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Nakamura Supports Giri, Vidit In Clash With Grand Prix Organizer Over Sponsorship

Nakamura Supports Giri, Vidit In Clash With Grand Prix Organizer Over Sponsorship

PeterDoggers
| 56 | Chess Politics

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

World Chess doesn't have a great track record of organizing chess events without causing a stir. Weeks in advance of the FIDE Grand Prix—the final series of events organized by World Chess before its contract with FIDE ends—it is involved in another controversy. This time, it's about sponsorship.

In an email to the participants, World Chess wrote last week:

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

If you would like your sponsors being advertised during the Grand Prix Series, please let me know and I will connect you to the partnership specialist.

As one of the participants, Vidit (sponsored by the digital engineering and enterprise modernization partner Persistent and meditation app Black Lotus) was the first to tweet about this. He placed a poll on Twitter, asking whether it is fair to ask a player's sponsor to pay the organizers as well in order for the player to sport their logo.

Giri, who is sponsored by the Dutch proprietary trading firm and global market maker Optiver, supported his friend Vidit, tweeting: "Chess organizers (World Chess in this case) discovering new revenue streams is great, but trying to fish for a cut from player's own sponsors is not helping. It is challenging enough for a player to find a sponsor, let the players wear the logo at the events they compete in."

A reaction came from FIDE, also via Twitter. Emil Sutovsky, FIDE's Director General, made the point that there is a difference between FIDE and World Chess (the main organizer for the three Grand Prix tournaments) and that FIDE is legally bound to its agreement with World Chess.

Between 2013 and 2019, World Chess, formerly known as Agon, owned the commercial rights to organize all events in the world championship cycle. This was based on a contract (in PDF here) that stems from 2012 and was signed with the previous FIDE administration. 

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

In a comment to Chess.com, FIDE's Chief Marketing and Communications Officer David Llada explained that at FIDE's own events, players also need to get personal sponsoring approved. However, when there is no conflict with the event sponsor or the standard sponsor requirements of the International Olympic Committee, basically any private sponsor is allowed.

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

Nakamura, who is a Grand Prix participant thanks to being nominated by FIDE, supported Giri and Vidit while countering Merenzon's tweet in a stream on Sunday from his hotel in Warsaw. The American top GM is still in Poland after he had to quarantine following a positive Covid test at the World Rapid and Blitz at the end of 2021.

Nakamura noted the potential effect of requesting more from the players' private sponsors: "Sponsors are getting jaded, the players potentially are struggling to get sponsors and it's a big issue. It's quite a serious situation."

The American grandmaster revealed that he had sent "a strongly worded email" to World Chess where he cc'd several people including Giri and Vidit, supporting their standpoint and pointing out the fact that it's very hard for players to get sponsors.

"As you can see, the regulations simply request that the players get approval. As you can also see, the approval can be from FIDE or FIDE's commercial agency. I assume a letter from [FIDE President Arkady] Dvorkovich or Sutovsky would suffice," Nakamura wrote in his email.

In his stream, he added: "I hope that FIDE is gonna 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 cut of sponsor money: "What part of that does not sound like they're literally asking for a cut? They're clearly asking for a cut. How does making a deal mean anything other than asking for money?"

What part of that does not sound like they're literally asking for a cut?
—Hikaru Nakamura

Can the players simply ignore the demands of World Chess if FIDE does "keep its foot down," as Nakamura suggested? Paragraph 8.4 of FIDE's regulations for the Grand Prix series states:

Players shall not wear, use or display any apparel, footwear, accessory or other item, including but not limited to any piece of attire or any article that is of an accessory nature (e.g. bag, eyewear, arm bands, gloves, socks, charms, beverage bottles etc.), bearing an identification of or advertising or otherwise promoting the players' sponsors, without prior written permission by FIDE or FIDE’s commercial agency.

The final phrase, by FIDE or FIDE’s commercial agency, suggests that permission from FIDE might indeed be enough. However, FIDE's lawyer Aleksandr Martynov has pointed out that the old, 2012 contract between FIDE and World Chess will have the final word as it comes to commercial matters. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether players will be able to have their personal sponsor logos in the Grand Prix or not, without making use of the "package" offered by World Chess.

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

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


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