The All India Chess Federation (AICF) respects Indian Women Grandmaster (WGM) Soumya Swaminathan’s decision to opt out of the forthcoming Asian Nations Cup Chess Championship 2018 to be held in Iran as she does not want to be forced to wear a headscarf, said a top official.
“It is her personal choice and decision. We do not have anything against it. We will find a replacement for her,” AICF Secretary Bharat Singh Chauhan told IANS on Wednesday, 13th June. “The FIDE the world chess body’s stance is to abide by the local laws, culture and traditions. Similarly, AICF will also abide by FIDE’s stance. And players are free to take their own decision,” Chauhan added.
Reacting to the development, WGM Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman told IANS: “It is Soumya’s personal choice. I respect that. She has not said anything against anybody or any body.”
Subbaraman said even Saudi Arabia has similar rule-compulsory wearing of headscarf but had exempted that when the World Championship was held there in 2017. “I had played in that tournament and did not wear the headscarf there,” Subbaraman said.
Swaminathan has opted out of forthcoming Asian Nations Cup, to be held in Iran from July 26 to Aug 4 as she does not want to be forced to wear the headscarf. “I decided to value my freedom. It is a personal choice. It is not against anybody or the All India Chess Federation. The decision is not just against Iran but would be the same if any other country forces me to wear that,” Swaminathan, ranked four in India with an ELO rating of 2361, told IANS on Wednesday. The Asian Nations Cup is a team championship.
“It is definitely unfortunate and very upsetting not to play for India. In the case of official international tournaments where players play for their nations, some exceptions could be made to the general rule. In the case of open chess tournaments, it is up to the players to decide whether to play in a country or not,” she added.
Swaminathan said originally the championship was to be held in Bangladesh and later it was shifted to Iran. In her Facebook post, Swaminathan said: “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. It seems that under the present circumstances, the only way for me to protect my rights is not to go to Iran.
“I am very disappointed to see that player’s rights and welfare are given much less importance while allotting and/or organizing official championships,” she remarked. “I understand the organizers expecting us to wear our National Team Dress or Formals or Sporting attire for our games during official championships, but surely there is no place for an enforceable religious dress code in sports,” Swaminathan said.
Stressing that it was a huge honor for her to represent India, she added: “While we sportspersons are willing to make several adjustments for the sake of our sport, always giving it a top priority in our life, some things simply cannot be compromised.” Agreeing that she had played in Iran when she was a small girl and in 2011, Swaminathan said at that time her focus was on the game and now she values her freedom. Swaminathan agreed that each country can have its own rules and she has the option of going to that country or not.