Leading player urges contenders to look beyond hijab law, to the boost contest would give women’s sport in country.
Wearing the hijab has been an integral policy of the Islamic republic since the 1979 revolution. Foreign dignitaries have adhered to the rule while on Iranian territory.
Paikidze, a Georgian-American who holds the titles of international master and WGM, told the Telegraph on Thursday it was “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”.
Nigel Short, a British chess grandmaster, called on the sport’s governing body, Fide, to find a different venue, telling the Times: “The hijab is a symbol of Islamic repression.”
But Hejazipour, an MA student at Tehran University and one of Iran’s five WGMs, pleaded with her compatriots to come to her country despite the rule. “I understand that it may be difficult for them to wear the hijab, but I want to tell them that if they show understanding and patience, and if they come to Iran, there’s also a positive side to look at,” she said.
“Iran is a beautiful place and has an amazing culture. If Iran can host this event, it will be a big step for us; it will help our women chess players and it will boost women in other sporting fields. It will pave the way for them, too.”
Elham Yazdiha, a Turkey-based Iranian sports journalist, said she was confident Hejazipour’s view reflected the voice of sportswomen in Iran. “Calls for a boycott will only disappoint Iranian women and destroy their hopes,” she said.
It was a shame, Yazdiha added, that Iranian sportswomen who were already facing restrictions at home faced additional restrictions from abroad. Iranian female basketball players have been barred by international bodies from playing in world events because of wearing the hijab.
Women can vote and drive in Iran but discriminatory laws persist. In court their testimony is worth only half that of a man and they also face inequality over inheritance rights. But they have a strong presence in civil society. Women in Iran have held senior government jobs; the country currently has a number of female vice-presidents and one female ambassador.
Despite the restrictions, many people in Iran are proud of representing their country. In 2013, Shirin Gerami became the first female triathlete to compete for Iran in the sport’s world championship. In August this year, Kimia Alizadeh made history in Rio as she became the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal.
“Women’s sport in Iran has expanded in recent years in various fields – you can realise that by seeing the growing number of medals sportswomen are bringing to Iran,” Hejazipour said.