Indian chess player Soumya Swaminathan may have excused herself from participating in the upcoming Asian Nations Cup, but her decision of not being a part of championships held in Iran was made way back in 2011. “I have participated twice in tournaments in Iran, once when I was 10 and then in 2011, as an adult. During the first instance, since I was a kid the rules were not so strict, and I was not mature enough to understand the situation. However, in 2011, barring the confines of my room, I had to wear a hijab everywhere,” shares Soumya.
The Pune-based youngster had initially given her nod for the upcoming tournament because Bangladesh was supposed to be the host country. However, the venue changed to Iran and brought with it the headscarf rule which Soumya feels is a direct violation of her basic right to freedom of thought and expression. “It is a violation of my human rights and I had decided in 2011 itself that I wouldn’t participate in tournaments in Iran anymore,” Soumya tells us.
She had shared a post on her Facebook profile on June 9 announcing her decision and the post has gone viral ever since. Soumya shares that her phone hasn’t stopped ringing since that day and people have been praising her decision everywhere. “The whole idea behind voicing my opinion on social media was that I be heard and something positive would come out of it,” she says, adding, “Though I respect all religion and cultures, I feel religious and cultural restrictions shouldn’t be imposed on sports and sportspersons.”
The woman grandmaster says she has no issue with formal sport attire but is against dress codes that have religious connotations. She says, “It would be a great if sports federations come together and form guidelines for such cases, protecting the rights of the players. These issues bother other sportspersons as well.”
Like Soumya, shooter Heena Sidhu had also withdrawn from the Asian Airgun Meet in Iran in 2016 citing the headscarf rule. Asked if Heena inspired her to take this step, Soumya says, “As I said, my decision was made in 2011. But yes, when Heena put her foot down, she gave courage to other sportspersons who feel the same way to take a decision.”
Support from the coach and the team
Though Soumya’s coach, GM Farrukh Amonatov from Tajikistan, may not be happy with her decision on a professional level, Soumya says she has his complete support on a personal level. “He understands why I took this call and respects the fact that I took a stand,” shares Soumya. Though the youngster has let go off this opportunity which could’ve carved a path to the World Chess Championships later this year, Soumya now has her eyes set on performing well at the Sants Open tournament to be held in August at Barcelona.