Fifa’s decision to appoint supermodel Adriana Lima as an official ambassador for the Women’s World Cup was “tone deaf” and unnecessary, according to former football administrators, players and gender equality campaigners.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino said Lima, a former Victoria’s Secret model, “lives and breathes” football and would be an “excellent link” between the sporting body and fans worldwide. Lima describes herself as a football fan, but appears to have had no official involvement in the sport before now.
Moya Dodd, a former vice-captain of the Australian women’s team who once led Fifa’s taskforce on the women’s game, was staggered by the appointment. She questioned the message it sent to female athletes who wanted to be treated as equal to men.
After her tweet questioning whether Lima’s appointment was appropriate made international headlines, Dodd further elaborated on her criticism. She raised concerns about Lima saying she starved herself for nine days before fashion shows and highlighted her 2006 description of abortion as “a crime”.
“What will this ambassador represent to the large and growing population of aspirational women football players and fans who love the game because it shows us what empowerment and equality can look like?” Dodd said.
“Because when a girl plays football, the world sees her differently. Instead of being complimented on her nice looks or her pretty dress, she is valued for her game-saving tackles and brilliant goal-scoring.
“She’s admired for what she can do, rather than how she looks, putting her on a more equal footing with her brothers in a way that can alter the whole trajectory of her life’s ambitions.”
Women Sport Australia, the peak body for gender equality campaigners in sport, said the Lima appointment was unnecessary and Fifa should have highlighted athletes playing at the tournament.
“It’s definitely a different approach to the men’s game,” said Women Sport Australia president, Gen Dohrmann.
“You would see Cristiano Ronaldo as the poster boy of the men’s World Cup, so why do we need a supermodel when we could choose Meg Rapinoe, or Sam Kerr, or someone who has international accolades in the sport we are actually promoting?
“That is the type of role model that should be at the front of this campaign.”
Benita Mersiades, a former head of corporate affairs at Football Australia who worked on Australia’s 2018/2022 men’s World Cup bid, said the decision highlighted Fifa’s values.
“Fifa’s engagement of Ms Lima as their global fan ambassador demonstrates just how out of touch Fifa is with football’s fanbase and just how much Fifa hasn’t changed,” Mersiades said.
“While Ms Lima might be a welcome choice for some fans, she is nonetheless irrelevant to other fans, and particularly in the context of the Women’s World Cup to be co-hosted in Australia and New Zealand later this year.”
A social media account claiming to represent former Matildas players asked Fifa whether Lima would be paid more than players at the Women’s World Cup.
Infantino, who accused critics of Qatar’s human rights record of staggering hypocrisy and racism before the men’s World Cup, was pictured alongside Lima at a Fifa gala in Paris on Monday night.
“When you get to meet Adriana, you feel right away her warmth, kindness, and how approachable and passionate she is about our game,” Infantino said in a statement.
“She lives and breathes ‘futebol’ and that is also why she can be an excellent link between FIFA and fans worldwide.”
Lima said she was “very thankful and honoured to have been chosen by Fifa”.
Last month, Australia’s professional footballers union and LGBTQ+ advocates criticised Fifa for accepting sponsorship from the Saudi Arabian tourism authority for the Women’s World Cup.
The arrangement has been condemned by human rights groups, which have called the move a textbook case of sportswashing.