Chess governing body FIDE has faced anger from female players after announcing a major new sponsorship deal for the women’s game with a company that specializes in breast implants.
FIDE issued a carefully-worded PR release towards the end last month trumpeting the deal with Establishment Labs – owner of the Motiva brand which offers breast enlargement services.
“The partnership is the first-ever corporate sponsorship agreement specifically aimed at supporting women’s chess events,” read the FIDE press release.
“The agreement will continue through 2022, a year that has been designated by FIDE as ‘The Year of Women in Chess’.”
However, the announcement soon came under fire from some female players who claimed the deal gave out the wrong impression.
“I wonder what’s the message FIDE wants to convey with this partnership,” one anonymous titled female player told popular chess website Lichess.
“We have a sport where men and women can compete on a level playing field which is also free from sexualized uniforms, and our ‘next great move’ is breast enlargement? That says a lot about FIDE officials’ view of women.”
For our article on FIDE choosing breast implants as a women's events sponsor, we spoke to women in the community. Most asked to speak anonymously fearing the consequences if their name were attached to negative commentary. Read the full article here: https://t.co/Dnz4PBPEXO pic.twitter.com/tCUhUMHtNj
— Lichess.org (@lichess) September 30, 2021
Another female player speaking on condition of anonymity added: “I’ve already seen comments online from people saying that they hope prizes for women’s events will now include breast enlargement.
“I’ve seen jokes citing specific top players’ names as those who could be improved by it. Chess has struggled with sexism in the past, and this has done nothing to help prevent that. Where is FIDE punishing sexist comments, sexist attitudes?”
Another female titled player acknowledged that sponsorship was “hugely important for our game” but added that “FIDE should be more wise with their choice of sponsors, because it affects which message we are sending to the world.”
“I don’t think breast implants is a proper message for our game; chess is a mental game and we care more about our brains than the shape of our body.”
One comment stated: “Shouldn’t chess – a game reliant on brains rather than breasts – be distancing itself from that kind of reductive and misogynistic line of thinking?”
Another concluded a diatribe against the deal by simply branding it “gross.”
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In its defense, FIDE told The Guardian that it was “not encouraging plastic surgery, but if an adult freely makes this choice, our organization endorses Motiva, a company that has demonstrated its strong commitment towards women.”
Some also welcomed the move, with women’s international master Sheila Barth Stanford saying: “We desperately need a sponsor. We play for less money than the men, which makes it more difficult to bet on chess. I hope it makes it easier for women to play professionally.”
Fellow international master Elisabeth Paehtz of Germany said: “The main thing is support for chess. For me personally, I am happy if we have any sponsor for women in chess, and as long as it’s not something connected to gender, racism, or drugs, or anything else like that, I would generally support that sponsor.”
Men still vastly outnumber women in the upper echelons of chess, with only 39 women being awarded the accolade of Grandmaster compared to around 1,300 players overall.
However, women’s chess has received a boost in recent years through the likes of smash-hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit as well as through popular female streamers such as Alexandra Botez.
The biggest name in the current game – Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen – admitted last year that: “Chess societies have not been very kind to women and girls over the years. Certainly there needs to be a bit of a change in culture.”