The International Chess Federation (FIDE) has signed a sponsorship Deal with Motiva, a Breast Enlargement Company. This has understandably led to a lot of criticism, not only from female Chess players.
Rather than supporting women in Chess, this Sponsorship seems to increase sexist comments and insecurities in women.
Not the ideal way to kick off “2022, a year that has been designated by FIDE as ‘The Year of Women in Chess'”…
In this article, I will
- Explain why I think this Sponsorship is a big blunder
- Get into why I refused a likely 6-figure Deal some years ago
- Broaden the view on Sponsorship and why I believe values should always come before Money
FIDE has always found it difficult to find (adequate) Sponsors for their Events. So the announcement of a 7-digit deal “specifically aimed at supporting women’s chess events” should be seen as great news.
Sadly, the choice of Sponsor has a bitter aftertaste, to say the least.
As there are already many great articles out there, I won’t repeat all the details once more. If you want the full picture, then read the amazing article by Lichess on the matter.
The article not only explains why the choice of sponsor seems inappropriate but also casts serious doubts over this specific company.
Another article worth your time has been written by Chess.com.
Speaking Out Publicly Is Hard
The most striking commonality of these articles is that many female Chess players prefer to stay anonymous when expressing their (negative) view of the Sponsorship. It seems they fear not being invited again to tournaments or a negative backlash from the community.
And that is not really far-fetched.
From some stupid comments (ok that always happens on social media…) to a, let’s put it nicely, not really empathetic and thought-through private response from the official in charge, the loudest voices are usually negative.
But in all the trouble a public personality can face when standing up for one’s values, there are also big pluses in doing so.
- Alessia helps women all around the World, showing that they are not alone feeling insecure.
- Sponsors like personalities, not people who just follow the biggest paycheck. This will attract the right Sponsors at the right time.
- She has got many empatetic messages, from people and companies that do care about her feelings.
A big shoutout again to chess.com and lichess for handling the situation with a lot of empathy and goodwill towards women. It is nice to see big players care about the feeling of women & the chess community in general.
I do hope Alessia will inspire more women to speak out publicly. It is hard to see things changing if women continue to play in tournaments that are sponsored by Motiva and only complain anonymously online.
No Sponsors Because Of Such Deals
Apart from the effect on Women in Chess, I do believe this sponsorship also affects FIDE’s further sponsorship opportunities. Which company, after all, would like to be named a sponsor of FIDE next to this Breast Enlargement company?
Maybe FIDE tries to target some specific Social Media platforms, who seem also to be experts in fostering women’s insecurities and selling them the “solution” to their “problems”…
If not, I really don’t see which company would like to be associated with such a sponsor, no matter how subtle the connection would be.
Sponsorship Is Not Only About Money
Sponsorship is not only about money. This is very clear to some, while others see only a business transaction.
“As long as the sponsor pays well” is something I hear a lot. Not only on Social Media but also from professional Sportsmen/women all over the world.
I do believe this view is shortsighted and honestly plain wrong. As an entity or person that has sponsorships, you have a certain following and thus also a responsibility. The act of signing a sponsorship deal will always send a message. Before signing such a deal, one should think about what that message might be.
How Does Sponsorship Work?
In exchange for Money, a person, team or federation is promoting the Sponsor and his products. Through the promotion, the sponsor hopes to sell more products and thus gets the money invested back.
This sounds like a Win-Win scenario… Unless the sold product or the message sent by the Sponsor is not to everyone’s benefit. In this specific example, Breast Enlargement Companies largely profit from the insecurity of Women. By making women with smaller Breasts feel inappropriate or less beautiful than those with big breasts, sales increase.
I’m not saying Motiva is doing that actively. Nor is a Breast Enlargement per se a bad thing. But the message sent by the sponsorship just feels wrong. Helping women to feel more secure and happy in their body would basically be a self-mate for a Breast Enlargement Company. If there was no social pressure to have full and nicely formed breasts, 80% of the Clients of Motiva would be gone!
The story of my beautiful girlfriend Alessia shows that our society still has a long way to go until women can feel comfortable in their bodies 100% of the time. One of the greatest benefits of chess is that age, gender, race or looks do not matter. Everyone has the same chances to make better moves and win a game.
In that sense, it is especially strange to partner with a company that focuses mostly on looks and gender stereotypes.
Be Aware Of Your Responsabilities
No matter how indirect, I feel it is right to state that FIDE plays a part in increasing, not decreasing, insecurities in women. As a large international federation, you can’t hide behind “that is not our intention” or “the pros outweigh the cons”. As with most sponsorships (sadly), nearly the only pro is getting money.
