The controversy surrounding the supposed sexualization of chess is nothing new.
The game has always been compared to men’s professional cycling, which has been dominated by female players for several decades. But over the last few years the conversation about male-dominated chess has intensified — and sex was said to be a factor. After Novartis, the sponsor of the championship, was criticized for airing pictures of its ambassador, the 5ft 6in Chess champ Magnus Carlsen, in bikinis during the men’s Volvo Open in Stockholm, the company defended the ads saying “it’s always been part of Chess.”
The #ChessChallenge is exactly how to combat the sexualization of #chess https://t.co/ScKLLESL6p pic.twitter.com/RBvHpMHeAo — Chess News (@ChessNews) April 27, 2016
Who is Chess director, Professor Lars Nordberg? A chessless pic from his 50th birthday party. https://t.co/oVch2C34xU pic.twitter.com/E5lSR6gy0G — Chory Roitman (@CRLardman) April 27, 2016
And as Carlsen continues to play in the world championship against Sergey Karjakin, who has never before played in a tournament of his own, a Russian journalist has brought up the topic of sex in an email correspondence he recently had with the 26-year-old’s former agent.
“Am I allowed to use the phrase ‘the Chess Nike?’” the correspondent wrote.
Carlsen responded by pointing out that he is only allowed to play in T-shirts, sweaters and jeans during his free time, and that in his five years of being a professional chess player he has only had to play in one official event — a round of exclusive events in Beijing at the age of 23.
“You could try to push your luck as one time in your school days it was to take the school chess team to a pool hall as part of an attempt to make some extra money,” Carlsen said. “But that was one time. My daily life and training schedule is absolutely focused. And I take it seriously.”
With that in mind, it seems that even the world’s highest-profile chess player is not complaining about not being able to play shirtless, and later added: “Spreading out the events is smart business. The organizer has invested a lot of resources to make it that way and to make the audience engage with it. I take it seriously.”