Fide sparks anger with ‘gross’ breast enlargement sponsor for women’s chess

For a sport that has struggled to attract female players, the news that chess has just agreed the biggest ever sponsorship deal for the women’s game would usually be universally welcomed.

But the decision of chess’s governing body, Fide, to partner with the breast enlargement company Motiva is facing growing criticism from some female players, who have called the decision “gross” and “misogynistic”.

The new deal was announced earlier this week, with Fide announcing: “The agreement will continue through 2022, a year that has been designated as ‘The Year of Women in Chess’.”

However, several female players, speaking to the popular site Lichess, believe the move is blunder. “Shouldn’t chess – a game reliant on brains rather than breasts – be distancing itself from that kind of reductive and misogynistic line of thinking?” one anonymous female player said. Another was even blunter, calling the deal “gross”.

Chess has only 39 female grandmasters out of around 1,300 overall, but in recent years it has done far more to promote the women’s game. The success of the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit has helped, with several top players, presenters and streamers – including Judit Polgar, Jovanka Houska, Jennifer Shahade and Alexandra Botez – also helping to broaden the game’s popularity.

Some players believe Fide’s decision is a sacrifice too far. “I’ve already seen comments online from people saying that they hope prizes for women’s events will now include breast enlargement,” another anonymous titled female player said. “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.” The players were speaking on condition of anonymity, Lichess said, because they often rely on Fide for invites to tournaments.

However, Fide’s new deal was welcomed by others, including women’s international master Sheila Barth Stanford. “We desperately need a sponsor,” the Norwegian said. “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.”

Fide told the Guardian that it was the single largest corporate sponsorship ever signed specifically for women in chess, and the contract had been discussed by both the management board and the Fide council, “two bodies where women have a wider representation than they do in the chess community as a whole”.

It added: “Fide is not encouraging plastic surgery, but if an adult freely makes this choice, our organisation endorses Motiva, a company that has demonstrated its strong commitment towards women.”

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