Iran – Chess grandmaster pulls out of match against Israeli opponent

GM Mohammad Amin Tabatabaei
GM Mohammad Amin Tabatabaei

Teherán – A rising star of Israeli chess has won a key match at a tournament in Barcelona after his Iranian opponent threw the game rather than play against a citizen of the Jewish state.

21-year-old Netanel Levi was awarded the match on Monday after just one move following the refusal of Amin Tabatabaei, a 21-year-old Iranian grandmaster, to compete against him.

Tabatabaei did not issue a statement explaining his decision, but observers at the Sunway Chess Festival in Barcelona told local media outlets that he was concerned about possible reprisals from the ruling regime once he returned to Iran. The Islamic Republic’s official policy rejects Israel’s right to exist and bans Iranian athletes from competitions that feature Israelis.

Tabatabaei is a professional who is currently on contract with FC Bayern Munich, the famed soccer team that fields a side in Germany’s professional chess league. After news of his decision not to play Levi became public, Paul Meyer-Dunker, the president of the Berlin Chess Association, angrily demanded that the International Chess Federation (known by its French acronym FIDE) take action to prevent boycotts of Israelis.

“How long are you going to tolerate this?” Meyer-Dunker asked in a tweet. “Will this hatred of our Israeli colleagues and the oppression of our Iranian colleagues ever have any consequences for the Chess Federation of Iran?”

Tabatabaei has already experienced the ire of the Iranian authorities, who banned him from playing in two tournaments after he played against an Israeli opponent three years ago. Former chess professional Susan Polgar surmised that this was the reason behind Tabatabaei’s decision in Barcelona, tweeting: “I’m so sorry for Amin Tabatabaei. How can FIDE help these players?”

The Iranian regime’s fixation with preventing its professionals from competing against Israelis led another chess player, Alireza Firouzja, to surrender his Iranian nationality after he was penalized from competing against an Israeli in 2019. Firouzja became a French citizen in 2021.

Neither Bayern Munich nor FIDE have so far commented on Tabatabaei’s decision.

In 2020, the English Chess Federation attempted to introduce a resolution at FIDE that would have automatically suspended the Iranian Chess Federation in the event that its players refused or were prevented from playing Israeli opponents. However, FIDE passed a watered-down version instead that does not sanction Iran over its boycott policy but notes merely that “such incidents will compel FIDE to impose targeted punishments that may harm chess players.”

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