The US women's chess champion won't be competing in the Women's World Chess Championship February in Iran over that country's law that makes it mandatory for women—including foreign chess players—to wear hijabs, CNN reports. Nazi Paikidze-Barnes calls the law "religious and sexist discrimination." According to the Telegraph, failing to wear a hijab in public in Iran is punishable by fine, arrest, or "public admonishment." And Paikidze-Barnes isn't alone in her protest of the championship. Carla Heredia, a former Pan American champion who didn't qualify for the tournament in Tehran, is calling on the 64 other women who did to boycott it. "Sports should be free of this type of discrimination," she tells CNN.
The decision to hold the Women's World Chess Championship in Iran was made after no other country offered to host it. None of the world's 150 chess federations objected to the venue, and the head of the Commission for Women's Chess, Susan Polger, says wearing the hijab is just a matter of showing respect for the host country. But Paikidze-Barnes says her protest of the tournament is also about the treatment of women in Iran in general, as well as the safety of women traveling there. But one chess grandmaster says a boycott isn't the answer and will hurt efforts to promote women's sports in Iran. "This is going to be the biggest sporting event women in Iran have ever seen," Mitra Hejazipour tells the Guardian. "It's an opportunity to show our strength."