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Posted at: Jun 14, 2018, 1:05 AM; last updated: Jun 14, 2018, 1:05 AM (IST)

Of free thought & conscience

Indian chess star Soumya Swaminathan has withdrawn from Asian chess championship to be held in Iran, as she would have to wear a compulsory headscarf. Sportspersons from the region give her a thumbs-up

Gurnaaz Kaur

Indian chess star Soumya Swaminathan has pulled out from the upcoming Asian Nations Cup Chess Championship 2018 being held in Iran, as the nation compels players to wear hijab. Sowmya has withdrawn stating that it violates her freedom of thought, conscience and religion. 

On her Facebook page, she has written, “I am very sorry to state that I have asked to be excused from the Indian Women’s team for the forthcoming Asian Nations Cup (Asian Team) Chess Championship 2018, to be held at Iran from 26 July - 4 Aug, 2018, as I do not wish to be forced to wear a headscarf or burkha. 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. It seems that under the present circumstances, the only way for me to protect my rights is not to go to Iran.”

While the Facebook community has mostly appreciated her step, here is what sportswomen from the region have to say.

Solid stand

“Unless it is a safety measure, one should not interfere in anyone’s religion. Each player should be given space to hold their religious beliefs. Rather, in the past, through sports we have been able to fill in the cultural, religious and gender gaps. There are certain rules and regulations in sports where sportsmen have to be flexible, but I am with Soumya Swaminathan for her stand,” says Saran Preeti, national cyclists from Punjab, who is the first female from the state to be participating in the world’s toughest race – RAAM (Race Across America), which is a 5,200-km long. 

Matter of choice

“It’s justified on her part to have pulled out. Religion and sports should not be mixed. Everyone’s been talking about gender equality in sports, why can’t we keep caste, class and religion biases outside of the sports world? I respect the religious codes of Iran; I am sure all sportspersons do, but I think it should be made a choice and not compulsion to adhere to such rules. In sports, there are no biases, so, I feel, it is high time authorities took these things seriously,” says shooter Avneet Sidhu, Arjuna awardee and an Olympian.

Right stance

“I’ve been a marathon runner for 23 years now and I feel what Soumya did was right. What is most important is that one is true to their game and in attire that’s appropriate for the sport. If I am running, I will focus on my kit. Everything else is secondary and should not interfere with my game. I was invited to Pakistan for a marathon, but there were no such compulsions.” Sunita Malik, international marathon runner.

Full support

“I think, for every sportsperson, kit is all that is important. In wrestling, there are Muslim women from Turkey with us. They wear the costume like all of us. Each sport has a fixed requirement of costume and shoes; if a sportsperson is following it, there is no reason why he or she should not be allowed to play the game. I support Soumya. We should respect the rules of the games and every country should be on the same page here,” says well-known wrestler Babita Phogat.

 

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