Awards For Shohreh Bayat, Humpy Koneru As International Women’s Day Is Celebrated

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, two women in chess received prestigious awards: Iranian arbiter Shohreh Bayat won the International Women of Courage Award and GM Humpy Koneru won the 2020 BBC Indian Sportswoman of the Year award.

Shohreh Bayat

While she was serving as the chief arbiter at the women’s world championship match between GMs Ju Wenjun and Aleksandra Goryachkina in January 2020, Shohreh Bayat was photographed without her hijab visible, which is compulsory in Iran. Within 24 hours, the Iranian Chess Federation, of which Bayat had been the general secretary, informed her that her safety in Iran couldn’t be guaranteed without her apologizing. 

Bayat was commended on Twitter by the FIDE vice president and former world championship challenger GM Nigel Short, who was commenting on the same women’s world chess championship.

Unwilling to apologize for the incident, Shohreh made the difficult decision to seek refuge in the UK, leaving her husband—who lacked a UK visa—in Iran. She was recently granted asylum.

At the time, Bayat commented to “I believe people must be free to choose what they want to wear. I have never worn the hijab out of choice … It is frustrating that some people are more concerned with what I wear than in my achievements … I would love to return to Iran but only if I’ll be safe.”

Bayat’s courageous decision last year has now led to her winning the International Woman of Courage Award, an annual prize for to women who have shown leadership, courage, resourcefulness, and willingness to sacrifice for others, especially in promoting women’s rights.

The prize is awarded by the United States Department of State, who wrote about Bayat: “Shohreh chose to be a champion for women’s rights rather than be cowed by the Iranian government’s threats.”

In a tweet, Bayat expresses her wish to share her award “with all Iranian women labouring under the yoke of religious bigotry and oppression.”

You can watch the ceremony above.

Humpy Koneru

Another prize was awarded by a female chess personality on International Women’s Day. Humpy Koneru won the 2020 BBC Indian Sportswoman of the Year award for her first place at the 2019 women’s world rapid championship.

Humpy bagged the award at a virtual ceremony in Delhi, after receiving the highest number of votes from the fans. In doing so, she stayed ahead of wrestler Vinesh Phogat, sprinter Dutee Chand, shooter Manu Bhaker, and hockey skipper Rani Rampal, the other nominees for the prize.

“This award is very precious, not only to me but to the entire chess fraternity,” said Humpy. “Being an indoor game, chess doesn’t get as much attention as sports like cricket in India. But with this award, I hope, the game will draw people’s attention.”

Humpy, who took a two-year maternity break before returning to chess and winning the 2019 world rapid, said that women should continue their careers in sport and follow their dreams of competing at the highest level: “A female player should never think about quitting her game. Marriage and motherhood are just a part of our life and they should not change the course of our lives.”

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