Shoreh Bayat is a referee at the Women’s World Chess Championships, but she’s accused of violating Iran’s Islamic dress code during a match overseas. Now she tells reporters that she’s afraid to return to her homeland.
“It was very, very difficult for me because it was something unexpected. I had my scarf in round three, but apparently it was not enough for the Iranians,” says Shoreh Bayat.
Ms. Bayat has become the latest in a long line of Iranian sports personalities refusing to return to their homeland. And that’s because she doesn’t want to wear her hijab.
She’s a chess pro. Not just any chess pro. Bayat is reportedly the first woman to be general secretary of a sport federation in Iran. And that’s what recently brought her to Shanghai, to referee the Women’s World Chess Championships—except she’s now accused of violating Iran’s strict Islamic dress code for women, and she fears for her life if she goes back.
“I just couldn’t support hijab, and I’ve noticed that they have already condemned me, and things were out of my control. So I decided not to wear hijab because that wouldn’t change anything.”
Shoreh Bayat claims that her troubles all started with a misunderstanding. At first she did wear her hijab at a Shanghai tournament. But due to some photos at odd camera angles, it looked like she wasn’t. By then it was too late.
Her photo was plastered over Iranian media. She says she was asked to write an apology letter. But since she didn’t support the dress code anyway, Bayat refused.
Iran has lost many citizens to similar situations over the years. Only days before this report, the world learned that Iran’s only female Olympic champion, a martial artist named Kimia Alizadeh, had also defected.
And earlier this month another chess player was booted from the national team, also for not wearing a hijab overseas.
Bayat says she’s not sure what her future holds.
“I had messages from people all around the world and I got invitation to many countries. But I would like to come back to Iran. And that’s my first priority. I really hope that they will provide me something to ensure that I will be safe if I come back to Iran. But if it does not happen, I am just examining my options and considering anything.”
(Shoreh Bayat, a Women's World Chess Championships referee, talks to reporters about Iran's Islamic dress code. Reuters)