‘Not Myself’ With Veil Says Exiled Iranian Chess Player

In December, 25-year-old Sara Khadem appeared without a headscarf at the World Chess Championships in Almaty

An Iranian chess player, exiled to Spain after taking part in an international tournament without a hijab, explained that she was “not herself” when she wore the veil. In December, 25-year-old Sara Khadem (or Khademalsharieh) appeared without a headscarf at the International Chess Federation (FIDE) World Rapid Chess Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The move was then seen by some as a sign of support for the protests that have been taking place across Iran since the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, arrested for an alleged violation of the country’s strict dress code for women. In early January, Sara Khadem moved to Spain with her husband, director Ardeshir Ahmadi, and their 10-month-old son, Sam.

In an interview published Sunday in the daily El Pais, Sara Khadem explains that before the Almaty tournament, she only portrayed the hijab “if there were cameras, because I represented Iran”. “But with the veil, I’m not myself, I don’t feel good, so I wanted to put an end to this situation. And I decided not to wear it anymore”, adds the chess player in his first public statement since moving to Spain. The daily specifies that the interview took place in “a secret place for security reasons”.

Iranian women are expected to adhere to the dress code of the Islamic republic, mainly by covering their heads, when representing their country at international events. Sara Khadem also says she hopes that her relatives in Iran will not “suffer retaliation because if anyone has to give an explanation for my actions, it’s me, not them, because this decision was solely mine”.

She explains that she considered leaving her country after the birth of her child. “I started thinking about living somewhere where Sam could go out on the streets and play without being worried about things like that. Spain seemed like the best option.” Sara Khadem adds that she would like to continue representing Iran in chess tournaments and now plans to present chess programs online.

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