A Vietnamese airline has been caught in controversy after organising Sunday a parade of bikini-clad models in an aeroplane that was bringing a football team home. The risqué show was a way of congratulating the players for their performance in the Asia Cup, but our Observer explains that the incident was actually disastrous for Vietnam’s image – at what should have been a time of national celebration.

Several of our Observers in Vietnam told us that everyone there was talking about this incident. The national football team of under 23-year-olds were returning home on Saturday from a historic football match against Uzbekistan in the Asia Cup final. The match was very important because it was the first time a Vietnamese team had gone to the final of a regional tournament. The young team stoically played in the snow and cold at the match in Changzhou City, China, before eventually losing 2-1.

Despite the defeat, the Vietnamese players were treated to an unusual spectacle on their way home in the plane on Sunday: the airline VietJet sent a troupe of scantily clad dancers on board to dance for the young men. But some members of the team weren’t entirely comfortable with the impromptu show…

The publicity stunt turned sour for the airline, which received a lot of criticism. Twenty-four hours after this incident, the airline published a statement on their Facebook page to apologise, explaining that it was a last-minute “spur-of-the-moment” idea.

The company was swiftly punished: Vietnamese civil aviation fined the airline 40 million dong, or 1,420 euros.

"This airline has dishonoured Vietnamese people"

Do Thi Tuyet Mai is one of our Vietnamese Observers. She lives in Saigon where she’s part of an artist’s collective. She followed the rise of the under-23 team, before the scandal hit.

Just imagine: it was the first time that a Vietnamese team had got this far in a competition. For us, these young men had shown talent, courage and humility. They made us immensely proud, and presented a good image of our country. Everyone was happy to celebrate their success, and in the middle of this outpouring of national joy, VietJet took advantage of the atmosphere to try and pull off a publicity stunt at these young men’s expense. The airline was disrespectful towards the players, who weren’t comfortable. VietJet has dishonoured Vietnamese people.

The airline VietJet was nicknamed ‘Vietsex’ by people online, who widely shared this cartoon.

"More and more people are against this idea of parading half-naked women as a way of celebrating or welcoming guests"

Several Vietnamese media outlets criticised the airline’s objectification of women. VietJet has done this kind of thing before: they’ve not only previously organised these kinds of risqué catwalks in their planes, but also launched a range of lingerie in 2012, and more recently published a calendar featuring only top models in bikinis.

Do Thi Tuyet Mai thinks that this time the airline went too far.

Parading around in a bikini, showing yourself off like that – it’s not something that we do in Vietnam. Nor is it right to do it to congratulate someone, or to welcome guests. More and more people are against this idea of parading half-naked women at events or during ceremonies: in November 2017, Internet users and journalists were surprised by the sexy outfits worn by waitresses who were serving heads of state [at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit]. They could have been wearing traditional Vietnamese clothing, like the áo dài [a traditional Vietnamese outfit, consisting of a long, dress-like tunic worn over trousers]. Exactly the same thing happened when Barack Obama came to visit in 2016.

Some Vietnamese television stations broadcast the videos, but blurred out the women’s bodies.

This is a country with only one political party, which is Communist, in power. Vietnamese society is still very conservative when it comes to sexuality and nudity, and there’s a lot of censorship. In July 2016, the authorities voted in favour of a law to ban models and dancers from promoting nudity or wearing “clothes that reveal parts of the body”, before having to revoke the law after criticism from the artistic community.

Article written with
Alexandre Capron

Alexandre Capron , Journaliste francophone