Three years after fleeing Iran, chess referee Shohreh Bayat fears being further ostracized after challenging the game’s governing body and its president, Russia’s former deputy prime minister, over her choice of clothing at a tournament in October.
Back in 2020, Bayat was criticized in Iran for not wearing the appropriate headscarf at the Women’s World Chess Championship in China and Russia. She refused to bow to the regime’s pressure but, as a result, has not returned home out of fear of punishment.
Now, three years on, Bayat has raised the hackles of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) and its president for wearing clothes in support of the Iranian protests and the people of Ukraine.
The 35-year-old Bayat, who now lives in London with her husband, recently officiated at the 2022 Fischer Random World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October.
The tournament was another opportunity for Bayat to officiate some of the sport’s biggest stars, though it came at a difficult time as protests spread across her home country of Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini.
The 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman died in mid-September after being detained by the country’s morality police, allegedly for not abiding by the country’s conservative dress code, sparking outrage around a range of grievances with the regime.
“It reminded me of my own story,” Bayat told CNN. “So I decided to stand up for women’s rights in Iran. During the tournament I wore a t-shirt with the motto of Iranian people ‘WomanLifeFreedom’ and I wanted to stand with them.”
Bayat said that after the first day of wearing the t-shirt, a FIDE official asked her, unofficially, to not wear it.
In a statement sent to CNN, FIDE said that “arbiters at top events are required to dress in due decor and discretion” and that Bayat “disregarded direct instructions given to her to stop wearing slogans or mottos.”
According to Bayat, such regulations are not found in FIDE’s arbiter handbook and she says no dress code was given for the event in Iceland.
The arbiter’s handbook does say officials must “follow the dress code” and that they must be “dressed properly, helping to improve the image of chess as a sport.” CNN has reached out to FIDE to clarify the dress code that was expected for the October event.
Frustrated by the request to stop wearing the slogan, Bayat said she decided she was not breaking any rules so she wore it again the next day.
Bayat says she was once again asked by an official to take it off, only this time she was told the request came from FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, who previously served as Russia’s deputy prime minister and who attended the tournament in Iceland.
Bayat said Dvorkovich never spoke to her in person about the t-shirt, despite being in the same room as her when she wore it.
Dvorkovich, however, messaged her on WhatsApp – messages seen by CNN – to request Bayat not use official FIDE events for “political purposes.”
Angered by Dvorkovich’s request, Bayat says she quickly responded but then deleted her “emotional” reply. (CNN)