May 18, 2022

Nakamura backs Giri and Vidit in dispute with Grand Prix organizer over sponsorship

World Chess, the organizer and owner of the commercial rights to the FIDE Grand Prix, has contacted the participants about their personal sponsorship. Managing directors Anish Giri and Vidit Gujrathi reacted on Twitter, suggesting World Chess is trying to get “a cut from player sponsors”. Meanwhile, GM Hikaru Nakamura supported his two colleagues during one of his recent streams.

World Chess doesn’t have much experience in running chess events without causing a stir. A few weeks before the FIDE Grand Prix – the last series of events organized by World Chess before the end of his contract with FIDE – he is embroiled in another controversy. This time it’s about sponsorship.

In an email to attendees, World Chess wrote last week:

We have been informed that some players are negotiating 2022 contracts with new and existing sponsors and we are happy to offer a position for your sponsors within the events. The package will include a right to display the logo on the player’s jacket and digital presence.

If you would like your sponsors announced during the Grand Prix Series, please let me know and I will put you in touch with the Sponsorship Specialist.

As one of the participants, Vidit (sponsored by digital engineering and enterprise modernization partner Persistent and meditation app Black Lotus) was the first to tweet about it. He placed a poll on Twitter, asking if it’s fair to ask a player’s sponsor to also pay the organizers to have the player sport their logo.

Giri, who is sponsored by Dutch proprietary trading company and global market maker Optiver, supported his friend Vidit by tweeting: “Chess organizers (World Chess in this case) are discovering new sources of income, it’s great, but trying to fish out a share of player revenue from their own sponsors doesn’t help, it’s hard enough for a player to find a sponsor, to let players wear the logo at the events they attend.

A reaction came from FIDE, also via Twitter. FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky pointed out that there is a difference between FIDE and World Chess (the main organizer of the three Grand Prix tournaments) and that FIDE is legally bound by its agreement with World Chess.

Between 2013 and 2019, World Chess, formerly known as Agon, held the commercial rights to stage all events in the World Championship cycle. This was based on a contract (in PDF here) which dates back to 2012 and was signed with the previous FIDE administration.

In 2019, FIDE regained the rights for the World Championships and Candidates Tournaments but the Grand Prix series still belongs to World Chess. The contract between FIDE and World Chess ends after the end of the three Grand Prix 2022 tournaments.

In a comment to Chess.com, FIDE Marketing and Communications Director David Llada explained that at FIDE’s own events, players must also have personal sponsorship approved. However, where there is no conflict with the event sponsor or the standard sponsor requirements of the International Olympic Committee, any private sponsor is permitted.

Also on Twitter, World Chess CEO Ilya Merenzon joined in the debate and actually denied that his company is looking to cut private sponsor revenue.

Nakamura, who is participating in the Grand Prix through his FIDE nomination, supported Giri and Vidit while countering Merenzon’s tweet in a stream on Sunday from his hotel in Warsaw. The top American GM is still in Poland after having to be quarantined following a positive Covid test at World Rapid and Blitz at the end of 2021.

Nakamura noted the potential effect of asking more from players’ private sponsors: “Sponsors are jaded, players are potentially struggling to find sponsors and that’s a big deal. It’s a pretty serious situation.”

The American grandmaster revealed that he sent “a strongly worded email” to World Chess where he copied several people, including Giri and Vidit, supporting their point of view and stressing that he is very difficult for players to obtain sponsors.

“As you can see, the regulations simply require players to get approval. As you can also see, approval can come from FIDE or the FIDE commercial agency. I guess a letter of [FIDE President Arkady] Dvorkovich or Sutovsky would suffice,” Nakamura wrote in his email.

In his stream, he added: “I hope FIDE will put their foot down.”

Nakamura reacting to the controversy in his stream.

Nakamura is clear on what he thinks about Merenzon denying that World Chess is asking for a share of the sponsors’ money: “What part of it doesn’t look like they’re literally asking for a share? They’re clearly asking for a share How does making a deal mean anything other than asking for money?

What part of this doesn’t sound like they’re literally asking for a discount?
—Hikaru Nakamura

Can players just ignore World Chess requirements if FIDE “keeps its foot down”, as Nakamura suggested? Paragraph 8.4 of the FIDE Rules for the Grand Prix Series states:

Players must not wear, use or display any clothing, footwear, accessory or other item, including, but not limited to, any clothing or item of an incidental nature (e.g. bag, goggles, armbands, gloves, socks, charms, beverage bottles, etc.), bearing any identification or advertising or promoting the sponsors of players, without the prior written permission of FIDE or the FIDE Commercial Office.

The final sentence, by FIDE Where The commercial agency of FIDE, suggests that permission from FIDE might indeed suffice. However, FIDE lawyer Aleksandr Martynov pointed out that the old 2012 contract between FIDE and World Chess will have the final say in commercial matters. It therefore remains to be seen whether or not players will be able to have their personal sponsor logos in the Grand Prix, without making use of the “package” offered by World Chess.

The three Grand Prix tournaments will take place February 3-17, 2022 in Berlin, Germany, February 28-March 14, 2022 in Belgrade, Serbia, and March 21-April 4 again in Berlin, Germany. The top two players will qualify for the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2022, which will take place from June 16 to July 7, 2022 in Madrid.

Chess.com contacted Giri, Vidit and Merenzon, who declined to comment.


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