A young Iranian chess player who refused to play against an Israeli in a recent international tournament has been hailed as a hero in Iranian media, and this week met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
On January 5, 17-year-old Aryan Gholami forfeited his chance at winning a $10,000 prize when he ruled out playing against Israeli Ariel Erenberg at the Rilton Cup in Sweden.
Gholami told Swedish chess website Schack.se that he had no ill will towards the Israeli, but “if I were to play against an Israeli, it would have serious consequences for me.”
Gholami later told the Palestinian Quds News Network: “I refused this competition in order to defend the Palestinian people. I do not recognize a place called Israel.”
Gholami could have been banned by Iran’s chess federation from playing in international tournaments as punishment for facing an Israeli.
Tavaana, a US State Department–funded initiative to promote Iranian civil society, published a caricature following the event, which criticized Iran’s demonization of Israelis.
مسابقه نده آرین!
طرح از بهنام محمدی
آرین غلامی شطرنجباز ۱۶ ساله ایرانی اجازه پیدا نکرده در تورنمنت بینالمللی ریلتون سوئد در مسابقه با نماینده اسرائیل روبرو شود و با احتساب شکست در برابر اسرائیل، دوم شد!https://t.co/48awLCBFrf#کارتون#آرین_غلامی#باید_ببازی pic.twitter.com/4mlCbqaN2w
— Tavaana توانا (@Tavaana) January 7, 2019
Iranian TV this week feted Gholami, as Khamenei met with the young player and celebrated his actions, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported.
“This sportsman ‘checked’ the dollar and ‘mated’ the oppression in order to land another defeat against the Zionist regime,” a reporter for Channel 1 said.
“I had to make a decision in two or three minutes. I told the arbiter that if that was the case, I would not play,” Gholami told the network.
Iranian Chess Prodigy Aryan Gholami Meets Supreme Leader Khamenei after Refusing to Play an Israeli Rival pic.twitter.com/RtbQaogpaj
— MEMRI (@MEMRIReports) March 1, 2019
The reporter went on to say the teen “showed that he knew how to play the chess of life. Humanity and faith are better than on-the-board chess.
“He refused to play a representative of the Zionist regime, thus losing the gold medal and the dollars, but he wore the medal of humanity and honor.”