An exception for Carlsen

Advertising any form of gambling is illegal in Dubai. The Expo 2020 has granted the world champion a special permission to display Unibet logos on his shirts during the match.

The Unibet logo is on the arm and above the breast of Magnus Carlsen.
The Unibet logo is on the arm and above the breast of Magnus Carlsen. (photo: Eric Rosen / FIDE)

When the world championship action started last Friday in Dubai, Magnus Carlsen’s jacket and shirt showed numerous sponsors but not the logo of Unibet. The same during the pre-match press conference and opening party two days earlier. But during the second and the third game the world champion’s shirts displayed his betting sponsor on the breast and on the arms. It must have raised some eyebrows. All forms of gambling are forbidden in the UAE, and so is advertising them.

The issue overshadowed the preparations of the match ever since the Expo 2020 in Dubai was announced as its venue in February 2020. Carlsen insistence on showing all his sponsors’ logos delayed the signing of the contract until nine weeks before the match start. FIDE promised Carlsen to work on the authorities, but in the end of the day the contract was contingent on local laws.

The logo could be added digitally in the video feed, similarly to virtual advertising in football transmissions.

There is a technological solution, namely to add the controversial logo digitally in the video feed, similarly to how virtual advertising is added in football transmissions. In this way, there would not be a physical display in the UAE and the logo could be broadcast selectively. After ChessTech learned that virtual advertising was not going to be pursued, we expected Unibet’s presence to be limited to exclusive content from Carlsen’s camp before and during the match. Magnus Barstad, a Unibet reporter, has accompanied him to Dubai.

It’s my sponsor. Accept it.
It’s my sponsor. Accept it. (photo: Eric Rosen / FIDE)

The betting company has targeted Norwegian chess fans ever since the 2013 world championship match. Half a year later it sponsored the No Logo edition of Norway chess. In 2019 Carlsen founded the club Offerspill and offered free memberships in a bid to win a majority in a vote of the Norwegian Chess Federation for a sponsorshop deal from Unibet. After the vote was lost, he became brand ambassador for Unibet and has since been lobbying his compatriots to abandon the state monopoly on betting. The company is also sponsoring Offerspill, even though neither Carlsen nor his club are allowed to display their logo in Norway. Chess betting became a hot issue when the pandemic canceled nearly all sport events and bookmakers only had the Candidates Tournament and then online chess tournaments to offer.

ChessTech has learned from Henrik Carlsen, the father and manager of the world champion, that they received a written permission. FIDE chief marketing officer David Llada clarifies that the permission doesn’t come from FIDE but from the Expo 2020. Other exceptions on the exhibition grounds include that quite some pavilions and bars, this local blogger found 75, serve alcohol.