German Sports Behemoth Bayern Munich in Quandary Over Iranian Chess Player’s Boycott of Israelis
German sports powerhouse FC Bayern Munich is in the spotlight after Amin Tabatabaei — an Iranian national who competes for its professional chess team — threw a match at a tournament in Barcelona rather than play against an Israeli.
Tabatabaei, a 21-year-old grandmaster, abandoned his game against 21-year-old Israeli Netanel Levi after just one move on Monday.
Tabatabaei did not issue a statement explaining his decision, but observers at the Sunway Chess Festival in Barcelona told local media outlets that he was concerned about possible reprisals from the ruling regime once he returned to Iran. The Islamic Republic’s official policy rejects Israel’s right to exist and bans Iranian athletes from competitions that feature Israelis.
The player has already experienced the ire of the Iranian authorities, who banned him from competing in two tournaments after he played against an Israeli opponent three years ago.
On Friday, German media outlets speculated that Bayern had so far remained silent on Tabatabaei’s decision out of concern for his welfare. According to the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung news outlet, the club is unsure of what to say in a statement, as “if it turns out that Tabatabaei made this decision because he is afraid of reprisals from the Iranian government, it could endanger the grandmaster and his family if FC Bayern made this public.”
The club is also mindful that Tabatabaei traveled to Barcelona as a representative of the Iranian Chess Federation, and not the Bayern team.
Known primarily for its soccer team, which dominates the German league, Bayern also fields professional basketball, handball and chess teams under its banner. Tabatabaei joined its chess roster earlier this year.
The situation is additionally complicated by Bayern’s vocal opposition to racism and antisemitism as well as the club’s Jewish past.
In Jan. 2021, Bayern endorsed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which cites the application of “double standards” to Israel as antisemitic.
Prior to World War II, Bayern was strongly rooted in Munich’s Jewish community. For much of the pre-war period, the club’s president was Kurt Landauer, the scion of a prominent Jewish family, while it also retained several Jewish players and coaches.