BEIRUT: Lebanese Alpine skier Jackie Chamoun responded Tuesday morning to a slew of criticism that she received from local media after posing topless for an Austrian sports calendar.
Chamoun, 22, is one of two athletes representing Lebanon at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Three years ago, she and fellow Lebanese Olympic skier Chirine Njeim, 29, posed for the annual Ski Instructors calendar at the Faraya ski resort outside of Beirut.
The 2014 calendar has been out since November; but in the run-up to the Olympics news of the photo shoot resurfaced and local media have been fiercely critical of the young athlete.
Local news media have been referring to the photo shoot as a scandal, and the Youth and Sports Ministry Tuesday said it asked Lebanon’s Olympic committee to look into the case.
In her first public acknowledgment of the controversy, Chamoun apologized for offending her conservative supporters.
“I just want to make it clear to everyone who commented, shared the photos that appeared on the net in Lebanon yesterday. Yes, I did photos for an Austrian ski calendar with other professional athletes,” she wrote in a public message on her official Facebook page.
“I want to apologize to all of you, I know that Lebanon is a conservative country and this is not the image that reflects our culture. I fully understand if you want to criticize this,” she added.
The annual calendars feature male and female Olympic athletes and are the brainchild of six-time Mexican Olympic skier and German Prince Hubertus von Hohenlohe.
Chamoun said the photos were taken three years ago, and the images in the final calendar are objectively less explicit than a video now circulating, which documented the Faraya photo shoot.
Two official pictures from the calendar show Chamoun lounging in the snow with most her clothes on and, in the other photo, with a ski covering her breasts.
But in the short making-of video both Chamoun and Njeim are almost fully exposed.
“The photos of the photoshoot are not like the actual images that are now circulating on the net. The video and photos that you are now seeing are part of the making of (sic), the preparation, it wasn’t supposed to go public,” she said.
In Sochi, Chamoun will compete in the ladies slalom ski competition Feb. 21 and ladies giant slalom Feb. 18.
In her message Tuesday, Chamoun implored Lebanese to stop spreading the images so that she could focus on the race.
“Now that I’m at the Olympic Games, these photos that I never saw before are being shared. It is sad. All I can ask to each of you who saw this, is to stop spreading it, it will really help me focusing on what is really important now: my trainings and race,” she said.
Chamoun's response received an outpouring of support from Lebanese – nearly 300 comments by Tuesday afternoon – wishing her luck and telling the athlete not to apologize. In less than three hours Tuesday, Chamoun’s official page had also attracted 2,000 more fans.
The government, however, might take a harder line against Chamoun. On Tuesday, the caretaker Sports and Youth Minister Faisal Karami asked the head of Lebanon’s Olympic committee to file the “necessary inquiries” into the incident, according to the country’s National News Agency.
“[Caretaker] Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami, during a call with the head of the Lebanese Olympic Committee Jean Hammam, asked that the necessary investigation be launched ... as soon as possible in order to the take the required steps to [avoid] harming Lebanon’s reputation and international participation,” the NNA said.
In contrast the scandalized local media, international coverage of the calendar release has been far more positive. Von Hohenlohe told one British media outlet that the calendar makers were actually criticized for not showing enough flesh.
In an interview that appeared on NBC online before the story spiraled into scandal, Chamoun seemed prepared to receive some flak for the shoot – albeit without regret.
“When I started my job, for example, people when they search for me on the web sometimes they can see these pictures directly so you think maybe it’s not the best thing, not the best image you can give someone of you,” she told NBCOlympics.com. “But, I don’t really care, though. I really enjoyed it and I don’t regret it. I like these photos.”