Iran’s top rated chess champion has decided not to play for his country in an apparent reaction to Tehran’s informal ban on competing against Israeli players, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
16-year-old Alireza Firouzja, the world’s second-highest rated junior player, would be the second Iranian sports figure in recent months to try to renounce his citizenship over pressures on Iranian athletes to forego matches with Israeli competitors.
“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, was quoted as having told the Tasnim news agency.
“Firouzja is currently living in France ... and may want to play under the French or US flag,” Pahlavanzadeh told the ISNA news agency.
Firouzja wanted to take part in an upcoming world championship in Russia even though Iran had decided not to attend, Pahlavanzadeh said, without referring to Israel.
In April, Iranian media reported that Firouzja had refused to play against an Israeli player in a tournament in Germany.
Iran does not recognize Israel and its athletes usually refrain from facing Israeli opponents.
In 2017, Iranian chess officials banned a 15-year-old from domestic chess tournaments and the national team after he played against an Israeli opponent at an international chess event.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly praised athletes who have refused to face opponents from Israel.
In October, the International Judo Federation (IJF) banned Iran from all competition over its boycott of Israeli athletes.
The ban was imposed after the Islamic Republic forced judoka Saeid Mollaei to withdraw from the World Judo Championships in order to avoid competing against an Israeli.