World-renowned chess player Ghazal Hakimifard has explained on social media why she is now playing under the Swiss flag. (Supplied)

By Payam Younesipour

June 16, 2020

World-renowned Iranian chess master Ghazal Hakimifard has published a post on her Instagram page explaining why she will no longer play under the Iranian flag.

Hakimifard has been a medallist in both Iranian and international chess tournaments and was awarded the title of International Women Master by world chess federation FIDE in 2011. She has been a member of the Iranian national chess team since she was 17 years old and won the FIDE title of Grand Master of Women in 2016.

Yesterday, the federation website removed the Iranian flag from the name of Ghazal Hakimifard on its website. Her profile was updated to name Switzerland as the country she plays for.

Earlier in the week the website Hamshahri Online had confirmed news of Hakimifard’s departure, citing the reason for the recent mass emigration of Iranian chess players as the “federation’s disorder”.

Hakimifard has now updated her public profile to state: “I am Ghazal Hakimifard, grand master of women’s chess, holding a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Shahid Beheshti University.

“I have been living in Switzerland for three years to continue my studies at ETH Polytechnic University, where I received a master’s degree in computer science and am currently working as a research assistant at the same university.”

She describes herself as a “decent” person who, during her years as a member of Iran’s teenagers to adults’ teams, had always sought “honor on the continental and global stages” for her country of birth.

Hakimifard has also posted about the reason for Iran being removed from her listing on FIDE’s website. “Unfortunately, continuing my education in Switzerland is against the country’s championship regulations,” she wrote, “because players who live abroad are not allowed to play in the national team.

“I was a grand master and a professional chess player, but during this time I was not able to play for my country’s national team.”

Hakimifard’s also stressed the fact that “changing the flag in the World Chess Federation does not mean changing citizenship”. This change, she said, will simply provide her with the opportunity to “have a professional presence in European chess competitions”.

She also emphasized in the final lines that she has “Iranian citizenship” and denied “any comment on his change of citizenship for political reasons, etc”.

Threats Loom for Athletes Who Travel Abroad – For Any Reason

It is possible to change one’s flag without changing citizenship. Wrestlers Saman Tahmasebi and Sabah Shariati, and taekwondo champion Milad Beigi, have represented Azerbaijan in the Rio Olympics without changing their citizenship.

In recent months and years, Iran’s political and security institutions has piled pressure on the families of Iranian athletes who do change their citizenship or seek refuge in another country. Fugitive boxer Mobin Kahrazeh, who sought refuge in Austria last year over “political interference” in sports in Iran, reported this in respect of his family.

On June 2, 2020, head of the Gilan Chess Board Kiomars Bayat said he had come under pressure from the Ministry of Sports and Youth to withdraw from sporting activities “because his daughter did not observe the hijab”. Top Iranian chess referee Shohreh Bayat did not to return to Iran after the World Championships in Russia last year, when pictures of her without a veil circulated online.

Official figures released last week by Majles Research Center show that at least 38 athletes have emigrated from Iran in the past 20 years. The report also shed light on what it assumed was the context of the emigration. It claimed that “enemies” were working against Iranian sports, making efforts to portray its management as “weak and ineffective” to encourage skilled athletes to emigrate.

The warm and welcoming reception of international institutions towards fleeing athletes has been, in the skewed view of this report, another tool deployed by the “enemies” of Iranian sports.

Crucially, the Majles Research Center also proposed the deprivation of Iranian citizenship for athletes who intend to immigrate or acquire citizenship in other countries.

In this way, the Iranian parliament no longer distinguishes between Milad Beigi, a taekwondo fighter who fought for Azerbaijan without seeking asylum there, and Saeed Molaei, a judoka who made a decision to seek asylum in Germany.

In the fall of 2019, before the coronavirus outbreak, Iran’s National Olympic Committee and sports ministry canceled all sports competitions and internal and overseas trips by various athletes and sports teams, because of “concern about athletes becoming refugees”. Badminton, gymnastics, chess, and wrestling were the main Iranian sports to lose out because of this unprecedented top-down ban.

The exodus of Iranian chess players has been pronounced recently. The teenage prodigy Alireza Firouzja has settled in France. Chess referee Shohreh Bayat did not return to Iran. Teenage master brother-and-sister duo Dorsa Derakhshani and Borna Derakhshani were banned from playing for Iran in 2017 and chose to stay abroad due, respectively, to competing without hijab and competing against an Israeli. Iranian hardline MPs went so far as to ask the security services to intervene in their case. The grand master Mitra Hejazipour has also left Iran forever and has since described her life in Iran as “dominated” by hijab.

Iran Wire

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.