FIDE Picks Breast Implants as a Sponsor for Women's Chess

Last year, the FIDE Council decided that 2022 would be the "Year of Women in Chess". And a few months before this banner year, they announced their sponsorship deal with a "global medical technology company" - words carefully chosen, presumably, so as not to have to type out the words "a company specialising in breast implants".

It seems incongruous that FIDE would appoint 2022 as the year to celebrate women in chess, and to then choose a sponsor whose business model is reliant on female insecurities: 92% of cosmetic procedures are performed on women [1]. There are few sponsorships that seem, at first glance, less appropriate.

FIDE's statement leans heavily on the concept of post-breast cancer reconstructions in order to legitimize this sponsorship, with managing director Dana Reizniece-Ozola providing some statistics on the prevalence of breast cancer in women: one in eight, with fewer than 10% of those electing to undergo reconstructive surgery afterwards. The spectre of breast cancer is real and terrible. However, FIDE's focus on post-cancer reconstructions is an unrepresentative portrait of reality: around 75% of breast augmentations are performed for cosmetic reasons [2].

FIDE focuses heavily on breast cancer and "wellness" in their announcement, but this is not the focus of the Motiva website. The site is instead filled with testimonials from women who underwent surgery in order to fulfill aesthetic ideals.

A business model almost wholly reliant on female low-self esteem is not the company's only issue. An article by Cannell Capital for the investment research website Seeking Alpha lists them as a "bearish" (bad) investment due to several factors. Firstly, that the health and safety qualities of breast implants are under question, secondly that Establishment Labs is reliant on only a few historical studies in order to claim safety for its implants, and thirdly, that their main safety study has apparent conflicts of interest [3].

Dr. Sforza is a key figure with regards to apparent conflicts of interest. Between April 2013 and April 2016, The Dolan Park Clinic, led by Dr. Sforza, conducted an "independent" study into the safety of Establishment Labs' Motiva implants. This study resulted in a peer-reviewed article in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal in September 2017 [4]. According to a potential pending lawsuit, between 2013 and 2016, Dr. Sforza appeared at numerous events promoting Motiva products with Juan José Chacón-Quirós - who just happens to be the CEO of Establishment Labs [5].

In 2016, Dr Sforza received share options for 36,953 class A shares from Establishment Labs, worth $900,000 at the time. In 2017, the "independent study" was published, without the connections between Dr. Sforza and his co-authors being made clear. They were later discovered after Establishment Labs floated their IPO. The other shareholders of Establishment Labs appear to be working towards a class action lawsuit for violation of federal securities laws, as the company now has no independent peer-reviewed articles investigating the safety of their product, and have not yet been FDA approved. In 2019, Dr. Sforza was receiving a salary from Establishment Labs of $10,000 - $15,000 monthly, and in April 2018 received an option for a further 68,233 shares - bringing the 2019 market value of his shares to $2.5 million.

Credits to: Docteur Spitalier Philippe, 2018

Cannell Capital LLC, writing for Seeking Alpha, noted back in 2019 that it would be "highly unusual" for Dr. Sforza to promote Motiva from as early as 2015 in places so diverse as Iran, Uruguay, and Kazakhstan, without receiving payment for his services. One surgeon stated that this level of engagement without compensation would be "unthinkable". Whilst Establishment Labs claimed that the study was independent, the involvement of Dr. Sforza and all his co-authors (bar one) apparently being hired or paid by Establishment Labs, throws that claim into serious doubt. The lack of credible peer-reviewed studies on Establishment Labs products calls into question FIDE's commitment to doing business with safe, ethical companies.

Almost a year after we published our anonymous article on the experiences of women in the chess community, very little has changed, and women remain a marginalized and under-represented group. We at Lichess are committed to doing our part to reduce gender inequality in chess, and we want to extend an invitation to women to share your stories with us. If you would be happy for your comments to be published either with your name attached or anonymously, please send a direct message to @AnonymousStories.

We reached out to FIDE representatives regarding this article, but they declined to comment.

Comments from women involved in chess

Before publication, we reached out to some women involved in the chess community and their responses are below. Most requested anonymity for fear of retribution from FIDE or other professional consequences. Their comments have been edited for clarity.

"I wonder what's the message FIDE wants to convey with this partnership. We have a sport where men and women can compete on a level playing field which is also free from sexualized uniforms, and our "next great move" is breast enlargement? That says a lot about FIDE officials' view of women." - from an anonymous titled female player

"The fact that women in chess are minority is a fact. But that doesn't stop us from loving the game. However, in life as in the chess world we are facing some stereotypes that encourage us to look, act and think a certain way. And the fact that a company that encourages women to change their body artificially sponsors the most elite chess competition is just not on the level. I have recently been present at a chess tournament where sexism was present, as there was a written dress code for all players, but at the end only women had to follow it, while men were let free to dress however they want. Arbiters asked me and other women to change minutes before the game. This is a similar problem. It just sends out a message that encourages women to look a certain way and that the way we look is not enough, not okay. I am not saying it's not okay to change if it's for yourself only, but having a sponsor for the most elite women's event is different and not exactly the message that fide should be sending to women."- from an anonymous titled female player

"I've already seen comments online from people saying that they hope prizes for women's events will now include breast enlargement. 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. Where is FIDE punishing sexist comments, sexist attitudes? They ignore all sexual harassment reported to them; it's endemic to the very top." - from an anonymous titled female player

"We desperately need a sponsor. 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." - from WIM Sheila Barth Stanford, in an article for Dagbladet. [6]

