22 June ~ This month will undoubtedly mark the only time I can claim Playboy as a work expense. For that, I have five German women players who have stripped off for their nation’s edition of the men’s magazine to thank. I’m not sure I have much else to thank them for though. Like most players, coaches and fans, responsible journalists these days do their utmost to discuss the game’s intrinsic merits. Not whether the girls playing it are eye-catching or wearing shorts skimpy enough for Sepp Blatter’s approval, or are lesbians.
But Selina Wagner (20), Annika Doppler (19), Kristina Gassat (20), Ivana Rudelic (19) and Julia Simic (22) are perfectly happy to be seen as eye-candy. “There are more and more cute, pretty women playing women’s football, who also like shopping and taking care of their looks,” says Simic. Gessat adds: “We want to disprove [our sport’s] butch women cliche.” This they proceed to do via 18 pages of soft focus, sun-kissed frolics; breasts bare, legs stocking-clad and bums proffered to camera.
The girls have great bodies – but any delusion that their photo shoot demonstrates female strength is scotched by the faux-lesbian action included. These posed clinches reveal anything but a display of emancipated womanhood. Rather, they show impressionable girls fulfilling a one-dimensional vision of lesbianism, wholly designed by men for their own titillation.
That said, are the girls themselves guilty of anything other than naivety? While the decision to disrobe was ultimately theirs alone, the consent from Germany’s football administrators has been clear for some time. Journalists (including from broadsheets Die Welt and Die Zeit) have been hungrily asking the question “What if the players pose for Playboy?” to the DFB, who have fallen over themselves to approve. Steffi Jones, the president of the World Cup organising committee, gave her blessing in April last year, and the national team manager Doris Fitschen granted her permission in the press in January. Even the slogan for the World Cup (which starts on Sunday June 26) is “The beautiful side of 2011”, which, according to Jones, means that the tournament is about “attractive football and attractive women”.
This smacks of insecurity and an ill-advised attempt to rise to male-dominated media prodding. The women’s game is, if you will, having its bluff called: if it demands the same respect as the men’s game, then it must be in the same robust health. Following such sophistry, objectifying the players, just as male stars can be, represents a normalisation of women’s football. The difference to David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo posing in skimpy briefs is significant: they are hugely successful sportsmen stripping off to sell pants, not relative unknowns stripping off to sell themselves.
Tellingly, none of the Playboy clique is in the World Cup squad. It is unlikely that Germany’s serial winners need anyone in the dressing room to distract from the serious business of snagging trophies. They may therefore be saddened that their sponsors Bitburger and Mercedes Benz have implicated them nonetheless in the miserable affair: both have happily paid for prominent advertising featuring the national team to accompany the magazine’s shoot. With that, all pretence has been torn down and the game is up. On the eve of its greatest competition, no one it seems is interested in taking women’s football seriously. Titus Chalk