The game of chess has made headlines this past week, and not just because of the successful reviews earned by the new film, Queen of Katwe. Unfortunately, not all of the publicity chess has been getting has been quite as positive. Last week, it was announced that the 2017 Women’s Championship Chess Tournament would be held in Tehran, Iran. While this alone was not means for any criticism, along with this announcement came the ruling that all women participating in the tournament would be required to wear a hijab.
This regulation has been met with much adversity from the women set to compete, many of whom have said that they will not be competing due to this rule. Many of the women set to compete have stated they feel uncomfortable with the idea of being forced to participate in customs they do not believe in, while others do not support what they believe the hijab represents.
The United States women’s champion, Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, tweeted about the subject saying, “with all due respect, by wearing a hijab we’d be supporting women’s oppression”. The champion went on to say she finds it unacceptable to host a women’s sporting event in a place where women are denied so many rights and treated as “second class citizens”. As of now, Paikidze-Barnes is not planning on competing in the championship this coming February.
There are some people, however, who say they do not find the idea of wearing a headscarf in the tournament oppressive as other competitors have said. Susan Polgar, the chairman of the World Chess Federation’s Commission for Women’s Chess, said that while she was never asked to wear a hijab during her time playing chess, she would do so out of respect for the country and culture.
As of yet, the World Chess Federation has not responded to the adversity, but many are beginning to wonder whether action will be taken. Iran was the only country out of the 150 national chess federations that offered to host the championship, and was not met with any complaints at the time. However, in light of the ruling, some players are hoping that the venue will be moved. Currently, the World Chess Federation claims they have not been contacted with any formal complaints from players and will continue to review the case over the next few weeks.
While each side of this argument clearly holds a unique view on whether or not the hijab should be worn, both opinions carry some merit. The hijab holds a significant amount of value in the culture of Iran and, while other countries may not agree with what it stands for, it would be a courteous gesture to the Iranian people if it were worn during the competition. That being said, it should not be forced upon the competitors, especially with the threat that they “will face arrest if they do not comply by wearing the Islamic headscarf”.
While encouraging the competitors to wear a hijab at the tournament is acceptable, requiring it is not. If anything, requiring a hijab continues to support the stereotype that the garment allows for the oppression of women. The hijab is supposed to be a symbol of modesty and devotion to your religious beliefs, not oppression and injustice done to women, as many people wrongly believe. Forcing all the women at the championship to wear a headscarf will only serve to further provide evidence for this bias, and will not promote the respect of the culture as Iran desires and deserves.
With as much intolerance as there is in the world today, rulings like the one made by the World Chess Federation prevent our society from overcoming stereotypes. The issue of how and when to support the hijab is a sensitive one that is increasingly brought up in today’s society. However, if we keep dealing with it in ways that only help to support prejudice, we will eventually lose the meaning of this cultural and religious symbol altogether.
Emma Hungaski is an opinion contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.