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FIDE Slammed For Conflict With Arbiter Over Human Rights Stand

WFM and International Arbiter of FIDE Shohreh Bayat was sidelined as an “inappropriate arbiter” by FIDE because she openly supported human rights in Iran & Ukraine during the Fischer Random Chess Championship.

Shohreh Bayat is an Iranian chess arbiter based in England. She became the Iranian girls under-12 champion in 1998, and won numerous national events until the age of 25 when she decided to become an arbiter. She was chief arbiter of the Women’s World Chess Championship 2020 when a photograph with her hijab around her neck during the tournament generated controversy in Iran. The Chess Federation of Iran requested Bayat take a replacement picture wearing a hijab and issue an apology through social media, which she didn’t as she believes compulsory laws mandating wearing hijabs are misogynistic.

Photo: Michael Friedman, FIDE

Bayat talked to chess24 about this: “Initially, I had no intention to make a political statement, but then even from a distance of thousands of kilometres Iran’s government harassed me. I found myself in a situation that I had the choice to either apologise, explain it was a mistake, give a statement supporting the hijab and in praise of Ayatollah Khomeini, or to stand up for what I believe in. I knew that, if I did that, there could be no going back. I would face prison, or worse.”

Bayat decided to remove her hijab completely for the rest of the event and not return to her family in Iran, this is why she was awarded an International Women of Courage Award in 2021.

In September 2020, she received confirmation from FIDE that she could referee under the English flag, and since then she has officiated as a Deputy Chief Arbiter to many important tournaments such as the FIDE Women’s Candidate 2020, and the FIDE World Rapid & Blitz Chess Championship 2021. Bayat also worked in many top level International events as Chief or Deputy including Norway Chess, Gibraltar, London Chess Classic, and Abu Dhabi Masters.

In October last year Bayat was Deputy Chief Arbiter for the World Fischer Random Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland where she wore a “Women Life Freedom” t-shirt in support to the Iranian revolution against the regime. FIDE asked her to change her t-shirt to then appear with an outfit in Ukrainian colors. FIDE’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer David Llada was the first to raise the topic with Bayat and described “doing activism” in her role as “inappropriate and unprofessional”.

FIDE’s President Arkady Dvorkovich directly accused Bayat of mixing sports and politics, even if her actions were less “politics” than an appeal for basic human rights, something FIDE’s own Charter requires the organisation to promote.

But even if they were a political statement, is there anything more of a political statement that FIDE’s President himself? As Colin McGourty reports on chess24, Dvorkovich was a high-ranking Kremlin official for the decade from 2008-18, serving as adviser to Dmitry Medvedev and then as Deputy Prime Minister, including in 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine for the first time. Arkady has never expressed regrets about that decision, instead repeating Russian propaganda when asked about the topic by the BBC and other news organisations.

Under this context, Bayat’s case seems to be totally hypocritical with her making it as clear as possible: “Since I wore those shirts, they removed (not re-elected) me from the Arbiters Commission. Then they appointed a Delegate of the Iranian Chess Federation as the Secretary of the FIDE Women’s Commission and offered me to work under her (my oppressor federation) in the Women’s Commission. Meanwhile, they call me inappropriate and unprofessional for supporting Human Rights while they are silent about Iran keeping refusing to play against Israel due to political reasons. I think everything is clear.”

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