Good news: US cheerleader wants to save the Chagos

By Sean Carey

American football is big business. And like any sporting franchise there is money to be made not only from spectators passing through the turnstiles but also from the sale of different types of merchandise to the wider public — anything from bandannas and t-shirts to cigarette lighters and tie pins.

But for many Americans the item which has pride of place in the home is the team’s calendar, often seen placed in the kitchen near the refrigerator. By definition, it is a daily reminder of the hopes and aspirations for the team’s participation in the National Football League season which runs for 17 weeks starting in September.

By convention, American football calendars favour a format featuring shots of the players on the field of play in tight, action-packed situations. But the new calendar for the Philadelphia Eagles, which runs from September 2010 until December 2011, has broken with this tradition by shifting the focus from tough football action to environmentalism as part of its “Go Green” policy. To that end, the team’s cheerleaders, the young women who stand near the touchline and perform colourful eye-catching acrobatic routines for the benefit of the players, the supporters and themselves, posed for renowned fashion photographer, Scott Bryant, in the idyllic Riviera Maya coastal area of Mexico to highlight the current “Save the Oceans” campaign.

The “eco-sexy” calendar which is printed on recycled paper retails in the US for $14.99, but the Philadelphia Eagles have just announced that 10% of the 2010-2011 sales will be donated to the Gulf Restoration Network after the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The team’s website also reveals that the “thirty-eight beautiful cheerleaders” are wearing bikinis made from “sustainable materials such as organic cotton and recycled, up-cycled or repurposed accessories” including jewellery made from glass bottles and plastic flip-flops that had been washed up on beaches in Kenya. All highly commendable.

The current calendar is also noteworthy because the cover model, dental nurse Ivelisse Rivera, 22, can also be seen inside for August 2011 wearing a bikini bottom imprinted with the words “Save the Chagos”, the British Indian Ocean Territory, which was recently designated the largest marine protected area (MPA) in the world as a lasting legacy for Gordon Brown.

I am sure that the former British prime minister and his foreign secretary, David Miliband, who made the MPA announcement on 1 April, will welcome both Ms Revira’s commitment to raise “awareness” and her promise to “get even more people involved”.

But I think that it’s a safe bet that unlike Gordon Brown and David Miliband, Ms Rivera won’t know that around 2000 islanders were forcibly removed from the Chagos Archipelago by the British authorities between 1968 and 1973 and dumped in Mauritius and the Seychelles so that the US could build its key military base on Diego Garcia. Not surprisingly, the exiles would like the right of return restored, which is why a marathon legal battle has been fought in the courts since 1998 (the case is currently before the European Court of Human Rights and a judgement expected in the Autumn).

The point to be made is simple. Whatever the environmental benefits of protecting the pristine coral reefs and waters of the Chagos, it should not be achieved at the expense of the islanders’ human rights. So my suggestion for the merchandising people at the Philadelphia Eagles is: stretch the brand values a little and take the opportunity to add a few words to a bikini bottom in the 2011-12 calendar so that it reads, “Save the Chagos and let the Chagossians return”.

The two aims are perfectly compatible, after all. And as a bonus, the returnees will make ideal conservation guardians of the Archipelago. As Americans say, what’s not to like?

Dr Sean Carey is Research Fellow at the Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (CRONEM) at Roehampton University

* Published in print edition on 30 July 2010

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