Iran has been given a stay of execution allowing it to continue competing in international chess events after an 11th-hour change at FIDE’s General Assembly dramatically watered down a proposed threat of a ban.
Minutes before the game’s world governing body held its 91st General Assembly yesterday, a heavily-trailed resolution calling for Iran to face being suspended over its controversial Israeli sports boycott was withdrawn.
In its place, FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich tabled a new more conciliatory motion urging Iran’s chess chiefs to “make sure that there are no further incidents of boycotts”.
The resolution also warned that if the Chess Federation of Iran does not comply, FIDE will “impose targeted punishments that may harm chess players”. However, it stopped short of directly threatening a ban.
Malcolm Pein, the English delegate, supported the motion and described it as akin to handing out a yellow card in football, but not a red, and sending a message to all federations to follow FIDE’s regulations.
“These boycotts are a unique form of discrimination and they violate many articles in the FIDE charter,” he said. “These things simply have to stop.”
Eighty delegates voted in favour, 12 against, 15 abstained while 55 did not vote.
Iran’s federation, its delegate speaking through a translator, did face questioning from FIDE vice-president Nigel Short, who demanded to know: “Are you prepared for your players to play against Israel – yes or no?”
However, in a rambling reply, the acting president of the Chess Federation of Iran, Farhad Nikoukhesal, did not directly answer the question.
The five-hour Zoom meeting broadcast live on YouTube was punctuated by glitches and requests from Mr Dvorkovich for speakers to turn their mics on.
It was also live-tweeted by Chessable’s MrDodgy, who added his own unique spin on events and an entertaining commentary.
The row over Iran has been rumbling after intense criticism directed at the Islamic republic from IM Pein and GM Short over its boycott of Israeli chess players.
Several high-profile incidents in recent years have seen Iranian players default their games or pull out of tournaments entirely when drawn against Israeli opponents.
In the wider sporting arena, Iran – which does not recognise Israel as a state – has been stopping its athletes from competing against Israelis since the early 1980s and rewarding those who don’t, including chess players.
However, the Chess Federation of Iran, the body that replaced the Iranian Chess Federation, responded to claims it is forcing its players to discriminate against Israelis, and thereby violating FIDE and IOC statutes, by claiming its players have only exercised their own “personal beliefs”.
That defense was reiterated in the General Assembly.
The federation also accused the English Chess Federation of interfering in its affairs because it saw Iran as a rival power on the world stage.
During the debate, Mr Dvorkovich asked for the issues to be resolved “in a diplomatic way”.
When Iran drew attention to the FIDE motto that “we are all one family” Dvorkovich responded: “But that means that any member of the family can interfere into the affairs of another family member, if it’s really one family. But I’m just half-joking, of course!”
The original motion, as reported by chess24, had called for FIDE to force the Chess Federation of Iran to request its players “compete against all countries in FIDE before the next General Assembly”.
Failure to do so, it stated, “will automatically result in the Iranian Chess Federation’s suspension from all FIDE activities”.
Now all eyes will be on Iran’s federation to see if it complies with its “yellow card” – and, if not, whether FIDE’s response is to issue a red.
Other decisions taken at the General Assembly admitted the Isle of Man as the FIDE family’s newest member and confirmed Budapest will host the 46th Chess Olympiad in 2024.