Q&A: Iranian chess player Sara Khadem

Sunday, January 22, 2017



Q&A: Iranian chess player Sara Khadem

Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, better known as Sara Khadem, is a 19-year-old chess player from Iran who holds the titles of International Master and Woman Grandmaster.
Like most other chess players, Khadem took up chess at an early age. She was eight when she first touched a chess board. Four years later, she was a world champion, winning the under-12 world championships.
Women in Iran are traditionally banned from attending many sporting events. On the streets, women need to cover their heads. On the playing field, it is the same.
Questions were asked when Tehran was named host of the 2017 women's world championships.
Nazí Paikidze, US women's champion, called for a boycott of the games. But Khadem shares the tale of a sport gaining popularity in Iran, especially among girls and the youth.
Al Jazeera: You took up chess at the age of eight and, four years later, you were a world champion. How did that happen?
Sara Khadem: I was in the second grade when my friend talked about playing chess. I hadn't seen a chess board before. No one from my family played chess. I just took it up randomly and I guess I started liking it a lot. That's why I put in a lot of hard work, lot of effort - training for six to seven hours as a kid. I guess it all paid off four years later.
Al Jazeera: Chess wasn't a common sight in Iran at that time. Was your family supportive of your decision and did it affect your studies?
Khadem: My family actually liked chess as they heard chess helped with concentration and studies. But actually [laughing], it didn't help me because after I started playing, I was missing out on school.
I just went to school for my exams and only read the text books two days before the exams.
Al Jazeera: So how did you manage to get through high school?
Khadem: My father helped me with physics and maths. He has a maths background. All the other subjects, I had to follow and grasp myself. I couldn't get good grades, but I passed the exams.
Al Jazeera: At what point did you decide that chess would take priority?
Khadem: This happened when I won the world championship aged 12. I was only the third Iranian to have won that title. After that, it became a profession for me. I do want to study. I plan on taking up graphics designing at university. I've applied for a place, but [am] not sure what the outcome will be.
Al Jazeera: Did that get you a positive response from those around you once you decided to take up chess professionally?
Khadem: Well, there was a mixture. Some friends were positive while some were negative. Some said it was a good sport and one for the smart people. I don't think that's truem though, but somehow they thought of chess like that, while others said it's a boring game.
So I was getting a bit of both sides.
Al Jazeera: How has it helped you in life?
Khadem: Chess helps with concentration and imagination. Especially the way you think about things as an eight-year-old. At that age, thinking or five hours a day, chess helps you with life and thinking.
Al Jazeera: How difficult has it been to be a female chess player in Iran?
Khadem: I get asked this very frequently but I don't think it's a lot different from being a male chess player in Iran. We kind of have the same coaches, the same tournaments, so I don't really feel the difference.
Chess is actually developing in Iran and I've been hearing good things from people who are not chess players, but have been following my matches and progress.
Our men's national team has players aged 12, 13, 15 and 16. It has a great future. I saw in local media that chess was the second main sport in Iran after football last year. That's phenomenal.
The great thing is that a lot of girls are also interested and they are actually doing better than the boys.
Al Jazeera: But that's not the case on the international circuit. Why is that the case? Why are there fewer grandmasters when it comes to female players?
Khadem: I don't have an answer. We do have less chess players than men but I don't think that explains the gap.
Maybe girls find other sports more interesting. But whatever the reason is, we need more female chess events around the world so we can increase participation.

Iran claims Takhti wrestling cup title

Iranian wrestling Greco-Roman and Freestyle teams have been crowned as the champions of the 37th edition of Takhti Cup on Friday.
In the two-day competition, Iranian Greco-Roman Team A defeated Georgia 7-1 and claimed the title.
The Iranian Team B finished in third place after defeating Turkey 5-3.
Also, Iran Freestyle Team A crowned the title, beating Armenia 8-0 in the final match. The Team B lost to Kazakhstan 5-3 and came fourth.
Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Masoud Soltanifar attended the competitions held in Mashhad, Razavi Khorasan province where hosted wrestlers from Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kirghizstan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Georgia, Iraq and Latin American elected team as well as two teams from Kazakhstan.
Five teams of 'Iran A, 'Iran B', 'Toseeh', 'Javanan' and 'Razavi Khorasan' represented Iran in the tournament.
Takhti Cup is an important annual wrestling event in Iran, is held in the memory of the late Iranian wrestler Gholamreza Takhti.


Kiarostami to be honored as Art Basel expands film component

Noted Iranian auteur, Abbas Kiarostami, who died last year, will be commemorated in an exhibition of his final photography series at Art Basel, the giant Swiss art fair that holds its Hong Kong edition in Spring, presented by Rossi & Rossi gallery.
According to Variety, it is due to be take place shortly after FilMart and the Asian Film Awards.
In addition to its current film activities, the Swiss fair announced that it will introduce the Kabinett sector to the Hong Kong show.
Kiarostami, who passed away in July at the age of 76 after losing a battle to cancer, was a beloved figure in world cinema for creating poetical pictures. His works were often considered as a form of reflection and meditation as his sensibilities managed to catch simple things that are usually ignored.
Kiarostami made more than 40 films and received over 70 awards in his lifetime. His 1997 drama 'Taste of Cherry' was awarded the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival. He had always filmed his works in home country Iran, except for 'Certified Copy' in 2010 and 'Like Someone in Love' in 2012.
Kiarostami is known for his minimalist approach in film, which means more poetry and less dialogues, and these were his special contributions in shaping Iranian cinema.
The impact of early cinema on the tradition of Chinese opera will be examined in works by Singaporean artist Ming Wong, while Hong Kong's Lee Kit will present video installation 'It Was a Cinema' (2016). China's Wang Qingsong will show a five-minute video work called 'Happy Bed' (2014.) Most works on show at the fair are for sale.
Adeline Ooi, Art Basel's director Asia, said this year several art galleries exhibiting at the fair will focus on film and video works.
The fair's film section will return, showing a range of feature-length and short films. Last year the film section showed 67 shorts five features including 'The Chinese Life of Uli Sigg' — a documentary about the eponymous Swiss mega collector, and 'Jellyfish Eyes', the debut film of Japanese art star Takashi Murakami.
"For the Hong Kong show, film is much more accessible to the audience, and very often documentaries and films about an artist have an effect," Ooi said.
FilMart runs from March 13 to 16. The Asian Film Awards take place on March 21 at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Art Basel runs from March 23 to 25.

*Sources: Aljazeera, Mehrnews, Iran-daily