Campaign featuring women’s rugby stars in lingerie branded ‘regressive and sexist’

Three rugby sevens players from the Team GB squad have joined lingerie company Bluebella in a campaign that has been widely criticised as “regressive and sexist”.

Jasmine Joyce, Celia Quansah and Ellie Boatman will be in the team competing for a medal at the Olympics this summer but less than four weeks before the start of the Paris 2024, they were part of Bluebella’s #StrongIsBeautiful campaign launch.

The rugby stars are pictures in different lingerie paired with sports socks and rugby boots. The campaign also has them posing with rugby balls and practising lineout lifts – all while sporting lingerie.

The company has marketed the shoot as encouraging teenage girls not to drop out of sport and to show girls “how they can look muscular and strong, as well as feeling feminine”.

However, organisations cited in the press release have since distanced themselves from the lingerie campaign, which has been widely criticised as problematic.

Team GB said in a short statement: “Neither Team GB nor GB Sevens are involved or affiliated in any way with Bluebella’s #StrongIsBeautiful campaign.”

Women in Sport, the organisation whose work is cited by the company as one of the reasons behind it, have also denounced Bluebella.

“Today a new campaign was released by a lingerie brand using images of female Rugby Sevens players in highly sexualised underwear to ‘inspire’ teenage girls in sport. Women in Sport is very uncomfortable that we have been mentioned in this campaign without our knowledge,” it said on X.

“We don’t need women to look pretty on the pitch, we need brands and the media to showcase their strength, resilience and skills. We need to break the confines which trap our girls as they grow up making their worlds smaller. We need to set our girls free.

“Our female rugby players have been inspiring a generation. They are strong, resilient and powerful. Let’s celebrate their skills, tactics and teamwork on the pitch. They have nothing else to prove.”

Martina Navratilova said, reported by The Telegraph that the campaign was “really regressive and sexist”.

Quansah, one of the players in the campaign, said in the Evening Standard : “I think one of the biggest challenges for women’s rugby is people’s perception that you can’t be feminine and play rugby, that one comes up frequently.

“People love to say women shouldn’t play rugby or you’re too pretty to play rugby and all of those things that just aren’t true.”

Boatman added: “Sometimes you would even hear parents telling their boys to target the girl because she would be the weak link in the team. It was also definitely the case that the boys were celebrated a lot more and all the effort was focused on them.

“Little or no expense would be made for girls’ facilities and I would be given boy’s kit which would absolutely swamp me.”

Rugby journalist Stella Mills also offered a different perspective, saying on X: “ Very big talking point at the moment, lots of opinions on this. My take - what’s the difference between a male sports star posing in his Calvin Kleins? Why is it only sexualised if it’s a woman?”