Asian Team Chess Championships: WGM Soumya Swaminathan withdraws due to compulsory headscarf rule


Soumya Swaminathan (credit:



What’s the story?

Indian chess player and Woman Grandmaster (WGM), Soumya Swaminathan has pulled out of the Asian Team Chess Championships in Iran due to a compulsory headscarf rule. She stated her reason as being in retaliation for a direct violation of her basic Human Rights.

In case you didn’t know…

The Phalgat-born Chess player won the title of Woman Grandmaster in 2008, along with other accolades.

In her early professional days, Soumya won the Indian Girls’ Junior Championships two years in a row. She also won the 2009 World Junior Girls’ Championships held in Argentina.

The Grandmaster also won the Indian Women’s Championships in 2011 and the Commonwealth Women’s Championships in 2012.

Heart of the matter

Soumya Swaminathan took to Facebook to announce her withdrawal from the Asian Team Chess Championships, which were being held in Iran. The Grandmaster said that although she feels immense pride whenever she represents India, some things cannot be compromised.


“I find the Iranian law of compulsory Headscarf to be in direct violation of my basic Human Rights including my right to freedom of expression, and right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” Soumya said in her Facebook post, “It seems that under the present circumstances, the only way for me to protect my rights is not to go to Iran.”

Soumya also expressed her disappointment to watch players’ rights getting less importance and remarked that there is no place for such things in sports.

“I am very disappointed to see that player’s rights and welfare are given such less importance while allotting and/or organizing official championships. I understand the organizers expecting us to wear our National Team Dress or Formals or Sporting attire for our games during official championships, but surely there is no place for an enforceable religious dress code in Sports,” the Grandmaster’s post read.

What’s next?

Soumya Swaminathan is not the first woman to renounce her participation from a tournament due to a forced dress code.

Indian shooter Heena Sidhu refused to take part in an event in Iran for the same reason, in 2016. Sidhu pulled out of the 2016 Asian Gun Championships in Tehran as a sign of protest after the Women participants were told to wear a hijab.

As Soumya said, there is no room for an enforceable religious dress code in Sports. However, many countries continue to do so. As a result, Soumya’s actions in this situation are progressive and brave. Hopefully, her efforts and the efforts of many other women will bring about a much-needed change in sports.

What is your take on Soumya’s retaliation? Do you think it is justified? Let us know in the comments section below.

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