A Lebanese minister’s desire to investigate a year-old risque photo shoot featuring the country’s lone female Olympic Alpine skier has generated global support for her ahead of her competition at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Over the last week, 22-year-old Jackie Chamoun, a two-time Olympian, has come under the scrutiny of Faisal Karameh, Lebanon’s Sports and Youth Minister, who ordered an investigation into topless photos disseminated in the country without her intent. Karameh declared that he wanted, “all measures taken to protect the reputation of Lebanon.”
Youssef Chamel Khalil, the administrator of Lebanon’s Olympic Alpine team, said Chamoun will face no repercussions for the photos and would be allowed to compete in Sochi.
“It’s OK,” he told AP. “In Lebanon, there is a little bit another way to think. Lebanon is a country of so many cultures.”
That statement has sparked outrage among free speech and women’s rights supporters across the world, as well as many who criticized the Lebanese government for having skewed priorities.
“Some women are beaten or killed, others are raped, and the media shifts their attention to a confident talented beautiful woman who represents her country at the Olympic games,” Cynthia-Maria Aramouni wrote on Facebook, referring to schoolteacher Manal al-Assi, who was allegedly beaten to death last week by her husband.
Aramouni helped launch a Facebook campaign called “I’m Not Naked,” in which Chamoun supporters posed semi-nude using the hashtag #StripForJackie. Tha same hashtag is being used similarly by protesters of Chamoun’s condemnation on Twitter.
Additionally, a handful of companies have taken to social media in support of Chamoun.
Almaza, the national beer of Lebanon, has begun an ad campaign featuring a beer bottle, with only a collar label, positioned in the snow next to a pair of skis, in support of Chamoun. Almaza posted a copy of the ad to its Twitter account:
Absolut has an ad in Lebanon featuring one of its vodka bottles without a label and the #StripForJackie hashtag:
Here is a photo shared on Twitter of Chamoun checking the #StripForJackie hashtag from Sochi:
In 2013, Chamoun and her Vancouver Olympic teammate Chirine Njiem posed for an Austrian ski-tourism calendar featuring professional skiers and models posing topless at various ski resorts around the world.
The portraits of Chamoun and Njiem were taken in Faraya, Lebanon’s most popular ski resort located about an hour northwest of Beirut, and the slope where both women trained for the Olympics.
The photos, which were taken by Hubertus von Hohenlohe, the German-born Mexican prince who will compete at the Games for the sixth time next week, and used in the calendar depicted no explicit nudity.
In an interview with NBC Olympics in January, Chamoun spoke about the sensitivity the photos might have had if taken elsewhere in Lebanon, a traditionally conservative Middle Eastern country.
“If we were somewhere else in Lebanon, in a public place, maybe they would have shooted us,” Chamoun said. “But we were on the slope in Faraya and it is an open space. The people who go there are people from Beirut who are open-minded, more international in their thinking, so it wasn’t a problem.”
A behind-the-scenes video from that photo shoot that left little to the imagination was broadcast on Lebanese television and racier images screen-grabbed from that video have been publicly circulated.
Hohenlohe told NBC Olympics he had nothing to do with the video’s release, and was incredulous about the backlash Chamoun has received.
“I don’t believe it,” Hohenlohe wrote in an email. “It seems like we are in the ’50s or even the ’40s. I am proud of the pics and don’t think there is really anything bad.”
Chamoun does not blame Hohenlohe for the controversy. “He’s a really good friend. It’s not his fault,” she told AP.
The backlash from these photos prompted Chamoun to take to her Facebook page to apologize to anyone who might have been offended and to plead for people to stop sharing the pirated images.
“All I can ask to each of you who saw this, is to stop spreading it,” she wrote. “It will really help me focusing on what is really important now: my trainings and race.”
Chamoun will compete in the women’s slalom on Feb. 21.