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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Iran’s top-rated chess player, a 16-year-old prodigy, has won silver at the World Rapid & Blitz Chess Championship in Moscow after renouncing the Iranian flag.
Alireza Firouzja competed at the Russian tournament under the flag of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), a move that has been seen as a rejection of Iran’s ban on its players competing against Israel.
The decision by the young man, who is touted as a rising star in the chess world and currently resides in France, could indicate the start of a larger break between Mr Firouzja and his native country.
The president of Iran’s chess federation, Mehrdad Pahlavanzadeh, told the country’s Tasnim news agency the 16-year-old had indicated he wanted to “change his nationality”.
There are signals the chess grandmaster, ranked the world’s second junior player, could in the future compete for France or the United States, The Guardian reported.
The rift between Mr Firouzja and the Iranian Chess Federation was sparked by disagreements relating to the Moscow championship and whether the young star would compete against Israeli opponents.
The highly lucrative championship, which is sponsored by Saudi Arabia, is also known the King Salman Championship.
Iranian officials wanted to bar Mr Firouzja from the $1m championship over the participation of six Israelis in the competition, led by the former world title challenger Boris Gelfand.
Iran has for decades enforced a policy of not allowing its sportsmen and women to compete against Israeli opposition. In April, according to Iranian media Firouzja refused to play an Israeli competitor at a tournament in Germany.
In the past, FIDE had sought to avoid matches between Israel and nations hostile to the country. However, as in the case of Judo, the world chess governing body has now shown that it will take a far harder line against players refusing matches on the basis so of political motivations.
There have been indications, however, that Mr Firouzja’s misgivings towards Iran run deeper than just its policy towards Israel.
Iranian grandmaster Sara Khadem told the media in an interview earlier this month that Mr Firouzja was “not getting any support” and the Iranian chess federation was “making problems for him also”.
“It’s not only that they are not pushing him forward, they are also, kind of, [moving] him backwards,” she went on.
As FIDE Vice President Nigel Short praised the teenager on his performance in the championship he also admonished those standing in Mr Firouzja’s way. “Congratulations to Alireza Firouzja on a fantastic silver medal. And shame on all those who seek to thwart his career,” he wrote on Twitter.
Observers have raised the possibility that the Iranian master’s next move could be to the United States and St Louis to receive special coaching and revive the nation’s hopes of another American champion. Mr Firouzja was unable to get a visa to compete in the US in 2017.
At the moment, however, a permanent move to France could be more practical. Most major chess tournaments are played in Europe and the pairing of Mr Firouzja with world number four Maxime Vachier-Lagrave would elevate France making it one of the strongest chess nations in the world.
Updated: December 31, 2019 08:28 PM
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