The FIDE 2017 Women’s World Chess Champion-ship is underway in Tehran, Iran, amid the boycott of a handful of notable players. Non-participants of the calibre of China’s world champion Hou Yifan, the US champion Nazi Paikidze, former Women’s World Champion Mariya Muzychuk and India’s World Championship finalist Koneru Humpy protested to FIDE about the choice of location.
The championship is a knockout event featuring 63 players from 28 countries. Why 63 participants and not an even number to facilitate equal pairings? Because International Master and five-time Romanian champion Cristina Foisor regrettably passed away three weeks ago, and the organizers allowed her name to remain on the championship list as a fitting tribute to her. Foisor was a frequent participant at previous world championships.
The US chess champion Nazi Paikidze did not participate in the championship owing to her refusal to wear a hijab in Tehran at the competition as reported by the world press and the Washington Post of October 6, 2016. Headscarves are required to be worn in public in Iran. Paikidze had been quoted as saying she would do everything to help more girls get into chess. The US champion was vocal for the reason for her non-attendance to the Championship, and launched an online campaign suggesting that the World Chess Federation reconsider Iran as the host nation for the women’s championship. But not everyone agrees with the Paikidze intervention. Woman grandmaster and the 2015 Asian Continental champion Mitra Hejazipour commented: “It’s not right to call for a boycott. These games are important for women in Iran; it’s an opportunity for us to show our strength.”
CNN reported that Iran was the only country that submitted a proposal to host the championship. And further, according to a FIDE official, there were no objections from any of the 150 national federations, including the US Chess Federation. Chess is deeply embedded in Iranian culture. The word checkmate comes from the Persian word shah mat, meaning, the king is left helpless.
A new woman world champion is on the horizon. China and India are well represented although Yifan and Humpy are no-shows. Switzerland is also a strong contender for the title, in the experienced woman grandmaster Pia Cramling. Ju Wenjun of China is the highest ranked player of the championship.