Iran has banned its top players from participating in the Rapid and Blitz World Championship in Moscow in late December. Iranian superstar Alireza Firouzja will compete nevertheless under the official FIDE flag.
The newest verdict by the Iranian Ministry of Sports is a response to an incident in mid-December during a tournament in Spain. Grandmasters Parham Maghsoodloo and Amin Tabatabaei had played against an Israeli during a blitz tournament. Competition with Israelis is a no-go for Iranian athletes.
With the Iran pulling its players, the story is now developing in the opposite direction than was generally speculated. There was talk of a possible Iranian sports spring, of an end to the ban, after it became known that Maghsoodloo and Tabatabaei had faced FM Ido Gorshtein during the blitz tournament. FIDE Vice President Nigel Short spontaneously congratulated the two Iranians for their courage. Later he speculated that without consultation with the local authorities the two Iranians would hardly have dared to take such a step.
Meanwhile the US-funded news channel Radio Farda reported that the country’s top sports authorities were involved, the Department of Sports and the National Olympic Committee.
They were indeed, but the authorities didn’t play the role that the international chess and sports family had hoped for. Instead, they once again cemented a rule that has repeatedly ensured that Iranian athletes lose without a fight.
Radio Farda and the Persian BBC branch have taken up the story again over the weekend. Now it seems clear that Maghsoodloo and Tabatabaei actually did not know that an Israeli was sitting across from them, and no official was nearby to warn them. When the Iranian Ministry of Sports requested clarification from the Iranian chess association, the two grandmasters had to fear the worst. They would not be the first to be banned from chess for the rest of their life.
Maghsoodloo’s argument that during a blitz tournament one often doesn’t even know his opponent’s name, let alone his nationality, seems to have caught on. There was no draconian punishment for the two “culprits”. Instead, Iran is now punishing its entire team of top players by prohibiting them from participating in the Rapid and Blitz World Championship. Only the women may play since no Israelis are registered for the women’s competition.
What about Firouzja?
In the open competitions further encounters between Iranians and Israelis could have occurred, especially so, since FIDE has abolished the policy of not allowing Israeli-Iranian pairings. The Iranian Ministry of Sports is now putting a stop to this possibility by forbidding its people to play.
If this ban did not exist, a number of Iranians would have played. Grandmaster Pouya Idani, number four of Iran, said in an interview with this website (not yet published) that the rapid and blitz world championship was a highlight in his personal tournament schedule.
There was a lot of speculation about the Iranian superstar Alireza Firouzja, the first 16-year-old to cross 2700 elo. His name was on the list of participants, then it disappeared over the past few days, now he is on it again. Authorities haven’t granted him a special status. Instead, he will play under the official FIDE flag for now.
This may be a first step towards switching federations. Alireza Firouzja lives in Paris. The rumor has been going around for some time that the French chess federation is trying to get the super talent to change federation. The more Iranian authorities make life difficult for him the more he may be inclined to answer this courting. The Iranian reformist newspaper Shargh has reported on its Twitter accounts that Firouzja has already decided not to play under Iranian flag anymore. There’s no word yet on what he intends to do instead. For a switch a new federation would be charged with more than 50.000 Euros by FIDE.
When the games begin in Moscow on December 26th the other young Iranian Grandmasters miss a chance to compete with the world class in the fast disciplines over several days. They miss a potentially huge payday as well. Total prize fund: $ 1 million. Meanwhile, the Iranian chess scene may soon miss the best player it ever had.
(This report has been updated on December 24th due to new developments around Firouzja’s participation in the World Rapid and Blitz.)