Sara Khadem (full name: Sarasadat Khademalsharieh) is an Iranian chess player who, as it turns out, is the latest sportsperson under fire for going against the Iranian government’s hijab mandate for women.
The 25-year-old participated in the without the hijab, the traditional headscarf which is mandatory for women as per Iran’s strict dress code. This prompted government officials to almost ‘disown’ the athlete with a clarification from the government claiming she was not representing the Islamic republic.
“This chess player participated freely and at her own expense” in the tournament, Hassan Tamini, head of Iran’s chess federation, was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.
The Iranian Woman Grandmaster’s choice to participate without the hijab is being seen by some as a show of support for the protests that have gripped Iran since the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22.
Amini had been arrested by Tehran morality police for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.
Iranian female athletes are required to abide by the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women, mainly by covering their heads when representing their country at international events.
“We didn’t expect this chess player to do this because she had participated in the previous tournaments in compliance with the standards”, Tamini said.
Khadem is reported to have received calls warning her not to return to Iran for competing without a hijab at Almaty.
The source also said Khadem’s relatives and parents, who are in Iran, had also received threats, without giving further details.
Khadem is ranked 804 in the world, according to the International Chess Federation website. The website for the Dec. 25-30 event listed her as a participant in both the Rapid and Blitz competitions.
Khadem, who is also known as Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, arrived in Spain on Tuesday, the source said.
She has not responded to Reuters request for comment. Newspapers including Le Figaro and El Pais reported last week that Khadem would not be returning to Iran and moving to Spain.
The phone calls led to organisers deciding to provide security with the cooperation of Kazakh police, resulting in four bodyguards being stationed outside Khadem’s hotel room, the source said.
Others in the line of fire
The protests mark one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s leadership since its 1979 revolution and have drawn in Iranians from all walks of life.
Women have played a prominent role, removing and in some cases burning headscarves, while protesters have taken heart from what they have seen as shows of support from both female and male Iranian athletes.
Last month Iran denounced a speed skater, Niloufar Mardani, after she attended a competition in Turkey not wearing a headscarf, local media said at the time.
Mardani participated “without authorisation,” the sports ministry said, quoted by Iran’s Fars news agency.
In October, climber Elnaz Rekabi wore only a headband during a competition event at the Asian Championships in Seoul.
She returned to a hero’s welcome at the airport in Tehran, where dozens of people cheered and clapped.
The athlete had apologised over the incident and, in comments to state media, insisted her headscarf accidentally slipped off.
Sport has become a sensitive arena during the protests, with several prominent female athletes and male footballers expressing their support.
The Woman Grandmaster profile picture on the FIDE website shows Khademalsharieh wearing a dark blue headscarf that does not cover all her hair.
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