General Nov 8, 2020 | 8:39 AMby Leon Watson

Iran faces suspension from FIDE over policy of 'in-your-face racism' directed at Israel

Iran's national chess federation faces being banned from international events over its "racist" policy on players competing against Israel.

A resolution tabled before FIDE’s upcoming General Assembly this week revealed the world governing body of chess is ramping up the pressure on chess chiefs in Iran to allow games to take place.

It follows a series of incidents where Iranian players have been drawn against Israelis and defaulted their games rather than face punishment from the hardline Islamic regime. In some cases, Iranians have pulled out of tournaments entirely because Israeli players were present.

Iranian-born Alireza Firouzja left his home country and has avoided Iran's ban on playing Israelis | photo: Lennart Ootes

The resolution states: “That failure of the Iranian Chess Federation to request their players compete against all countries in FIDE before the next GA, or any future boycott by an Iranian player, will automatically result in the Iranian Chess Federation’s suspension from all FIDE activities.”

It was tabled by the English Grandmaster Nigel Short, who is a FIDE vice president, and the English Chess Federation delegate Malcolm Pein. The two countrymen have put aside differences stemming from the 2018 FIDE presidential election to unite on the issue.

English delegation lodges protest

Short and Pein's move comes after FIDE fired a public broadside at the ICF in June by publishing on its website correspondence between FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich and ICF officials.

It showed Dvorkovich had demanded the ICF halt its boycott of Israeli players. But after consulting the country’s hardline rulers, Iran’s chess chiefs responded by simply dodging the issue.

FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich's letter to the ICF | image: FIDE

In an interview in the summer, Mr Short told chess24 that Iran is “skating on thin ice” and its policy in chess could have wider repercussions with the International Olympic Committee.

Iran's stance threatens FIDE's Olympic dream

FIDE, particularly under the last administration, has long harboured dreams of the game being included in the Olympics. However, Iran's policy could scupper that.

Mr Short went on to claim the IOC is following Iran's actions very closely and its president Thomas Bach has also written to the regime’s sports ministry to demand a change in policy.

Nigel Short, pictured left facing Fabiano Caruana, has taken on the issue of Iran's sport boycott | photo: John Saunders, Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival

“It is flagrant politicisation of the sport and people are being rewarded for non-participation,” said Mr Short, who had a stint employed as Iran's national team coach from 2006 to 2007.

“All of this is against FIDE and IOC statutes on non-discrimination. But this is not even discreet, it is absolute in-your-face racism.

“They have had about 12 incidents in the last year where Iranian players coming up against Israelis were forced to concede matches or withdraw from tournaments,” he added.

In most sports Iran and Israel don’t come up against each other very often, they would do in judo and wrestling where they are very strong, but most of the time they don’t. But in chess it happens all the time.

There are so many strong Iranian players now there is almost no possibility of avoiding them playing. As soon as they leave the country to play somewhere like Europe, it is basically inevitable.

“The IOC is watching this. Chess is being seen almost like a test case. The Iranians know that legally they cannot stop players competing and they have to pretend somehow that they are following IOC standards, but their way of weaseling out of it is saying they don’t advise players individually. It is a sham, of course.”

The IOC, which recognised chess as a sport in 1999, has repeatedly underlined that equal treatment for the participating athletes and sporting delegations is required in accordance with their charters.

Ratcheting up the pressure on Iran

Mr Short added: “They know this is not just an issue in chess and they are in danger of being kicked out of the IOC. That could have very serious repercussions for the regime.

“We are ratcheting up the pressure on Iran to comply and if it fails there will be repercussions.”

While Iran's chess chiefs have avoided openly admitting their chess players are prevented from playing Israelis, the suggestion is Iranian players have been left feeling intimidated. Iran’s stance is not confined to chess. Iran does not recognise the state of Israel and has forbidden its athletes from competing against Israelis at international sports events since 1983.

Iran’s stance is not confined to chess. Iran does not recognise the state of Israel and has forbidden its athletes from competing against Israelis at international sports events since 1983.

It has led to Iran being suspended from judo competitions and in 2018 an Iranian wrestler being banned from competing internationally for deliberately throwing a match to avoid an Israeli opponent.

FIDE has stopped turning a blind eye to Iran

In chess, Iran managed to avoid having its players face Israelis at the world’s top chess tournaments for years because the game’s governing body was, it is claimed, complicit in allowing tournament draws to be fixed.

But since late 2018 a new FIDE committee headed by Dvorkovich, a former deputy prime minister of Russian, has insisted that tournament pairings are strictly “blind”.

This has put the ICF, and as a consequence, its players, in increasingly awkward situations and harmed Iranian chess right at the moment it has unearthed a crop of promising young players.

In December 2019 two Iranians found themselves in trouble after they played Israeli opponents in a blitz tournament in Spain.

Parham Maghsoodloo, a former World Junior Champion, and Amin Tabatabaei were paired against Israelis in an event that was part of the recent Sunway Sitges Chess Festival, but failed to pull out.

When the regime was made aware of the breach several days later, it is believed Iranian chess officials reprimanded the pair. It didn't matter that both had won their games and Tabatabaei won the tournament.

On Twitter, Mr Short pointedly paid tribute to their bravery:

FIDE's new-found unwillingness to turn a blind eye to Iran's boycott has also sparked a stream of "defections" as Iranian players have given up their Iranian status to play for other national federations or the FIDE flag.

Iran's top talent, the 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja, is the most striking example.

Firouzja stunned the chess world earlier this year by toppling World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the Banter Blitz Cup hosted on chess24.com.

Alireza Firouzja leaves Iran

Firouzja is widely tipped as a future world champion but has not competed under Iran’s flag since December 2019, when Iran withdrew its players from the World Rapid and Blitz Championship to uphold its ban against players.

That decision robbed Firouzja of the chance to represent his country in an important event on the world stage. But the youngster instead decided to move to France and enter anyway.

Firouzja went on to take a silver medal in the 2019 World Rapid Championship and then finish just short in the blitz after dramatically losing a won position against Magnus Carlsen on time.

Earlier in the year Firouzja had been forced to forfeit a game in the GRENKE Chess Open rather than play an Israeli and face sanctions at home.

In 2017 the youngster Borna Derakhshani was banned by the Iranian authorities for playing an Israeli and was accepted to play under the English flag.

“There will be more cases,” said Mr Short. “There is an inevitability about it and bit by bit the issue is becoming more serious and it won’t go away.”

The resolution is expected to go before FIDE's General Assembly when it meets on December 6.


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