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Indian chess champion quits competition in Iran over headscarf rule

An Indian chess champion has withdrawn from an international competition in Iran, saying a rule requiring her to wear a headscarf would violate her human rights.

Soumya Swaminathan ranks fifth in India and was preparing to compete in the Asian chess championship in Bangladesh. However, when the competition was moved to Iran, the 29-year-old withdrew from the competition.

“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 on Facebook last week.

“Under the present circumstances, the only way for me to protect my rights is not to go to Iran.”

She said competitors were willing to adjust for the sake of their sport but “some things simply cannot be compromised”.

“There is no place for an enforceable religious dress code in sports,” she added.

She is the second Indian athlete to have pulled out of a contest in Iran because of the mandatory headscarf rule. Professional shooter Heena Sidhu withdrew from the Asian Airgun Shooting Championships held in Tehran two years ago, saying the rule was discriminatory.

Last year, Iranian chess player Dorsa Derakhshani moved to the United States and joined the US team after she was barred from her homeland’s team for refusing to wear a headscarf during a match in Gibraltar.

“It feels good and … peaceful to play for a federation where I am welcomed and supported,” Derakhshani told the US Chess Federation.

Swaminathan’s decision was praised by other athletes including the Indian cricketer Mohammad Kaif.

“Hats off to Soumya Swaminathan for pulling out of this event in Iran,” he wrote. “There should be no scope for religious dress codes to be imposed on players. A host nation should not be granted permission to host [s]uch international events if it fails to consider basic human rights.”

Indian journalist Abhijit Majumder tweeted: “If you are a great professional and a strong woman/man, you don’t need to play victim or do drama. You do your job, and calmly make a statement. Take a bow, Soumya.”

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