Banned for Not Wearing Hijab, Chess Champion Joins U.S. Team

Dorsa Derakhshani, a chess player who was banned from Iran’s national women’s team for refusing to wear the hijab, has just joined the U.S. team.

According to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), Derakhshani previously participated in the 2015 and 2016 international chess competitions without wearing a headscarf as is required of all women in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Derakhshani was born in April 1998 in Tehran. She started playing chess at an early age. She is the second Iranian woman to be awarded the titles of Woman Grandmaster (WGM) and International Master (IM) in 2016. Derakhshani had previously won three gold medals at the Asian Youth Chess Championships in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The head of Iran’s Chess Federation, Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh, downplayed Derakhshani’s defection to the U.S. team. He told the Mehr News Agency that Derakhshani wasn’t a member of Iran’s national women team.

Pahlevanzadeh said: “Chess players routinely move from one federation to another. Derakhshani simply decided to transfer to the U.S. Chess Federation. According to the rules of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), a player can represent his or her adopted country two years after becoming a naturalized citizen of it. She took advantage of this option.”

Pahlevanzadeh said that Derakhshani had played for women’s national team of Iran only once, in 2014. He said: “She is not considered a member of Iran’s national women’s team, especially since she hasn’t represented our country in the past two years. Also, it is common for chess players to move around.”

Dorsa Derakhshani’s younger brother, Borna, was banned from the Iranian national team for playing Alexander Huzman, an Israeli, at a tournament in Gibraltar in February of this year. Borna, who is 15 years old and still lives in Iran, was told that he couldn’t compete any longer. Some members of the Majlis (Iranian Parliament) even called on the security agencies to investigate the head of the Iranian Chess Federation.

Short interview with Dorsa Derakhshani in Baku, Azerbaijan. Video by PowerPlayChess

Under pressure from the authorities, Dorsa and Borna’s father released a statement indicating that his son had no idea that his opponent was from Israel. Pahlevanzadeh announced that the federation had banned both chess players. He described their conducts as an affront to Islamic principles and beliefs.