DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s top rated chess champion has decided not to play for his country, Iranian news agencies reported on Tuesday, in an apparent reaction to Tehran’s informal ban on competing against Israeli players.
Alireza Firouzja, the world’s second-highest rated junior player, would be the second Iranian sports figure in recent months to try to renounce his citizenship over pressures on Iranian athletes to forego matches with Israeli competitors.
In October, Iran was banned indefinitely from international judo by the sport’s world body until it could guarantee that its athletes would be allowed to face Israelis. The move came after an Iranian judoka said he was pressured to drop out of bouts to avoid facing an Israeli athlete.
“Firouzja has made his decision and has told us that he wants to change his nationality,” the president of Iran’s Chess Federation, Mehrdad Pahlavanzadeh, told the semi-official news agency Tasnim.
“Firouzja is currently living in France … and may want to play under the French or U.S. flag,” Pahlavanzadeh told the news agency ISNA.
Firouzja wanted to take part in an upcoming world championship in Russia even though Iran had decided not to attend, Pahlavanzadeh said, without referring to Israel.
Firouzja could not be reached for comment.
In April, Iranian media reported that Firouzja had refused to play against an Israeli player in a tournament in Germany.
Iranian political and sports officials have openly called on the country’s athletes not to compete against Israelis as a sign of opposition to Iran’s arch-enemy and solidarity with the Palestinians.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly praised athletes who have refused to face opponents from Israel.
Since its Islamic Revolution in 1979 Iran has refused to recognize Israel.
Reporting by Dubai newsroom; editing by Nick Macfie