Disclaimer: These are simply my thoughts after reading into multiple sources about the championships and do not at all represent the thoughts of Chess^Summit as a whole. In addition, if there are more relevant issues I am unaware of, please feel free to express your thoughts and concerns on this topic. The main purpose of this article is to create discussion about this topic as with the recent World Championships, I feel like the controversy over the Women’s Championships is being overlooked.
So if you haven’t heard already, the Women’s World Chess Championships will be held in Iran this coming February. For basically the first time ever, there have been extremely popular and non-chess based interfaces that are covering this championship due to the fact that all participants are required to wear a hijab.
Numerous people have spoken out about this situation – most notably, the US Women’s Champion, Nazi Paikidze has decided to completely boycott the tournament: even though it has been her dream to participate in the Women’s World Championships since she was sixteen. On the other hand, there are Iranian feminists and chess players who argue that by boycotting this tournament, people are in fact discouraging the feminist movement in Iran, as this will be the largest female sporting event ever hosted by the country and acts as a huge boost to the morale of their female athletes.
Chess is a game about expression – everyone has a different style of play, whether it be aggressive or passive, different mannerisms at the board, whether it be our attire or the position in which we think and analyze the position. By making them wear the hijab, the players lose a part of their identity, a part of the aura they give off at the board, and probably most important of all, a part of their confidence. For me personally, I will almost always be in a comfortable pair of jeans with a loose sweater on top of a pair of boots or sneakers and I prefer resting my chin on my hands. The few times where I have changed my attire and gone outside of my comfort zone, I’ve found that my performance itself is greatly affected. With my own personal experience in mind, I don’t believe that the enforcement of a hijab upon the participants is in any way fair to the players.
Now, before you jump to conclusions – I’m not saying that personal performance should be the priority here or that it is more important than the feminist movement in Iran. The core issue here is the individual’s personal choice to choose for themselves what they wish to wear in the environment of an international tournament. Iranian women have faced restrictions upon their participation in international events for wearing a hijab due to “safety reasons,” and while most competitions now allow them, they are still prevented from competing in some international sporting arenas like the international basketball championships. In such situations, people supporting the participation of Iranian women have continuously expressed that a person’s dress should not be the determining factor in their participation. So why is it that the case for this tournament?
I’m all for feminism, I really am – and honestly if it weren’t for the US government’s warning against traveling to Iran, I’d say this tournament would be an amazing opportunity for both the players and the country as a whole. I’m genuinely happy that the tournament is being held in a place where simply its occurrence will create positive impact on the community.
From what I understand, the hijab has a primarily religious and cultural symbol and a symbol of choice. It represents a part of a person, shows what culture or religion one believes in. By forcing other members of society who don’t actually believe in the same cultural or religious ideas, it is almost like the symbolism of a hijab is being depreciated since those who do not practice the cultural and religious beliefs that a hijab represents are wearing one.