I consider myself an avid fan of Serena Williams, so how is it that I was not even aware of Nike’s Dream Crazier ad? I also consider myself a keen observer of women in social and familial spaces, so how is it that I never explored the perceptions regarding women in sports? Hmmmm. And now I am thinking, why is it, despite the acclaim, that our stellar female athletes are not receiving the commensurate endorsements for the local market?
A bit of background information might help the readers here. Bangladeshi women have been competing in international sporting events and winning accolades for several years now; Foujia Huda (long jump), Beauty Nazmun Nahar (runner) and Jyotsna Afroz (discus throw) to name a few.
As far as cricket and kabbadi are concerned, our women are icons; then there is Mabia Akhter Simanto who won the first gold for the country in the South Asian Games in 2016, and Ashreen Mridha, a basketball player who is the first Bangladeshi to get into an ESPN mentorship program.
Therefore, plenty of examples of success in the sporting arena, and very impressive too, assuming the challenges these women must have faced.
Now, what is an endorsement? From my cynical point of view, it is quite simply when a product or a brand associates with a celebrity or a professional to reap the (financial) benefits from the enthusiastic emotions towards and/or the favourable impressions of the person. The celebrity or professional himself or herself is a product so to speak, and an endorsement is therefore an intertwining of two (or more) brands.
The fact is that we have accomplished female athletes, in one of the fastest growing markets worldwide, with an estimation of middle-income consumers to reach between 30 to 40 million in number by 2025, with roughly 60% of the population between 15-54 years old, and an average 0.97 male to female ratio.
In an ideal world of gender equality, all these factors ought to be translating into significant endorsements for the Bangladeshi female athletes. However, in general, the sporting world is male centric, and Bangladesh more so.
Women are not encouraged to participate in sports, as it lies in the domain of the masculine, and are not expected to have agency, therefore being competitive is not encouraged. Furthermore, the perceptions regarding the benefits of physical activity are skewed. Muscular bodies are not exactly the desirable “healthy”, and it is thought that physical exertion will affect the reproductive system and cause fertility issues. And then there is the discouragement to avoid the sun and dust for fear of ruining complexion and health.
As far as endorsers are concerned, women in themselves may not be a reliable brand as their reputations are greatly affected by the slightest hint of scandal, and vice versa, women may not wish to be associated with a certain image of an endorser for fear of being miscast.
As far as I can tell, it is the negative attitudes towards women’s bodies negotiating their way through the sporting world that has created a significant gap between the female athlete as a brand and as a consumer. And when the twain shall meet is difficult to gauge, but until and less they do, women will not be able to claim their rightful place at the intersection of sports an advertising.
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.