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Iran Opts Out Of Juniors' Chess Championship To Avoid Another Sports Ban

FILE - Young chess stars in Iran during a tournament. Undated
FILE - Young chess stars in Iran during a tournament. Undated

A series of "considerations" and "financial complications" has forced the Islamic Republic's Chess Federation not to dispatch Iran's team to the World Youth Under-16 Chess Olympiad in Turkey, says the federation president.

Without further elaboration, Mehrdad Pahlavanzadeh insisted on Sunday, October 26, that the international chess federation (FIDE) has not eliminated Iran from the list of competing countries, and Tehran has voluntarily decided to stay out of the championship.

Earlier, on January 5, the seventeen-year-old Iranian chess prodigy, Aryan Gholami, relinquished his chance at winning a $10,000 prize when he ruled out playing against his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Erenberg, at the Rilton Cup in Sweden.

Gholami told the Swedish chess website at the time that he had no ill will towards the Israeli, but "if I were to play against an Israeli, it would have serious consequences for me."

However, days later, the Palestinian Quds News Network cited Gholami as saying, "I refused the challenge, in order to defend the Palestinian people. I do not recognize a place called Israel."

Based on an "unwritten law," Iranian athletes are banned from competing with their Israeli counterparts or attending medal ceremonies alongside them.

Therefore, Gholami could have been banned by the Islamic Republic's chess federation from competing in international tournaments as punishment for playing against an Israeli.

The local conservative media praised Gholami's decision to the extent that the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, received the young chess genius and gave him a "kiss of appreciation" on the forehead.

"This sportsman 'checked' the dollar and 'mated' the oppression to force another defeat on the Zionist regime," a broadcaster for the monopolized state-owned Channel 1 trumpeted in Tehran.

Immediately after the meeting that was also attended by the Chief Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) extraterritorial arm (Qods Force), Brigadier General Qasasem Soleimani, European Chess Union protested and called FIDE to punish Iran.

Iranian athletes' refusal to compete with Israelis has triggered a series of disputes between Tehran and international sports federations.

"Another disappointing forfeit by an Iranian player against an Israeli, at the World Junior Ch. today. #FIDE is not prepared to tolerate chess being used for political purposes. Unless there are changes, strong measures will be taken," the Vice-President of FIDE, Nigel David Short (MBE), twitted on October 17.

Reacting to Iran's refusal to participate in the World Championship in Turkey, FIDE said in a statement last week that it would punish the Islamic Republic's Chess Federation in a way that would detrimental for the Iranian chess players.

According to the latest rankings released by FIDE in 2018, Iran collected 2,542 points on average to claim the 28th spot in the world.

Nonetheless, the Islamic Republic's decision to stay away from the World Championship in Turkey has pushed Iranian chess players to the verge of being deprived of the chance to compete in international events.

Earlier this month, the International Judo Federation (IJF) officially announced its decision to confirm a provisional ban on Iran over its refusal to allow its fighters to face Israeli judokas.