VARGINHA, Brazil (Reuters) - After a dire and goalless first half, the halftime entertainment in the recent Boa Esporte v Caldense Minas Gerais state championship derby was predictable enough.
An announcer read scores from around the grounds. A giant owl mascot geed up the crowd. A stream of people bought beers and ice cream to combat the heat.
And then the big screen showed glamour shots of a young blonde eyeing the camera draped in Boa Esporte’s red and green flag and not much else.
“Vote for our very own Jali Lemos as the muse of Minas Gerais football,” the announcer told the 1,750 fans. “Go to www.globoesporte.com.br/mg and cast your vote.”
One month after officials condemned Adidas for selling T-shirts that “linked Brazil’s image to sexual appeal”, the practice of using sex to sell football continues unabashed at the home of the 2014 World Cup.
Not only do football federations host their own beauty contests, many teams promote their own competitions. Some even put scantily-clad models on the front of their magazines and websites.
“About 90, 95 percent of people who watch football are male and so it is natural to link sex with football,” said Roberto Naves, web editor at Brasiliense, a Serie D club that has a site featuring naked models.
“What we’re doing isn’t at all forced. It’s hugely popular. There’s a saying in Brazil that was coined by a former coach who said, ‘You don’t change a winning team’, and we’re abiding by that.”
Sex and soccer have long been comfortable bedfellows in Brazil.
Trophies are sometimes depicted as feminine objects and famous players and commentators often refer to the ball - a feminine noun in the Portuguese language - in loving terms.
“I treated her with as much tenderness as I treated my wife,” 1958 and 1962 World Cup winner Didi once famously said. “She’s a girl that needs to be treated with lots of love.”
The relationship hit a rough patch last month when Adidas started selling two T-shirts the Brazilian government said drew too clear a link between women and sexual tourism.
One featured an ‘I love Brazil message’ with the heart shaped to look like female buttocks. The other showed a bikini-clad girl asking, ‘Looking to Score?'.
Both were marketed in the U.S. to fans heading to Brazil for the World Cup that will take place in 12 cities in June and July.
The secretary of women’s affairs slammed the T-shirts as not just “disrespectful and offensive” but “a crime against all humanity”.
Tourism board Embratur said they “strongly repudiate the sale of products that link Brazil’s image to sexual appeal” and asked Adidas to withdraw the T-shirts from sale...which it did.
However, authorities have said little about the regular practice by clubs and media outlets of portraying women as sex objects.
One of the clearest examples takes place online at the website of O Globo, Brazil’s biggest media empire.
Globo sponsors beauty contests run in conjunction with state federations.
Each team selects their own beauty queen and Globo pays for glamour shoots, said Nina Abreu, organizer of the Minas Gerais competition.
The girls are usually photographed wearing bikinis and football shirts and often with props like balls or goal nets.
Fans, like those at the Boa Esporte stadium, are then encouraged to vote for what they call the ‘Muse of the Championship’.
”It is a major event, last year there were more than 500,000 votes,“ Abreu said in a telephone interview. ”There’s absolutely no question that more people vote in the contest than go to the stadiums.
“It’s easier to sit at home and vote than actually go to the ground. That shows us where men’s priorities lie.”
Abreu denied the photos were exploitative and said it was simple marketing common sense to appeal to the male demographic that follows football.
”The idea came when we sought to associate ourselves with what appeals to fans,“ she explained. ”What do masculine football fans like? They like women. But we are respectful. I won’t deny these shoots are sensual but they are not vulgar.
“That is our reality here in Brazil,” said Abreu. “There’s a lot of money all around football and Brazilian women and it’s hypocritical to pretend otherwise.”
Some teams have gone even further, introducing real porn. The models that feature on Brasiliense’s site are naked, with Naves saying: “It’s strong stuff”.
The current model at www.brasiliensefc.com.br/site/ is presented with the teaser, 'Sin now has a name, Thaynara, Brasiliense's new muse'.
The club, which was in the first division nine years ago, got so many hits when it introduced naked models that the website crashed and was down for three days.
“The numbers were spectacular after we started putting naked women on the site,” Naves said.
Academics say the use of women to sell football is popular but less bare-faced that it once was.
“Brazil is still a very macho society and it’s impressive they can do this kind of thing without any embarrassment,” said Bernardo Borges Buarque de Hollanda, an expert on football and society at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas university.
“It used to be worse. Now maybe 30 percent of fans are female, it used to be five percent. Things are slowly improving.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez