Iranian IM Plays Without Hijab At World Championships, Defects To Spain

Iranian IM Plays Without Hijab At World Championships, Defects To Spain


IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh (Sara Khadem), who defied the Iranian dress code for women by refusing to wear a headscarf at the 2022 FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championships, will not be returning home after her last tournament of the year. With her husband, film director Ardeshir Ahmadi, and the couple’s young child, she will move to an undisclosed city in Spain. At this time, she has made no public statement although two sources close to her confirmed this news to El Pais, a Spanish newspaper.

With a FIDE rating of 2490, she is just 10 points below the minimum rating requirement for the grandmaster title. Photo: Maria Emelianova/ 

This revelation comes amid protests against the Iranian government since September after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in police custody after wearing her headscarf “improperly.” Iranian voices (or lack thereof) have been heard far beyond the chessboard as protests roil the nation. A significant sports example is that the Iranian team did not sing their national anthem before their first game at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. 

Back in the chess world, Iranian players provoked quite a stir at this year’s most prestigious championships for speed chess in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photographs of Khadem and WGM Atousa Pourkashiyan (of Iranian descent but who resides in the U.S.) flooded social media on Monday and throughout the week as the event went on, with many tweets expressing support. What might seem a small act of defiance carries heavy implications as tens of thousands of Iranian protesters have been arrested and several charged with death sentences.

Moreover, Iranian players were pressured to “voluntarily” forfeit their games to Israeli players at this year’s championships, although this is nothing new at top-level chess events and has been going on for many years. A recent example, through no fault of his own, Israeli GM Boris Gelfand picked up three free points this last week without his Iranian opponents making a single move: a free point against both IM Bardiya Daneshvar and GM Pouya Idani in the rapid event and another point against GM Amin Tabatabaei in the blitz event.

Iran has produced many great chess players in modern times, but some of the best choose to leave the country. Khadem, their most recent loss, is the 10th highest-rated player in Iran and number 17 on the world rankings for women.

Khadem is number 804 in the world. Photo: Maria Emelianova/ 

Former Iranian GM Alireza Firouzja, the youngest player to break the 2800-rating mark and world number-two at the age of 18, moved in 2019 and officially began playing for France last year. IM Dorsa Derakhshani left Iran to play under the United States flag in 2017 after playing without a hijab at an international chess tournament. Two years ago, international arbiter Shohreh Bayat left Iran for similar reasons.

What this means for Khadem’s chess career, as well as the future of Iranian chess, is yet to be seen.


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