Malaysian Chess Federation to Investigate Ban on 12-year-old girl for Wearing 'Seductive' Dress

U12 Malaysia chess
Chess players in the under-12 category play at a tournament in Malaysia, in March. A 12-year-old girl was banned from a tournament in May because of her dress. Malaysia Chess Federation

The Malaysian Chess Federation said it would investigate why a 12-year-old girl was banned from a tournament because of her dress. 

The National Scholastic Chess Championship was held in a school from April 14-16, and the tournament director is said to have excluded one girl because he found her knee-length dress to be inappropriate and in violation of the tournament’s rules.

The incident gained public attention in recent days after the girl’s chess trainer Kaushal Khandar denounced the episode in a post published on Facebook on April 27. The post has since attracted more than 1,300 comments, including some accusing the tournament of sexism and others that blamed religious beliefs for the ban.

The country’s chess federation promised to intervene to resolve the issue, but denied that religious sensitivities in the Muslim-majority country had prompted the decision. Pictures from the event published on the chess federation’s website show girls of all age categories wearing trousers, with the exception of a girl competing in the under-7 category who wore a dress.

The executive secretary of the chess body, Nik Hishamuddin Nik Mustapa, said the dress code was consistent with that of the venue, a public school, which has stricter dress codes than other venues. "We will call for a meeting of all the parties involved to resolve the matter amicably," he told AFP on May 2. "We lack chess talent in Malaysia. We want to see the emergence of good players."

In his account, coach Khandar wrote that the tournament’s chief arbiter IA KK Chan told the girl - whose identity was not revealed, that her dress was “seductive” and a “temptation from a certain angle far, far away.”

The arbiter told Khandar’s student to buy slacks, but the shops had closed by then and wouldn’t open in time for the tournament the next day. “This situation had led to the inevitable decision of withdrawal from the tournament all together,” Khandar wrote in his post. He expressed disgust that the girl, who had become the champion of her district in Kuala Lumpur, felt “harassed and humiliated.”

The 27-year-old coach said he had never faced such a situation in his career either as a player or trainer. “I have been playing chess in Malaysia for almost 2 decades and I have never heard this type of issue ever in any tournaments in Malaysia. This should be the first and last time this kind of issue ever appears, I or anyone of us should never accept this in our Chess Community,” he wrote, demanding a public apology from the tournament director and threatening legal action.

The game of chess, which in itself is not subject to any clothing regulation, has been subject before to controversies related to dress codes of the country where it is played. Iran made headlines in February after it banned 18-year-old Iranian chess master Dorsa Derakhshani from competing in the country because the Gibraltar-based player refused to wear a veil. Last year, U.S. champion Nazi Paikidze refused to cover her hair to compete in the Women’s World Chess Championship in Tehran.