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Iran's top chess champ 'ready to change nationality' over Israel ban

Iran withdrew two players from the annual World Rapid and Blitz Championship [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 December, 2019

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In a major blow to Iran's chess federation, the world's second-highest-rated junior player is ready 'forgo his nationality' because of a ban on competing with Israel opponents.

Iran's top rated chess champion has decided not to play for his country because of Tehran’s informal ban on competing against Israeli players, Iranian news agencies reported on Tuesday.

The head of Iran’s chess federation Mehrdad Pahlavanzadeh told Tehran's ISNA news agency, that Alireza Firouzja is “currently living in France…and may want to play under the French or US flag”.

He added that the 16-year old was ready to “change his nationality”.

Despite Iran’s non-attendance at the upcoming world championship in Russia, Firouzja had expressed his desire to take part, according to Pahlavanzadeh, who did not refer to Israel by name.

Iranian authorities announced their withdrawal from the World Rapid and Blitz tournament in Moscow, as it would feature a match where two Iranian players, Parham Maghsoodloo and Amin Tabatabaei, would compete against Israeli opponents.

Alireza had objected strongly to the withdrawal.

There is currently no formal response to Alireza’s announcment. His family remain silent on the matter.

According to Chess.com, Firouzja's loss is a major “blow to the Iranian federation”.

Firouzja, the world’s second-highest-rated junior player, is the second Iranian sports figure to renounce ties with his home country this year, over pressures on Iranian athletes to avoid competing with Israelis.  

Iran received an indefinite ban from the International Judo Federation over its long-running boycott of Israel.

The IF disciplinary commission said that it had broken rules on non-discrimination and the manipulation of competition results.

The ruling followed an order delivered to Iranian Judo world champion Saied Mollaei, by Iran’s sports minister, demanding his withdrawal from the Judo World Championships, to avoid a match against an Israeli opponent.

Read more: Iran 'indefinitely banned' from world judo for refusing to fight Israeli athletes

While Mollaei refused orders and carried on competing, he eventually lost before he could face top-ranked Israeli athlete Sagi Muki. Muki, who won gold in the final, named Mollaei an “inspiration.”

Iranian security services were called to his parents house, in response to the Mollaei's actions. Mollaei announced that he was “afraid” to return home soon after, and is currently in Germany

Iranian officials have repeatedly called on Iranian athletes to refrain from competing against Israelis and Supreme Leaders Ayatollah Ali Khamenei frequently pours praise on those who do so.

Iran has refused to recognise since 1979, in a symbol of opposition to Iran’s arch-enemy and solidarity with the Palestinians people and their plights.


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