But life, especially as a person or entity with a social following, is much more than money. It is about having a positive influence on the people around you. And that should ALWAYS be the number 1 criterion when deciding about a potential sponsorship. No matter how much money you get for it.
Practise What You Preach
Many of you will think “easy to say so, but you’d certainly do the same if you were offered that amount of money”.
Gotcha. Because you are wrong. I feel I have the right to write these lines because I have refused big paychecks over the last years for similar concerns mentioned above. Let me tell you about an offer that could have financed my whole career.
In Summer 2018 I had a presentation in front of many sports aficionados in Zurich. Former professional sportsmen, as well as rich businessmen and a certain Ex-President of a big Sporting Federation, were there. I felt already during the presentation that I sparked interest from many people, but especially the former President seemed to find me interesting.
My struggle with finding enough funding for my career and my endurance to fight against all odds impressed him.
Money VS Values
So much that the next day I got a phone call from none other than his personal assistant & manager. He told me his boss was impressed and would like to work together and help me finance my career. I vividly remember taking that call in the gym and my heart starting to go crazy. Not because of the physical, but mental activity.
“This could change my life,” I thought. A man that wealthy certainly has the possibility to vanish all my financial struggles and provide me with everything I need to succeed as a professional Chess player. As it didn’t feel appropriate to talk over details in the gym, I thanked the manager for his interest and assured him to call back.
After only a few minutes of enthusiasm, I firmly came to the conclusion that I should not continue any talks and decline the generous offer.
Where did that quick change of mind come from?
I figured I will not be able to look in the mirror anymore if I accept to get sponsored by somebody who was suspended and fined for corruption. What should I tell my future children?
“I took money from a man I did not respect at all (and condemned some of his actions) just to pursue my egoistic dreams”.
Or how can I be in the Swiss Olympic Athletes commission, talking about ethics in Sport and then accepting money from somebody who couldn’t care less for ethics in Sports? Writing these lines, my decision still seems pretty straightforward to me. That is also why I did not talk about that incident for a long time. Nothing special, after all.
Think About Long-Term Implications
But when it recently came up once or twice at dinner parties with friends and family members, I quickly understood it wouldn’t be for many. From the standpoint of “that is none of your business” to “are you completely crazy to reject this offer?” I’ve heard many things. A comment I never heard is “I would have done the same”.
This made me realize there is still a long way to go. Most people seem to be their closest friends in such situations and do not really think about the future implications of such decisions. I’m not saying only for the people around you. But also for oneself. I do believe I am a happier person today having declined and not accepted that offer.
Any amount of money. and maybe subsequently success and fame would not compensate for my loss of integrity. Once you lose your own respect, it is very hard to get it back. Even if you aren’t spoiled for choice, you can still apply your values. I’d rather be broke but live according to my values, than rich and not able to look into the mirror anymore.
At the end of our life, we will not think about all the money we made. We will rather think about what good we did in the world and if we lived according to our own values.
What Message Do You Want To Convey?
In order to apply your values to business decisions, you first need to have some. What sounds obvious, is pretty rare. Seldom do I meet people who have a clear moral compass to work with. In most situations, one simply compares pros and cons and decides what is most beneficial (mostly short-term)…
This not only makes every decision harder but also leads to decisions as taken by FIDE officials. In order to have a positive impact on people around you and the world, you need to figure out what message you want to convey.
Is it “take all the money you can from whoever”. Or is it rather “be the best version of yourself, act according to your values and be a nice person”.
Whatever the message is, you need to be very clear about it for yourself. Once you are able to act according to your moral compass, it won’t be hard to reject even big sums of money. That also appeals to questions as “will I play in a tournament with this sponsor?”. I don’t want to condemn playing in a tournament with a certain sponsor.
But one needs to know that as a participant, one is a passive supporter of the tournament and its sponsors.
Hell Yes Or No
One rule I try to apply to Sponsors is the “Hell Yes or No” rule. What that basically means is that any Sponsor that does not strike me as a “Hell Yes, it’s amazing to work with this company”, is simply a “no”.
Like this, I am not ending up in the dilemma of evaluating the pros and cons of a dubious deal.
If it is not a hell yes, it is a no.
I do hope this article helps you understand my view on sponsorship. I’m not the one to judge or condemn anybody, but I hope this can start a wave of more valuable sponsorships in chess, void of any bad headlines and controversies.
Last but not least, no matter your looks, you are a worthwhile human being and you deserve to be loved, above all by yourself.