Martina Navratilova hits out at ‘regressive’ campaign featuring rugby players in lingerie

Martina Navratilova has led a backlash against a “regressive” campaign featuring Team GB’s Olympic rugby players in lingerie.

Sharron Davies, the former swimmer, and Mara Yamauchi, the former British distance runner, also expressed dismay at a photoshoot purporting to change perceptions that “strong female form is not ‘feminine’”.

Ellie Boatman, Jasmine Joyce and Celia Quansah – all part of the Great Britain sevens squad (although Quansah has not made the final cut for the Paris Olympics) – were signed up by lingerie company Bluebella’s #StrongIsBeautiful campaign. The company said the intention of the photoshoot, which showed the three players in lingerie on the playing field, is to show girls “how they can look muscular and strong, as well as feeling feminine”.

However, the campaign appears to have backfired, with Navratilova, who won 18 major singles tennis titles, and other leading campaigners for women’s sport unimpressed. Navratilova said the campaign “feels really regressive and sexist to me”.

Women In Sport claim 64 per cent of secondary schoolgirls drop out of all sport because of insecurities about their bodies during puberty.

But Davies and Yamauchi said the campaign will not help tackle this issue. Davies wrote on X: “What the actual —- this is an utterly shameful campaign, whose braindead idea was this? Oh yeah let’s get professional female sports women in porn underwear! Extremely regressive… stereotypes yet again.”

Yamauchi said that the campaign is “exploitative, demeaning, sexist, regressive rubbish”. “Of course the intended audience is men,” she added. “Portraying women as sex objects will not encourage teenage girls into sport.”

The #StrongIsBeautiful campaign has been running for the past eight years and has previously included female athletes for the Rio and Tokyo Olympics.

Boatman, 27, said in an Evening Standard article: “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 focussed on them. Little or no expense would be made for girls’ facilities and I would be given boys’ kit, which would absolutely swamp me.”

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