- By Hanna KozlowskaHanna Kozlowska is a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously worked as a fixer, researcher and freelance contributor for the New York Times in Poland, and as the associate editor for Poland Today, an English-language magazine. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post and several Polish publications. She graduated from Swarthmore College where she was coeditor in chief of The Daily Gazette.
After an unusual complaint from the Brazilian government, sports goods manufacturer Adidas has agreed to ban the sale of two controversial T-shirts designed for the soccer World Cup in Brazil, which kicks off on June 12.
In what the designers thought to be a clever pun, one of the shirts reads "Looking to Score" and features a bikini-clad woman waiting with open arms — presumably for a "striker" — against a sunny Rio de Janeiro backdrop. The other shirt, modeled after the ubiquitous "I <3 NY" design, shows a heart that resembles an upside-down thong-clad female bottom. Adidas, it appears, would like to perpetuate the hypersexualized stereotype of Brazilian woman as bikini-clad sex pots.
— Kety Shapazian (@KetyDC) February 25, 2014
The shirts elicited an outpouring of official responses from Brazilian authorities. The country’s ministry of women’s affairs said that the Adidas T-shirts were "all the more shocking" because of Dilma Rousseff’s recent election as the country’s first female president, which "brought greater respect for women and zero tolerance for any form of violence against them." The country’s tourism board said in a statement that it "strongly repudiates the sale of products that link Brazil’s image to sexual appeal."
The shirts belong to a limited-edition run to be sold only in the United States. The German company is one of the World Cup’s chief sponsors and makes the tournament’s official ball.
This is not the first time Adidas designers have exhibited what might be diplomatically described as insensitivity in its designs. In 2012 the company announced a "shackle" sneaker, which included colorful "handcuffs" attaching the shoe to the wearer’s’ ankles. After an outcry online, with multiple accusations of racism and arguments that the "cuffs" remained associated with slavery, the company scrapped the shoe.
In Brazil, the government’s clear fury over the T-shirts isn’t just political posturing. Both sex tourism and child prostitution remain serious problems in Brazil despite its image as a relaxed, sun-drenched paradise. In 2010, UNICEF estimated that there are some 250,000 child prostitutes in Brazil, many of them strolling the country’s beaches in exactly the same type of revealing bikinis that Adidas saw as a clever marketing tool.