"I think that it's okay for women to get breast implants if they want to but I don't think it's okay to encourage women to do that. And that's what is the problem with this sponsorship. I understand FIDE wanted to get money for women, which is great. I really do encourage that and I understand they had good intentions, but the message that they sent with it is not good. I mean we can also make a funny solution - let Motiva sponsor men's events, and we can have one of the men's sponsors. (Kind of a joke, but would be cool)"- from an anonymous female player

"I believe that sponsorship is hugely important for our game. On one hand, it helps us to have more tournaments, to develop chess and attract more players. On the other hand, it helps players to have better financial conditions. However, FIDE should be more wise with their choice of sponsors, because it affects which message we are sending to the world. I don't think breast implants is a proper message for our game; chess is a mental game and we care more about our brains than the shape of our body." - from an anonymous titled female player

"The main thing is support for chess. For me personally, I am happy if we have any sponsor for women in chess, and as long as it's not something connected to gender, racism, or drugs, or anything else like that, I would generally support that sponsor." - from IM Elisabeth Paehtz

"We chess women are already subject to endless comments about our appearance. And it's not limited to our own appearances, either: we are spoon-fed commentary on the appearances of other women. It's difficult to imagine a hobby less female-friendly than one in which the primary governing body is encouraging this very behaviour, and by extension, encouraging women to think critically about their bodies - to give into societal pressure to look a certain way - to perform femininity in an expensive and physical way. Shouldn't chess - a game reliant on brains rather than breasts - be distancing itself from that kind of reductive and misogynistic line of thinking?" - from an anonymous female player

Mariluz Bermúdez on the official Motiva YouTube channel recounts her story of getting implant surgery when she was 17 because "I didn't feel comfortable with my body."

"I have seen arguments about how it should be "feminist" for women to get breast implants, because they should have the right to choose what they want to do to their body and how they present themselves. While this is obviously true, I think the feminist rationalization gets thrown out the window when it is getting actively marketed and sold to women. I don't want to debate this particular case because I have seen many people already do this. Instead, I want to talk about my experience with the pressures of growing up under the male gaze, specifically in chess.

From a very young age I was forced to learn that unwanted attention from men was not only unavoidable, but inescapable. Around the age of thirteen, I was already very active in my local chess community, going to every tournament and club available.

I wore a new shirt to a club one day, and was feeling good about myself because it was a style I didn't usually wear; this changed when a man in his sixties came up to me when I was sitting with my friend, and said, "you're looking really good in that shirt," with a disgusting smile, as he looked at my chest. The shirt was cut up to my collar bone, and was long sleeved, but after closer examination I realized it was a little tight, and that alone was enough to get such an uncomfortable comment.

These interactions not only got worse, but they also became a regular occurrence. I have many painful memories of several different older men trying to groom me, to the point that I thought it was normal, or maybe that there was something wrong with me.

Eventually, as a coping mechanism, I developed an eating disorder to deal with the trauma of never getting a break from sexual harassment. At the time, I thought I was doing it to become more attractive to men, and I attributed it mostly to having body dysmorphia.

Recently however, I have come to the conclusion that my intention was to be less attractive to men; I wanted to be skinny to the point of looking like a pre adolescent child. The idea, however subconscious, was to go back to a point where I wasn't being treated like a woman, but as a person. I still feel the need to dress and act in a masculine way, never leaving the house without a big jacket to cover up. Of course, none of my efforts ever made a difference in how I was treated, because I am not the problem.

I think it is important to note how early women are taught their purpose in the world. The feeling that a woman needs breast implants to live up to the roles she has been given, to give in to the idea that a woman's purpose is to be a sexual object, put on earth for men to enjoy, gawk at, and use, is similar to my flawed thinking that doing the opposite would magically make these issues go away.

Society makes women feel inadequate at every opportunity, then offers a solution to her "flaws", i.e. breast implants - verifying it was a problem with her all along. Validating the people telling her she's not good enough, while ignoring the true problems and tossing her aside. We then mistakenly identify her newfound feeling of acceptance, or perhaps belonging, as "confidence".

I see some people (men) are confused as to why it is so offensive that FIDE would have a breast implant company as a sponsor for women's events. Motiva is not a "health focused" company - there is little to no mention of breast reduction or reconstruction on their website. They are selling breast implants and hiding behind women's health. I think the one word that comes to mind when writing this is "inescapable". Even in the highest levels of chess you can not escape.

In conclusion, gross." - from an anonymous female player

"Chess is about being smart and strong, not pretty and useless. For me, the contract is simply ridiculous and I fail to understand how FIDE can accept sponsorship from a breast implant company which supports sexy barbie looks rather than the intellectual side of women. I think it is a shame for our sport, and that sponsor contract was probably signed by a man. "- from an anonymous titled female player

"The women getting implants to hide their insecurities are the ones who are not happy with their own looks. I do appreciate them trying to get money from whoever they can get - it is hard to get sponsors for chess but that does not mean that they should accept everyone. There are medical reasons to get implants, but companies like that one are selling 80% beauty, and 20% medical reasons. I think it is a shame, really - if we are trying to be taken seriously in such a male sport, we should not accept sponsorship from dubious companies selling pretty looks." - from an anonymous titled female player


[1] Plastic surgery statistics for 2018

[2] A panel discussion on how women need better information on breast implants

[3] An article detailing concerns about Establishment Labs

[4] Journal article about Establishment Labs' poor-quality study Establishment Labs' response:

[5] Preparatory shareholder complaint against Establishment Labs

[6] A Norwegian article discussing the new sponsorship deal

Lichess is a charity and entirely free/libre open source software.
All operating costs, development, and content are funded solely by user donations.