No place for religious dress code in sports – Swaminathan

Soumya Swaminathan, India’s finest woman chess player, will not compete in the Asian Nations Cup Chess Championship scheduled to be held in Iran next month. Swaminathan, a lawyer, 29, has refused to wear a hijab during the championship, and therefore becomes ineligible to participate. She cited a violation of her rights to freedom of expression. (Photo: Lennart Ootes)      

National chess champion Wendell Meusa and national chess player Loris Nathoo are representing Guyana in the Jamaican Open Chess Championship which is ongoing in Kingston, Jamaica.

Several of the Caribbean Community chess playing nations are usually competitors in the Jamaican Open, in addition to other selected overseas players. However, at the time of writing, the final lineup could not be ascertained.

Some of Jamaica’s chess players are FIDE ELO higher-ranked than the brightest chess stars from Guyana. Participation in this tournament, therefore, is an attempt to lessen the gap of ELO rating points, to expose our participants to serious international competition, and to prepare us for the gruelling September 2018 Chess Olympiad at which some 170 nations are expected to participate.

Loris Nathoo ( in photo ) and national chess champion Wendell Meusa are currently representing Guyana at the annual Jamaican Open Chess Championship Tournament in Kingston , Jamaica . Meusa and Nathoo are widening and consolidating their experiences for the renowned Chess Olympiad in September which will feature world champion Magnus Carlsen and several of the top 100 chess players worldwide.

Making chess news internationally is woman grandmaster Soumya Swaminathan’s refusal to play in the Asian Nations Chess Cup in Hamadan, Iran, from July 27 to August 4, owing to a dress code which requires women to wear a hijab (headscarf) during the competition.

Swaminathan made a Facebook post in relation for her non-participation, and it has blossomed into international coverage. Newsweek quoted Swaminathan as saying that Iranian law requiring her to wear a headscarf was in direct violation of her rights including her “right to freedom of expression, and right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

A lawyer by profession, Swaminathan is India’s finest woman chess player. The 29-year-old grandmaster stated on her Facebook page recently: “I do not wish to be forced to wear a scarf or burka; there is no place for an enforceable religious dress code in sports.” The number of likes on her Facebook page since Swaminathan posted her thoughts on the matter moved from 2,000 to 10,000.

This is not the first time a chess player has pulled out of a tournament in Iran. In 2017, the Women’s World Championship was held in Iran and American national champion Nazi Paikidze decided not to play since wearing a headscarf during competition was compulsory.

Swaminathan was asked to comment about the incident and this is what she said: “I also signed Nazi Paikidze’s petition when she decided not to play in the Women’s World Championship in 2017 and shared it. I was completely in agreement with her decision.”

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