects Iran’s compulsory headscarf rule; withdraws from Asia championship

Woman Grandmaster Soumya Swaminathan has withdrawn from the Asian Nations Cup Chess Championship to be held in Iran next month objecting to the country’s compulsory headscarf rule.

The tournament is to be held in Hamadan from July 26 to August 4.

Swaminathan, ranked 97 in the world among women chess players, further remarked that she was “disappointed” to see that player’s rights and welfare being given scant importance while organising official championships.

On Facebook she said,
“I am very sorry to state that I have asked to be excused from the Indian Women’s team for the forthcoming Asian Nations Cup ( Asian Team ) Chess Championship 2018, to be held at Iran from 26 July – 4 Aug 2018, as I do not wish to be forced to wear a Headscarf or Burkha. I find the Iranian law of compulsory Headscarf to be in direct violation of my basic Human Rights including my right to freedom of expression, and right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It seems that under the present circumstances, the only way for me to protect my rights is not to go to Iran.

I am very disappointed to see that player’s rights and welfare are given such less importance while allotting and/or organising official championships. I understand the organisers expecting us to wear our National Team Dress or Formals or Sporting attire for our games during official championships, but surely there is no place for an enforceable religious dress code in Sports.

It is a huge honour for me to represent India everytime I am selected in the National Team and I deeply regret that I will be unable to participate in such an important championship. While we sportspersons are willing to make several adjustments for the sake of our sport, always giving it top priority in our life, some things simply cannot be compromised.”

In 2016, Indian pistol shooter Heena Sidhu had similarly pulled out of the Asian Airgun Shooting Championship in Iran owing to the compulsory hijab rule for women athletes. Georgian-American chess champion Nazi Paikidze boycotted the world championship in Tehran, taking to Instagram to call the hijab law “oppressive”.

In 2017 the Iranian Chess Federation banned 19-year-old Dorsa Derakhshani – the country’s second woman international chess master – for attending competitions abroad without wearing the headscarf, compelling her to play from the U.S. side.