Alireza Firouzja, Iran’s top-rated chess champion and number two junior player in the world has refused to play for his country over its informal ban on competing against Israeli players. He also said he wanted to change his nationality, Iranian news agencies reported on Tuesday.
He would be the second Iranian sports figure to try to renounce his citizenship in recent months over pressures on Iranian athletes to boycott matches with Israeli competitors.
The Islamic Republic was banned indefinitely from international judo in March, with the sport’s world body saying it would only be readmitted if it could guarantee its athletes would be allowed to face Israelis.
“Firouzja has made his decision and has told us that he wants to change his nationality,” the president of Iran’s Chess Federation, Mehrdad Pahlavanzadeh, told the semi-official news agency Tasnim.
“Firouzja is currently living in France … and may want to play under the French or US flag,” Mr Pahlavanzadeh told the news agency ISNA.
Alireza, 16, wanted to take part in an upcoming world championship in Russia even though Iran had decided not to attend, Mr Pahlavanzadeh said, without referring to Israel.
In April, Iranian media reported that Alireza had refused to play against an Israeli player in a tournament in Germany.
Iranian political and sports officials have openly called on the country’s athletes not to compete against Israelis as a sign of opposition to Iran’s arch-enemy and solidarity with the Palestinians.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly praised athletes who have refused to face opponents from Israel.
Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, the country has refused to recognise Israel. (Source: Independent UK)