Posted by: Lister | December 10, 2007

Iranians Caught Short

Although I’ve had chesslinks in my blogroll since the beginning, I think this might be my first post on chess. Nigel Short on coaching the Iranian team:

I am still slightly baffled as to how I, an oenophile, atheist Englishman, became Iran’s national chess coach…

That’s “wine-lover” to the rest of us!

Chess allegedly originated in India, although the first clear references to the game appear in Persian in the 6th century AD. The word “checkmate” is derived from the Persian “shah mat” – “the king is dead”. Alas, in more recent times the game did not enjoy official approval in Iran, and in the early 1980s it was banned by Ayatol-lah Khomeini as unIslamic. Shortly before his death, the supreme leader, in an uncharacteristic act of liberalism, revoked this measure, but not before he had ruined a generation of players.

[…] I was greatly touched by the warmth and friendliness of ordinary Iranians. However, there were a couple of jarring notes amid all the goodwill.

One of the girls on the national team invited me to her home for dinner, to which I agreed. It turned out that in order to take up her invitation I had to have the permission of both the federation and the religious police.

[…] I agreed to become the coach for the Iranian team for the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, in 2006, in which chess had been included as a sport for the first time. I was assisted by the urbane, chain-smoking Khosrow Harandi.

[…] My team comprised two men (Ehsan Ghaem Maghami and Elshan Moradiabadi) and a woman (Atousa Pourkashiyan). Realistically we had little chance of competing successfully against the superpow-ers of India and China, but against the others we could hope. Ehsan was on poor form but both Elshan and, in particular, Atousa excelled. Both were in contention for individual medals.

Sadly Atousa, who was within a whisker of success, blew the bronze with an unexpected last-round defeat. How should one comfort a distraught 18-year-old girl when it is expressly forbidden to shake hands, let alone hug her? Such are the problems of coaching Iran. Nevertheless, after recovering from these individual setbacks and by routing the strong Qatari team in the final round of the team event, we took a bronze – a great result.

In my report of the event, I stressed a vital and obvious point: if women are to reach their full potential, they have to be allowed to participate against the best opposition, which in chess means men. Within a week of this report having been submitted, the Iranian minister of sport had agreed to an unprecedented change in regulations. While it would be inaccurate for me to claim full responsibility for this seismic shift, it would, perhaps, be fair to say that I acted as a catalyst.

Via ChessBase.

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