19 October 2016

Hijab Hubris

In the previous post, Hijab Hubbub, I said, 'It's been exactly ten years since I saw as much interest in a chess story from the mainstream press'. What brought this about and is there a way to put a positive spin on it for the good of chess? The story started with the publication of the General Assembly 2016 Decisions (27 September 2016; fide.com):-
87th FIDE Congress; General Assembly; 11-13 September 2016; Baku, Azerbaijan [...] GA-2016/31. To award the organization of the Women’s World Chess Championship to Tehran, Iran, in February 2017.

It took only a few days for the mainstream press to spread the effect of the decision to the wider world: Female chess players forced to wear hijab as governing body awards world championship to Iran (29 September 2016; telegraph.co.uk):-

The world's top female chess players have reacted with horror after being told they must compete at next year's world championship wearing a hijab. Within hours of Iran being revealed as its host country, the prestigious event was plunged into crisis as it emerged players taking part face arrest if they don't cover up. [...] Fide's Commission for Women's Chess, meanwhile, called on participants to respect "cultural differences" and accept the regulations. [...]

Nigel Short, the British former world title contender, said: "There are people from all sorts of backgrounds going to this, there will be atheists, Christians, all sorts of people." [...] Susan Polgar, the Hungarian-born American Grandmaster and chair of Fide's Commission for Women's Chess, responded by defending the federation and saying women should respect "cultural differences".

The story spread to other mainstream news sources. Susan Polgar, who is in fact listed as co-chair for the Women's Commission, responded almost immediately on her blog: My response to CNN regarding the upcoming Women's World Championship (29 September 2016; chessdailynews.com):-

I was contacted by CNN regarding the upcoming Women’s World Championship. Here is my response: Q: Is it true female players have been told they must wear a hijab to compete at the above event? A: I have not been informed about this so far. I do not know if all women have to comply or if exceptions can be made. I will ask FIDE about this. [...]

It appears from this and from her further responses ('I was simply addressing if "I" have a problem wearing a hijab during this chess event, and personally, I do not.') that she did not realize that she was initially contacted because of her role as co-chair for the Women's Commission. She went on to say,

[The Women's Commission] does not decide where the event should be held. We are not and have never been directly involved with any negotiation. We are not even being informed as of who the bidders are until after the winning bid is announced. We simply discuss various issues among our committee members, and female players around the world, and we send our findings / recommendations to FIDE. This is why it is important for women players to communicate with us and let us know about any issue.

Two days later GM Polgar, in Media made up narratives (1 October 2016), added,

No one from FIDE Commission for Women’s Chess, including me, has made ANY comment to endorse the venue or the regime. In fact, I specifically said, "If any player has a problem with it, she can and should voice her opinion to the Commission for Women’s Chess or FIDE and we can address it in our next meeting."

A day later, in Response to inquiry from Telegraph UK regarding Women’s World Championship in Iran (2 October 2016), it was more of the same:-

The Commission for Women's Chess (WOM) has not taken any official position. We are actively talking to female players who qualified for the upcoming Women’s World Championship for their feedback. WOM was NOT involved in the bidding process, nor were we involved in the process to award the bid. We had no vote. I personally found out about it after the fact. The delegates from 159 countries were in Baku at the General Assembly. They were told of this bid, and it was their place to voice their objections or concerns. None of the 159 delegates representing their countries, including the United States, objected. Therefore, everyone who questions the decision to award the Women’s World Championship to the Iranian Chess Federation should direct their inquiries to these delegates, including the US which represents Nazi Paikidze who demanded for a boycott.

A day later the blog issued Official Statement From FIDE About The Women's World Championship in Iran (2 October 2016), a statement which does not appear on FIDE's own site:-

During the FIDE General Assembly in Baku 2016 the chess Federation of Iran was awarded the organization of the Women’s World Chess Championship in Tehran in February 2017. Iran was the only country which made a proposal to host the event and since there were no objections from any of the delegates (representatives of 159 national federations), the General Assembly accepted the proposal. [...]

At this point in time, there have been no official complaints to FIDE, from any player who is eligible to participate in the Women’s World Championship 2017. It is not a FIDE regulation or requirement to wear a hijab during the event. I would kindly refer you to local laws or regulations such as wearing the hijab, if you kindly check the UK foreign office website for more information you will find there "You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend" [...]

Anastasiya Karlovich, FIDE Press Officer

Case closed? Probably. FIDE has a long tradition of -- officially -- passing the buck. Another of the 'General Assembly 2016 Decisions' regarding the Women's World Championship said,

GA-2016/34. To ratify the recommendation of the Executive Board to authorize Presidential Board to take a final decision on the proposal by the Chinese Chess Association for the modification of the Women’s World Championship cycle.

Removing the references to FIDE organizations leaves, 'To ratify the recommendation to authorize to take a final decision on the proposal'. It's meaningless and it's mind boggling.

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