Persecution of orange-clad women absurd

Date: June 25, 2010
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23 June, Johannesburg. Yesterday, all criminal charges against the two women being tried for orchestrating the so-called orange dress “ambush marketing’ on 15 June were dropped. Media reports said that FIFA and Bavaria, the company associated with the orange dresses, reached an agreement that would remain undisclosed. While the outcome deserves applause, what has been quickly forgotten is the distress and embarrassment suffered by the two women, along with the 36 others pulled in by police for questioning.

“They were much traumatised,” said the pair’s lawyer Kobus Lowies, “They were treated by bullies.” While the women may now be free to enjoy the rest of the World Cup, it is unlikely that they will feel in the mood to do so, given their ordeal. These women made a long trip all the way to the stadium to cheer on their favorite team. The color of their dresses matched well with their national colors. In fact, the Dutch people are a little crazy about orange, and they wear it on public holidays and events like the World Cup.

Ambush marketing is a promotional tactic designed to associate a company, product, or service with a particular event, or to attract the attention of people attending the event, without payment made for an official sponsorship. For example, a business affiliates itself with a particular athlete or sports team, rather than paying to become an official Olympics sponsor. Successful ambush marketing diminishes the value of an official sponsorship. Media reports suggested that the women were all dressed in orange mini-dresses as part of a Bavaria beer promotion campaign back in the Netherlands.

FIFA does not allow ambush marketing; in fact, it is a criminal offence in South Africa. It is not the first time the beer brand has been the centre of controversy at a world cup. Four years ago in Germany, Dutch fans wearing Bavaria-branded orange lederhosen with a tail representing a lion were told to take the pants off at soccer matches. Many of the fans had nothing but their underwear underneath, forcing them to go into the matches without pants.

The question is, was this ambush marketing? To put this into perspective, look at any game in which the Netherlands is on the pitch, the stadiums are a sea of orange. To suggest that the tiny little tag on the seam of 36 women’s dresses constitutes a marketing campaign for a giant like Bavaria seems a bit absurd.

There is no doubt, the dresses were nice and very fashionable; they were equal to the occasion. While the dresses may have been considered sexy and short, this is relative depending on the individual – and surely, each person has the right to choose their own style of dress. However, what promised to be a funny day ended up in horror for these unsuspecting women. A situation where women are harassed, humiliated, troubled and detained for their dressing is not acceptable.

Some commentators pointed out that raising alarms and taking these fans in for questioning was unthoughtful and lacked insight because it did more harm than good. The allegations gave the beer company much more media attention and publicity than the orange dresses, inspiring many to taste the beer. Before the arrest, only Dutch people knew the dresses are from the Bavaria Company, and now we all do.
The arrest and “criminal” charge was a disproportionate reaction. If FIFA wants to take a company to task for an illegal marketing action, they should start judicial procedures against the company and not against ordinary citizens walking around in orange dresses.

Were these women the only ones who were putting on orange outfits in that packed stadium? Or was this simply easier because they were women – would officials have been so quick to detain male spectators? This seems to be another form of harassment targeted towards women in particular.

While the criminal charges may be a thing of the past, what worries me is what the future holds. If this issue is not addressed properly, next time we will have our women being arrested for suspicious hairstyles or for the way their nails are done. Whoever at FIFA is responsible must consider that the World Cup should be an event for all people to support their teams without fear or risk of being threatened, interrogated or detained.

Gladys Muzirwa is a Programme Assistant with Gender Links. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service.


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