An Indian chess champion has decided to pull out of a tournament in Iran in protest over that country’s compulsory headscarf rule, saying it is a violation of her human rights.
Soumya Swaminathan, 29, announced on Facebook she will not take part in the Asian Chess Championship starting next month in Hamadan, Iran, “as I do not wish to be forced to wear a Headscarf of 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,” Swaminathan wrote in the post. “It seems that under the present circumstances, the only way for me to protect my rights is not to go to Iran.”
The woman grandmaster and former world junior girls’ champ added she was disappointed that international federations do not give enough importance to players’ rights and welfare when picking venues for major championships. While organizers expect players to wear national team dresses or sporting attire for the games, “there is no place for an enforceable religious dress code in Sports,” she said.
“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.”
The chess champ’s father, Jairaman Swaminathan, told CNN, “I am very happy that she pulled out. As a father, I felt very sad because it is an important tournament. But sometimes you have to take a stand.”
Bharat Singh Chauhan, secretary of the All India Chess Federation, called Swaminathan’s absence from the tournament “very unfortunate.”
“The World Chess Federation’s stand is to respect local laws, the law of the land. It’ll (Swaminathan’s withdrawal from the championship) hamper chances for the Indian team in the championship. Soumya Swaminathan is a strong player.”
It is not the first time an Indian athlete has pulled out of an Iranian competition in protest over its mandatory headscarf rule.
Shooter Heena Sidhu withdrew from the Asian Airgun Shooting Championships in 2016 in Tehran for the same reason, according to an interview she gave to India Today at the time.