‘I Will NOT Wear A Hijab’: U.S. Women’s Chess Star To Sit Out World Championships In Iran Over Dress Code

Aaron Homer

A U.S. Women’s Chess star is refusing to take part in the world championships in Tehran, Iran next February because tournament sponsors are requiring women competitors to wear hijabs, which is something she is not willing to do.

As The Washington Post reports, Russian-born Nazi Paikidze is one of the rising stars in U.S. women’s chess. Raised in Tblisi, Georgia, where she learned chess as part of her elementary school curriculum, Paikidze was brought to the U.S. to play for the University of Maryland Baltimore County, which has one of the most dominant collegiate chess programs in the country. Her blistering play has made her one of the top chess players in the world, men or women.

And by the way, though her first name appears rather unfortunate to English speakers, it’s a common name in Georgia, where it’s pronounced “nah-ZEE” and means “delicate” or “tender.”

But she is neither “delicate” nor “tender” when it comes to women’s rights. And Iran, which is hosting the Women’s World Chess Championship next February, has a much different view of women’s rights than the West. Specifically, the conservative Islamic nation is requiring all female competitors to wear hijabs, which is a traditional Islamic head covering for women, at the tournament. However, in Iran, the hijab is mandatory, and women who refuse to wear it are often beaten and arrested.

Nazi Paikidze is having none of that. Last week, she announced that she is boycotting the tournament because of the hijab rule.

“Some consider a hijab part of culture. But, I know that a lot of Iranian women are bravely protesting this forced law daily and risking a lot by doing so. That’s why I will NOT wear a hijab and support women’s oppression.”

Taking things a step further, the chess star has launched a petition on Change.org, asking the World Chess Federation to move the women’s tournament to some place other than Iran.

“We demand that FIDE [the international chess governing body] reconsider its decision to award the Women’s World Chess Championship to Iran. In its handbook, FIDE explicitly states its guiding moral principles and one of them is that the organization ‘rejects discriminatory treatment for national, political, racial, social or religious reasons or on account of sex.’ Yet, by awarding the Championship to Iran, it is breaking that pledge to its members and subjecting them to discrimination on all fronts.”

As CNN reported at the end of September, Iran was the only nation to submit a bid to host the Women’s World Championships, and none of the 150 chess federations of the various member nations, including the United States, raised any objections.

Chess’ governing body, FIDE, is attempting to distance itself from the controversy. In a statement, the agency said that it is not a FIDE regulation that competitors wear hijabs during the event, but that the agency expects competitors to respect local customs, laws, and traditions, and to be aware of their actions so as “not to offend.”

Ironically, chess has deep roots in Iran. The game is believed to have developed in what was, at the time, the Persian Empire, sometime around the sixth century. Even the English term for the winning move, Checkmate, derives from the ancient Persian phrase “shah mat” (“the king is helpless”).

Not everyone in women’s chess is on board with Nazi Paikidze’s plans to boycott Iran over the hijab issue. Mitra Hejazipour, the 2015 Asian continental women’s champion, said that boycotting the tournament would mark a setback for the progress of women’s sports in Iran.

“It’s not right to call for a boycott. These games are important for women in Iran; it’s an opportunity for us to show our strength.”

Do you believe Nazi Paikidze is right to boycott the Women’s Chess World Championships in Iran because of the requirement that women hear hijabs?

[Featured Image by khiari raafet/Shutterstock]