A female Iranian chess referee has said she fears returning to her country after a picture of her was published which appeared to show her not wearing a headscarf at the World Championships in Shanghai.
Shohreh Bayat, 32, who is chief arbiter for the 2020 Women’s World Chess Championships being shared between China and Russia, fears returning to Iran as she believes she could be imprisoned for flouting Islamic law.
An image of her overseeing a match in Shanghai, which appears to show her not wearing her scarf, has been circulated by Iranian state media after it was published online.
Ms Bayat insists she was wearing the hijab, as she always does while overseeing international competitions, but that it can’t be seen because of the camera angle.
‘I turned on my mobile and saw that my picture was everywhere [in Iranian media]. They were claiming I was not wearing a headscarf and that I wanted to protest against the hijab,’ Ms Bayat said.
‘There are many people in prison in Iran because of the headscarf. It’s a very serious issue. Maybe they’d want to make an example of me.’
While fulfilling her high-ranking sports role abroad, which is similar to a senior referee, Iranian law dictates that Ms Bayat must continue to don the headdress in public.
In an interview with Iranian state media, Ms Bayat’s father was quoted as saying the headscarf had dropped accidentally.
Despite her insistence that it was the angle of the photograph, the 32-year-old, who is one of only a few female chief arbiters in the world, said women should have the right to choose how to dress and that the headscarf ‘should not be forced on them’.
She has refused to apologise to Iranian officials after the Iranian Chess Federation advised her to do so, according to the BBC.
Figuring that she is unable to return to her country, Ms Bayat has now decided to remove the hijab altogether and is refereeing matches unveiled for the rest of the tournament in Vladivostock.
Ms Bayat’s father told the Iranian Students News Agency earlier this month (ISNA): ‘Me, her mother and even the head of the Iranian Chess Federation tried hard to convince her to come back to Iran but she says she will not because she is worried about going on with her activities in Iran and wants to continue in another country with the help of the International Chess Federation.’
According to Ms Bayat, she asked the Iranian Chess Federation to appeal to the government on her behalf but they refused.
Vice-President of the International Chess Federation (Fide) Nigel Short, praised Ms Bayat, tweeting that she is ‘the first woman ever to be General Secretary of a sport federation in #Iran. The only female Category-A International Arbiter in Asia. A great ambassador for her country.’
Ms Bayat is one of a select few top-level arbiters in the world and the only one in Asia.
Iran’s first female Olympic-medal winner Kimia Alizadeh defected from Iran to the Netherlands earlier this month citing the country’s strict dress code as a reason.
In a blistering online letter she called herself ‘one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran’.
‘Whatever they said, I wore,’ Taekwondo athlete Alizadeh wrote in the letter posted on Instagram last week. ‘Every sentence they ordered, I repeated.’
Ms Alizadeh, who won a bronze medal in taekwondo at the 2016 Rio Olympics, cited oppression by authorities in the Islamic republic.
The semi-official ISNA news agency carried a report on Thursday saying: ‘Shock for Iran’s taekwondo. Kimia Alizadeh has emigrated to The Netherlands.’
ISNA wrote that it believed that Alizadeh, who is reportedly training in The Netherlands, is hoping to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but not under the Iranian flag.
Without saying anything of her plans, Alizadeh assured the ‘dear Iranian people’ that she would remain ‘a child of Iran wherever’ she is.