Iran seems to have quietly lifted a 36-year ban on competition of its athletes against Israelis.
On Monday two Iranian chess grandmasters played against an Israeli player in the sixth edition of the Sunway Sitges chess festival in Sitges, Spain.
It is unlikely that the two members of Iran's chess team would do so without having received the green light from the authorities.
Mohammad-Amin Tabatabaei and Parham Maghsoodloo both played against Israel's Ido Gorshtein in the Night Blitz category.Tabatabaei won the first prize.
“Courageously, both Amin & fellow Iranian GM, Parham Maghsoodloo, played (and defeated) Ido Gorshtein from #Israel. #Chess is the ultimate winner,” Nigel Short, the Vice President of FIDE tweeted.
The 18-year-old Tababtabaei won his international master title in 2015 and his grandmaster title in 2018. Maghsoodloo who is 19 years old is a World Junior Chess Champion (2018).
Tabatabaei had had to forfeit the World Junior Chess Championship title to Israel’s Bernstein two months ago but on Monday he played against Ido Gorshtein and won. Iranian news agencies have reported Tabatabaei’s win without any mention of who he has been playing against.
The decision to allow the young grandmasters to play against Israeli rivals seems to have been taken by high-level officials. “We had a meeting with [Foreign Minister] Zarif, Supreme National Security Council Chairman Shamkhani and security officials,” Iran National Olympics Committee Chairman Reza Salehi-Amiri was quoted by Fars News Agency as saying on Tuesday.
Salehi-Amiri said a committee has been formed to “discuss the ways to overcome the challenges posed by [the ban on playing against] the Zionist regime”. Since 1983 Iranian athletes have been banned from competing against Israelis in all sports in solidarity with the people of Palestine. Iran does not recognize the state of Israel.
The ban has cost Iranian athletes and national teams dearly. In October the International Judo Federation (IJF) imposed an indefinite ban on Iran’s judo team on the grounds that forcing Iranian athletes not to compete against Israelis is breaking the rules on non-discrimination and manipulation of competition results.
When the news of the unprecedented competition with an Israeli athlete was first publicized by the media outside Iran an official of the Chess Federation of Iran said the athletes had not been aware of the nationality of their rival, which is highly unlikely.