Beyond Chess: The Courageous Journey of Sara Khadem

Sara Khadem, an Iranian chess player, gained global attention in December 2022 when she refused to wear a hijab during the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Her act of solidarity with the protesters against the Iranian government after the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by Iran’s morality police for not wearing her hijab correctly, made her a symbol of resistance in Iran.

Khadem’s refusal to comply with Iran’s strict Islamic dress code and her subsequent defection to Spain with her husband and infant son have put her in a precarious position, as there are arrest papers waiting for her if she tries to return to Iran. However, she is not alone in this journey, as all four other active Iranian women’s Grandmasters have also defected to other countries.

Khadem has been an outspoken advocate for the rights of Iranian chess players, supporting Grandmaster Alireza Firouzja when he protested and defected to France in 2019. She warned that if the decision to force players to lose by default against Israeli rivals was not overturned, more players would follow Firouzja and find asylum somewhere else.

Despite the challenges she has faced, Khadem remains committed to chess and continues to play the game she loves. Her defiance of Iran’s dress code has made her a hero to many and has highlighted the struggle of women in Iran who are fighting for their rights. With her husband, a popular Iranian film director, she now lives in Spain, where they were able to gain residency through the golden visa rule, which allows anyone who buys a property valued at half a million euros to gain residency.