She is one of Iran’s top chess players who made headlines around the world when she went into exile for refusing to wear a headscarf at the 2022 FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championships.
Now, in the International Women’s Day edition of Elle magazine, IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh—also known as Sara Khadem—is featured on the cover in her adopted country of Spain.
The 25-year-old fled Iran with her family after she had played at the women’s event in December without a headscarf as required by government authorities.
The danger had become clear. Khadem was quickly warned not to return home and her family also received threats. Her decision played out against the backdrop of the protest movement that has swept Iran and the departure of several high-profile chess players in recent years, the most prominent being the young star GM Alireza Firouzja who relocated to France.
My favorite chess player in the World right now: Sara Khadem, representing Iran in the World Rapid & Blitz in Kazakhstan ❤️❤️❤️
photo @LennartOotes https://t.co/prsQMuCJrw #RapidBlitz #MahsaAmini pic.twitter.com/qbeTo3lyr5
— Jennifer Shahade (@JenShahade) December 27, 2022
In her interview with the glossy publication, Khadem recounts her own inspiring and incredible story and also posed for a photoshoot featuring herself with a chessboard.
She described how her love of chess grew as an eight-year-old. “I liked it from the very beginning,” she said.
With a nod to International Women’s Day, she also paid tribute to all the women who have inspired her, including her grandmother and the strongest female chess player of all time, GM Judit Polgar.
Khadem revealed how she selected Spain as a place for sanctuary after having been to Malaga when she was competing at the Gibraltar International Chess Festival.
“Before we had Sam [her son], we never really thought about moving out of Iran completely,” she said. “But when he was born, we thought that maybe it would be a good idea to have a second place to live, that it would be good for him.
“We already had Spain in mind because I often went to the Gibraltar International Chess Festival and we liked Malaga a lot.
The mother-of-one, who is married to the Iranian film director Ardeshir Ahmadi, was welcomed to Spain when she arrived. She was even invited to meet Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sanchez, who called her “inspirational.”
Cuánto he aprendido hoy de una mujer que me inspira, la Gran Maestra Femenina de ajedrez Sara Khadem.
Todo mi apoyo a las mujeres deportistas. Vuestro ejemplo contribuye a un mundo mejor. pic.twitter.com/DSxVEETB0k
— Pedro Sánchez (@sanchezcastejon) January 25, 2023
According to the interview, Khadem is now settling in well with her family at an undisclosed location. She is learning the Spanish language and has enrolled at a university, and her son is happy.
But her mind is still very much on Iran: “I want to think that one day everything will change. It all started because of the women, but some men are fighting back too. There are many of us who are in this together.”
Khadem has said she intends to return to competition soon. She will be welcomed there also.
You can read the full interview featured in the Spanish edition of ELLE here.