It may have taken a few games, but a dominant three-game women’s chess game at the Paris Women’s Chess Olympiad last month has proven that the gender gap in chess is closing.
Women and men have previously faced each other in mixed matches at the Olympics, but the five-game summit match at the Olympiad was the first to go beyond the set 15 moves per game rule. Surprisingly, the match not only survived — it ended in a draw with the women remaining on equal terms with their male counterparts, which sparked a fair share of protest.
The match has drawn heavy criticism on social media, with many saying that the L’Oréal-funded Breast Implant Company appeared to endorse the outcome as some kind of gender-equal battle.
The male-dominated WWC sport spans centuries and includes the world’s top 10 players: Vladimir Kramnik, Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik, Veselin Topalov, Fabiano Caruana, Katia Matzikova, Tina Penkova, Vladimir Stojanovskiy, Elizaveta Rodina, and Alexey Grishin. But the women are much less well known and few have even won a World Championship match.
It is customary at international tournaments to provide promotional or marketing support for sponsors at the women’s games, which isn’t a deal they are likely to make with one of the biggest soft drinks brands in the world. The games featured in this year’s Olympiad are the open and men’s Olympics, the World Chess Federation Open, the Olympic Volleyball Women’s World Championship, and the annual Grand Prix Women’s Chess Event.
Breast Implant Company (@LIHJe)
Co-sponsored the @WOMENCF2020 women’s chess competition. You can’t tell who has the better score if only men can play!!! @BreastImplantWCL pic.twitter.com/QDMRmXX1G0 — BEING BRAVE (@3talikesames) October 30, 2018
Breast Implant Company is the U.S. marketing arm of Vital Signs, a Maryland-based pharmaceutical firm known for selling and giving away free breast implants to women, according to The Boring Facts blog.
Letters came flooding in for both sides, with the final step — Twitter updates — being the most tense. The women drew a draw for just under 200 hours of chess time.
Breast Implant Company’s social-media team, who subsequently took on the role of press spokesperson, did not hesitate to defend the company’s actions, pointing out that the publicity afforded the women’s team was beyond what most people could dream of, as they had never competed at the Olympiad before.
“We made sure that as many athletes as possible got the exposure they deserved by being on media for over 20 hours, and allowing them to get in front of thousands of people as the leaders in a game that, once upon a time, was about 18 years old,” the @LIHJe team posted.
They also suggested that the critics had come down hard on the question of how the tournament was arranged, given that there was no scheduled game between the players in question.
“This was all done by two captains from the US and Russia on their own time.”
The organizers took the baby step of not forcing the draw.
The sponsors were willing to offer sponsorship to the organizers of the event with the sole objective of raising awareness for women’s chess. In the past, sponsors have supported the game to help raise funds for scholarships, the coaching of the coaches for the game, and international competitions.
This outcome was not at all what we expected — Vital Signs (@LIHJe) October 30, 2018
Unfortunately, the controversy may end up in the legal arena; tickets for the Women’s Olympic Chess Olympiad are already sold out.