A leading Iranian chess official said she was afraid to return to her country after the images of her presidency of the World Chess Championship for Women who apparently did not wear a hijab circulated online.
At 32, Shohreh Bayat is one of the few most important female chess referees in the world with a Category A classification, a distinction awarded to international chess referees who have demonstrated excellent mastery of the rules of the sport.
“I turned on my mobile phone and saw that my picture was everywhere,” Bayat told the BBC, apparently referring to Iranian media. “They claimed that he was not wearing a headscarf and that he wanted to protest against the hijab.”
The images of her were captured during the tournament in Shanghai earlier this month, apparently with a bare head, a violation of Iranian law.
Bayat told the BBC that he was wearing the hijab, which, in pictures, hung loosely from the back of his head. In general, he said, he didn’t even like wearing the hijab.
“It is against my beliefs. People should have the right to choose the way they want to dress, it should not be forced,” Bayat told the news organization. “I was tolerating it because I live in Iran. I had no choice. . “
When he saw a reaction online, he said he was “totally panicking.”
Ms. Bayat feels she cannot return to Iran, according to the BBC.
“There are many people in prison in Iran because of the headscarf. It’s a very serious problem, “he said.” They may want to make an example of me. “
He decided to stop using the hijab, the news organization said, saying that taking it off meant that I could “be myself.”
“If I had the option of returning to Iran, of course I would love to,” he said. “But I don’t know what would happen to me.”
Bayat told the BBC that the Iranian chess federation asked him to issue a statement about the controversy, but she refused. The Iranian chess federation did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
In a brief email, Bayat confirmed the details in the BBC’s history. The three week tournament between Ju Wenjun, the defending champion of China, and Aleksandra Goryachkina, Russian champion, are now in Vladivostok and end on January 25.
Misha Friedman, press secretary of the International Chess Federation, said the organization had not heard from the Iranian government or any ministry official requesting that Ms. Bayat be withdrawn from the tournament.
The federation “does not have a dress code,” Friedman said.
“We consider that she is within the limits of” the federation’s rules, she said, “and we are happy with the work she is doing, so there is no problem from our perspective.”
Being chosen as the main referee of such a prestigious tournament is a great honor, said Friedman, who compared it to Super Bowl arbitration.
Nigel Short, vice president of the federation, shared his support on Twitter for Mrs. Bayat on January 9, along with an image of her without the hijab.
He called her “a great ambassador of her country.”
The episode coincided with a statement by Kimia Alizadeh, one of the best Iranian athletes, who recently announced on Instagram that she was desert from the country because the leaders there had used it as a “tool.”
“They took me where they wanted,” he wrote. “Whatever they said, I used it. I repeated every sentence they ordered.
Ms. Alizadeh, 21, who won the bronze medal in taekwondo at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, is the only female athlete to win an Olympic medal for Iran.
“My disturbed spirit does not fit your dirty economic channels and tight political lobbies,” he wrote. “I have no other desire except taekwondo, security and a happy and healthy life.”