Iran launches bizarre defence of its Israeli sports boycott ahead of key FIDE vote

Chess chiefs in Iran have denied all knowledge of the Islamic republic’s boycott of Israel ahead of a key vote that could see its players banned from international competition.

In a response sent to the FIDE council, the Chess Federation of Iran said its players have only refused to compete against Israelis because of their own “personal beliefs” – and not because of pressure from the regime.

The federation also fired an extraordinary broadside at its English counterpart, the English Chess Federation, which proposed a controversial motion that could result in Iran’s suspension.

The world governing body is due to meet for its 91st General Assembly tomorrow, an event that will take place for the first time online and is – unusually – the second this calendar year.

On the agenda is the resolution signed by ECF delegate Malcolm Pein and his fellow countryman, and FIDE vice-president, Nigel Short.

It calls for FIDE to force the Chess Federation of Iran – the successor to the now-defunct Iranian Chess Federation – to request its players “compete against all countries in FIDE before the next General Assembly”.

Iran fires broadside at ECF

Failure to do so, the resolution states, “will automatically result in the Iranian Chess Federation’s suspension from all FIDE activities”.

Both IM Pein and GM Short, who acted as Iran’s national coach from 2006-7, have been long-running critics of the federation and its stance towards players competing against Israel.

GM Short previously told chess24 that Iran was directing “in-your-face racism” at Israeli players by refusing to allow its stars to face them and, as a result, was “skating on thin ice” with regard to breaking FIDE’s statutes on non-discrimination.

In the Short/ECF motion presented to the FIDE council ahead of the General Assembly, several high-profile incidents were listed where Iranian players have been drawn against Israelis and defaulted their games or pulled out of tournaments entirely when Israeli players were present.

Among them was Iranian prodigy Alireza Firouzja’s decision to forfeit his third-round game against an Israeli national at the Grenke Chess Open in 2019, having won his first two games. Firouzja is now 17 and has switched from Iran to compete under the FIDE flag.

However, the Chess Federation of Iran refused to accept responsibility for these incidents claiming its players made personal decisions.

The federation even produced pictures of two of its players being examined by a doctor at the Chennai World Junior Championships in 2019 as evidence that they were sick.

Iran’s number 2 Amin Tabatabaei and another teenager Arian Gholami had failed to turn up to clashes with Israeli opponents at the event.

At the time, GM Tabatabaei refused to be examined by a FIDE doctor – instead, the CFI said, he was seen by a doctor from the hotel who provided a prescription. This, the CFI claimed, shows GM Tabatabaei did not pull a sickie.

The CFI added: “In all the cases mentioned in the resolution of the English Chess Federation, Iranian players have participated in this tournament at their own expense and have applied directly to participate in these competitions and as a result, Iran Chess Federation was not responsible for the decisions of the players.”

The CFI’s response to FIDE flatly ignored the hardline republic’s widely-known ban on athletes from competing against Israelis at international sports events since 1983. It also ignored instances when athletes, including chess players, have been rewarded for refusing to compete against Israelis.

Speaking to chess24, GM Short rubbished the federation’s response to his motion.

The former world title challenger said: “Much of what they claim can be refuted by evidence from the Iranian Chess Federation website!”

Prior to the ICF’s response, GM Short had already pre-empted the point that Iranian players were choosing not to compete against Israelis on Twitter. GM Short claimed the vast majority of Iranian players were happy to do so.

But the Iranian chess chiefs’ bizarre defence did not end there.

The CFI also went on the attack against the ECF by accusing the English federation of interfering in its affairs with the aim of weakening the country’s burgeoning power as a chess nation.

It said recent successes by Iran’s cohort of young stars had been a “wake up call for countries that once had the most powerful players in the world”.

Then in its closing arguments, the CFI told the ECF to stop “eliminating competitors through non-sporting methods”. The clear implication being that the ECF is jealous of Iran’s success.

It comes after Iranian teenager Borna Derakhshani switched to England in 2017 after being banned by the authorities in his homeland for playing an Israeli.

The then 15-year-old’s older sister Dorsa, who was Iran’s second female chess grandmaster, had earlier that year left Iran to play for the United States.

The ECF motion is due to be voted on at the General Assembly tomorrow, which starts at 15:00 CET. If passed, the implications could see one of the rising powers of chess being banned from the international arena.

Many more Iranian players may also follow Firouzja’s lead and choose for themselves to compete under the FIDE flag, instead of Iran.

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