FIFA Girlfriends

Irina Shayk in FIFA Nike commercial.

There are a few reasons to be annoyed that Germany won the World Cup, and one of them is the weird sexism that is coming out about the FIFA “WAGs” (wives and girlfriends.) An article about them in the Daily Mail is part of an internet trend that showcases them as the softer side of a robust national team. Basically, the angle is, “the men won the game, and then they went home with hot women.”

It gets overlooked how much this type of romantic spectacle is engineered. FIFA WAGs are part of the brand: they are there to look pretty, and play an elegant role next to the star players. They are basically cheerleaders, except that their looks are usually profited from elsewhere, too (e.g. Victoria’s Secret models.) This is part of the reason that their PR agents arrange for “relationships” to take place in the first place. It adds to the national team’s appeal, and builds other profit margins in the process.

The role of the WAG is basically to serve as a fantasy for the male audience. The sexual part is obvious, but it’s deeper than that. Men are supposed to project themselves onto the FIFA players. When Mario Gotze scored the winning goal during the World Cup Final, the male fans did too. This sort of thing obviously has more appeal when your life seems embattled and dreary. The WAGs have a very simple role in that projection. They “congratulate their men” in the same way that the idealized woman is supposed to reward her man after a hard day’s work. It is their role to encourage you from the sidelines, and then greet you tenderly when you’re finished. This is a pretty traditionalist idea of love and family. Trade FIFA for a white-collar job, and you have the values of suburban America during the 1950s.

FIFA loves capitalizing on this. Consider the relationship between Cristiano Ronaldo and model Irina Shayk. The Nike World Cup advertisement Winner Stays features a cute exchange between Ronaldo and an English footballer, in which he points to Shayk as the only supporter he really needs. She then kisses at the camera. It all seems pretty harmless, but this is tied to a pretty damaging idea of women having to get pretty and support the boys whenever they go out and  achieve things. It basically reiterates a classic paradigm of labor division across gender: the men work, and the women adopt a private sexual role. The Nike ad was implying that Shayk is a trophy that Ronaldo has won for being an excellent player. It doesn’t matter if it intended to be harmless or not, it still propagates sexist ideas. That is FIFA, though. It doesn’t have the social conscience to act outside the dictates of the marketplace.


Screenshot courtesy of the author.

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