Iran Pressurized By FIDE For Issues With Israeli Players
Iran’s chess federation avoided a direct risk of suspension from the International Chess Federation (FIDE) at today’s General Assembly. The FIDE delegates instead supported a motion from FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich that warned Iran while choosing to continue on a diplomatic path.
The sensitive topic of Iranian players not being allowed to play against Israeli players was discussed today at FIDE’s 91st General Assembly. For the first time, the meeting of FIDE delegates was held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The General Assembly was broadcast live on YouTube.
The topic regarding Iran had been placed on the agenda by English Chess Federation delegate Malcolm Pein and FIDE Vice President Nigel Short. They had prepared a motion (here in PDF) that stated:
Failure of the Iranian Chess Federation to instruct their players to compete against all countries in FIDE at any time with effect from 1 January 2021, or any future boycott from that date by an Iranian player of another player at the request or instigation of the Iranian Chess Federation, shall result in a mandatory suspension of the Iranian Chess Federation from all FIDE activities by the FIDE Council, subject to confirmation by the General Assembly in terms of Art 13.1 of the FIDE Statutes.
As in other sports, Iranian chess players almost never play against Israeli players. The Iranian government does not recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a state. An Iranian player usually forfeits their game if paired against an Israeli opponent—a pairing that was often avoided altogether by arbiters in the past.
There have been examples of chess players from Iran being penalized for facing an Israeli opponent over a chessboard. One case was the Iranian FM Borna Derakhshani, who did play his game against Israeli GM Alexander Huzman at the 2017 Gibraltar Chess Festival.
The Iranian chess federation prohibited Derakhshani from representing his national team or playing future events inside Iran. They took the same measures against Borna’s sister Dorsa, the number-two female player in Iran at the time, for not wearing a headscarf during the same event. Chess.com reported on the case.
Pein and Short’s motion lists many examples of Iranian players forfeiting their games when paired against Israeli opponents. A recent case is the now 17-year-old GM Alireza Firouzja forfeiting his third-round game against Israel’s FM Or Bronstein at the 2019 Grenke Open.
In many of these cases, the Iranian media praised their players for making this so-called political decision. Sometimes, at arrival back in their country, Iranian players were honored by local officials and called a hero for refusing to play against Israel.
9 days after the #Iranian Chess Fed. was notified that it faced potential suspension from #FIDE for its boycott of Israel, the Fed. website continues to show photos of Aryan Gholami, pictured here with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, being rewarded for boycotting #Israel. pic.twitter.com/I4G99Ljc9f
— Nigel Short (@nigelshortchess) November 15, 2020
How sensitive the issue is in Iran became more clear when Iranian GMs Parham Maghsoodloo and Amin Tabatabaei played against Israeli players (without knowing their nationality) at an informal night blitz event during the Sunway Sitges Chess Festival in December 2019.
“This caused huge problems for them,” wrote Pein and Short. “Even before returning to Iran, they were forced to apologize. Parham, in order to protect himself, was forced to criticize the Israeli government.”
The Sports Ministry and the Iranian chess federation then decided to cancel the participation of their male chess players in the World Rapid and Blitz 2019, which resulted in Firouzja, currently one of the biggest talents in chess, deciding to stop representing Iran. He played under the FIDE flag in that event and still does.
The Chess Federation of Iran responded to Pein and Short’s motion in a document (here in PDF) in which they state to have “never violated the Olympic charter.” Furthermore, the federation claims that the players had made personal decisions:
Please noted [sic] that in Iran there is no prohibiting law for not competing with any other country and this is a personal beliefs [sic] of the players who do not participate in some matches.
During today’s meeting, FIDE Vice President Short at one point asked Iranian delegate Farhad Nikoukhesal directly whether he would allow their players to play against Israeli opponents, “yes or no.” The delegate did not provide a clear answer.
Meanwhile, FIDE President Dvorkovich presented a milder motion in which Iran, together with all other national federations, is called upon to instruct its players to respect the principles of the Olympic movement and the FIDE Charter.
Furthermore, Iran is urged “to make sure there are no further incidents of boycotts, in particular, at FIDE official events; that officials and players refrain from making comments of a discriminatory nature; and that the federation website is no longer used as a medium to express political views that are in conflict with the FIDE Charter (…).”
While Dvorkovich removed the direct threat of suspension for Iran, his motion did note:
While supporting diplomatic ways to resolve the remaining differences, the FIDE General Assembly gives full authority to Council to impose any necessary and proportionate restrictive measures on the [Iranian federation] and/or its officials should the circumstances warrant such actions. The same applies to all national chess federations, officials and players without exemptions and reservations.
Pein and Short withdrew their motion and expressed their support for Dvorkovich’s motion (with Pein describing it as “a yellow card, not a red card” for Iran). The General Assembly then accepted the motion of their president. Using a digital voting system, 80 delegates voted in favor, 12 against, and 15 abstained.
In other news, the General Assembly voted in favor of approving Budapest, Hungary, as the host city for the 46th Chess Olympiad in 2024. Also, the Isle of Man was accepted as a newly affiliated federation, and GM Boris Spassky was made an Honorary Member of FIDE.