Shohreh Bayat: Iranian chess referee fears ostracism over her activism as she challenges Russian chief of game’s governing body FIDE



Three years after fleeing Iran, the chess referee Shohreh Bayt The sport’s governing body and its president, Russia’s former deputy prime minister, fear further expulsions after being challenged over a choice of clothing at a tournament in October.

Back in 2020, Bayat was criticized in Iran for not wearing an appropriate headscarf at the Women’s World Chess Championship in China and Russia. He refused to bow to the regime’s pressure but as a result, did not return home for fear of punishment.

Now, three years later, Bayat has raised the hand of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) and its president to dress in support of the Iranian protests and the people of Ukraine.

Bayat, 35, who now lives in London with her husband, most recently officiated at the 2022 Fischer Random World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland in October.

The tournament was another opportunity for Bayat to introduce some of the game’s biggest stars, although it came at a difficult time as protests spread in his home country of Iran following his death. Mehsa Amini.

The 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman died in mid-September after being detained by the country’s morality police, allegedly for not following the country’s conservative dress code, following several complaints with the regime. Anger arose all around.

“It reminded me of my own story,” Bayat told CNN. “So I decided to stand up for women’s rights in Iran. During the tournament I wore a t-shirt with the motto of the Iranian people ‘Women’s Life Freedom’ and I wanted to stand with them.

Bayat said that after the first day of wearing the T-shirt, a FIDE official told him, unofficially, not to wear it.

In a statement sent to CNN, FIDE said that “arbiters at top events are required to dress with appropriate decorum and discretion” and that Bayat “ignored direct instructions to prevent him from wearing slogans or slogans. done.”

According to Bayat, such rules are not found in FIDE’s arbiter handbook and she says that no dress code was given for the event in Iceland.

The arbitrator’s handbook states that officials “must follow a dress code” and that they must “wear appropriate clothing, helping to improve the image of chess as a sport.” CNN has reached out to FIDE to clarify the dress code for the October event.

Frustrated by the request to stop wearing the slogan, Bayat said she decided she wasn’t breaking any rules so she wore it again the next day.

Bayat says he was once again asked by an official to take it down, only this time he was told that the request came from FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich, who previously served as Russia’s deputy prime minister and who attended the tournament in Iceland.

Bayat said Dvorkovich never spoke to him about the T-shirt in person, despite being in the same room when he wore it.

Dvorković, however, messaged him on WhatsApp – a message seen by CNN – to request Bayat not to use official FIDE events for “political purposes”.

Angered by Dvorkovich’s request, Bayat says she quickly responded but then deleted her “emotional” reply.

Bayat then informed Dvorkovich that she would not be wearing the T-shirt the next day, although she wanted to “do the right thing”.

Given that FIDE charter Stating that it is “committed to respect all internationally recognized human rights and strives to promote the protection of these rights,” Bayat said it decided it had not violated any rules.

“I thought carefully, and I realized that it was not me who was politicizing chess, but Arkady,” Bayat said.

“I was following the FIDE rules, but Arkady was breaking them by forbidding me to stand up for women’s rights in Iran.”

FIDE denied any notion that politics played a role in Dvorković’s request for allegiance.

“We were not judging his ideas or his activism, but he chose the platform and the moment for it,” FIDE told CNN.

The next day, Bayat, who has not seen his parents since leaving Iran three years ago, said he bought a blue and yellow dress and wore it in support of Ukrainians fighting against Russian aggression. And that too in their memory. 176 people They were killed when Iran said it inadvertently shot down a Ukrainian plane that crashed near Tehran in 2020.

NEWCASTLE, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 11: Iranian chess arbiter Shohreh Bayat poses for a portrait on February 11, 2020 in Newcastle, England.  Ms. Bayat, an arbiter with chess governing body FIDE, was presiding over a tournament in China in January.  A picture of her not wearing the hijab was circulated in the Iranian media.  Commentaries in the press and online accused her of violating Iranian law, which requires women to wear a headscarf when appearing in public.  Seeing this response, Ms. Bayat soon became afraid to return to her country, worried that she would be arrested.  She is now staying with friends in the United Kingdom, where she says she is considering her options, unsure of what the future holds.  (Photo by Holly Adams/Getty Images)

Iranian chess referee is seeking UK asylum

She says she was not told anything about the blue and yellow dress but, after leaving the tournament in Iceland, Bayat told CNN that despite being recognized by the organization, she has not been invited to any other FIDE events. has gone Best female arbiter In Europe in 2022.

Bayat said he was initially removed from the Arbitrators Commission – a registry of all qualified arbitrators – and, in a message seen by CNN, a top FIDE official told him it was because of his attire in Iceland.

His name is currently listed in the database and FIDE told CNN that Bayat was still very much in contention to officiate future events but that it “has more international arbiters than world events, so we need to establish some rotation. is.”

FIDE President Dvorković was first elected in 2018 and was re-elected for a second term in August. Before that, the 50-year-old served as Russia’s deputy prime minister between 2012-2018 after a stint as the Kremlin’s top economic adviser.

The Kremlin welcomed Dvorkovich’s re-election as FIDE president last year, but he has always maintained his closeness to the Kremlin will not affect his work for FIDE, noting that he is among the most senior establishment figures in Russia. was one The question of war in Ukraine.

However, Bayat told CNN that he believes Dvorkovich is not accepting criticism of Iran because of Russia’s ties to the country – Iran continues to support Russia Military support For the war in Ukraine.

She notes FIDE’s management of the Iranian Chess Federation as further evidence of this.

Dvorkovich wrote a letter After urging Iran to comply with FIDE rules in 2020 after it reportedly asked its players not to play against Israeli opponents.

The acting president of Iran’s Chess Federation responded by saying that Iran has consistently followed FIDE’s rules and regulations, and that the athletes themselves decide which competitions to participate in.

Despite being warned, there are Iranian players Still seizing games And FIDE has not yet taken concrete action.

“I find it very ironic that FIDE considers my human rights t-shirt to be political, but when the Iranian Chess Federation repeatedly forces its players not to play against Israel, FIDE is silent and turns a blind eye. “Does it,” Bayat said.

Asked by CNN whether it was confident that Dvorkovich was acting without pressure from Russian officials regarding Bayat’s support of the Iranian protests, FIDE said it had full and complete confidence in him.

“While we respect Ms. Bayat’s political stance and activities, any FIDE official is required to observe political neutrality in the course of duty, and among all official positions an arbitrator is one who upholds the highest standards of integrity, impartiality demands, and discretion,” FIDE said in a statement to CNN.

“No matter how noble or controversial the cause, acting from that role is inappropriate and unprofessional. He was asked not to raise any slogans while acting as an arbitrator and reasons were given. ”

Bayat’s activism has attracted the attention of the biggest names in sports since the Iranian chess referee. tweeted About the incident again on Sunday.

US Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura recently tweeted “#WomenLifeFreedom #IStandWithUkraine” in response to a message about Bayat. tweet.

Meanwhile, chess superstar Magnus Carlsen’s coach Peter Hein Nielsen tweeted: “The chess world needs to make up its mind. Where do we really stand?”

Bayat, who now also works in primary schools teaching chess, said the support she has received has been “heartwarming”, as it was when she first sought asylum in England in 2020.

“I was initially trying to support Iranian women. I think it’s important and it’s nice to see other people supporting me to do the right thing,” he said.

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