Chess player who left Iran because of boycott of Israel wins 2021 “Rising Star” award

Alireza Firouzja, the 18-year-old chess player who left Iran’s squad in 2019 due to a ban on competing with Israelis, won a top international award.

Voters on Chess.com, a web server, news and networking site with 77 million users worldwide, selected him as the “Rising Star” of 2021 and named him second “Player of the Year”. Firouzja’s match against Hungarian grandmaster Richard Rapport was deemed the third best game of 2021.

Magnus Carlsen, the 31-year-old world chess champion, was voted player of the year. In December, Carlsen wrote in a blog post that he was unlikely to play another game to defend his title, except against someone from the ‘next generation’, which meant Firouzja, second in the world rankings. .

Firouzja won the Iranian championship at 12 and was a Grandmaster at 14. He is the second youngest player to ever have reach a rating of 2700, which he did at 16. In December 2019, Firouzja became the first Iranian chess player to finish second at the World Quick Chess Championship in Moscow.

Firouzja renounced his Iranian nationality in 2019 following pressure to lose matches with Israeli competitors, and now participates as a French citizen in international tournaments.

Iran is one of the states that does not recognize the State of Israel, a refusal that dates back to the declaration by the leader of the 1979 revolution, Ruhollah Khomeini, that Iran could have formal relations with any State in the world other than apartheid Israel or South Africa. Tehran prohibits athletes from playing against Israeli competitors or causes them to intentionally lose matches in order to avoid competing with the Israelis.

Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has often praised Iranian athletes who refuse to play against Israelis and, in September 2021, said they should continue to do so even if they risk sanctions from the Israeli side. international sports organizations.

In November 2020, International Chess Federation vice-president Nigel Short warned the Iranian Chess Federation that it could be banned from international events if the Iranians were not allowed to compete against the Israelis.

There have been other sporting and cultural boycotts of Israel in recent years. In 2018 Argentinian footballers, including Lionel Messi, refuse to play friendly match in Jerusalem because the land was on the site of a razed Palestinian village. This week over 20 acts withdrawn from the Sydney Festival because of Israeli funding. But the Islamic Republic’s ideological basis for its boycott is much more radical. Iranian officials have often called for the destruction of Israel and are providing arms and money to militant groups.

Among the dozens of Iranian athletes who have emigrated over the past two decades, some have said they did so because officials forced them to lose titles by refusing to compete with the Israelis.

Internationally renowned chess player Ghazal Hakimifard renounced Iranian citizenship in 2020 in protest and is playing for Switzerland.

Some female athletes say they left the national team because of the mandatory hijab (dress code). Grandmaster Mitra Hejazipour was kicked out of the chess team for removing his headscarf during international tournaments.

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