It is a rare occasion when the issue of global hunger takes center stage on the soccer pitch.
Swedish soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic is no stranger to scoring goals nor getting tattoos. The striker for Paris Saint-Germain celebrates emphatically when he scores, but keeps on his shirt to avoid the automatic yellow card. On Sunday, he did something he normally does (score a goal) and something he rarely does (take off his shirt in celebration).
The reason for the out-of-character celebration? Ibrahimovic wanted to show off some new tattoos.
“When I took my shirt off against Caen, everybody asked what these new tattoos were. I had 15 removable tattoos on my body, they are the names of real people who are suffering from hunger in the world,” Ibrahimovic said Sunday, to the press. “(While) those tattoos have gone now, these people are still here. … I hope that you can see them through me.”
The leading scorer for PSG teamed up with the World Food Program to raise awareness about global hunger. He hopes that people will think about the hundreds of millions of people who face hunger. The head of the World Food Program in France agreed, telling the Associated Press that the global popularity of Ibrahimovic makes him the perfect ambassador. Director Marina Catena said it was their idea to use the fake tattoos on his body, and was proud of his participation. Ibrahimovic seems to think it was a good idea too.
“Wherever I go people recognize me, call my name, cheer me. But there are names no one cheers for,” says Ibrahimovic in a promotional video published shortly after his stunt. “If I could, I would write every single name on my body. But there are 805 million people suffering from hunger in the world today. … So whenever you hear my name, you will think of their names. Whenever you see me, you will see them.”
He succeeded to some extent by bringing attention to himself and his message. The story was quickly picked up by news outlets – mostly the European sports pages. Whether the message he tried to put forward created the type of action that both Ibrahimovic and World Food Program France intended is another question. His coach, for example, was not impressed with the display.
“I was aware of his commitment to the foundation, but personally I didn’t know that he’d had several names tattooed on him,” said PSG coach Laurent Blanc on Monday, reported the Telegraph. “If it was to show his tattoos then it worked because it made the front page of every website in the world, so in that sense it was very successful for him and for the foundation. But it cost us a yellow card.”
U.K.-based researcher Dan Brockington makes the argument that celebrities, like Ibrahimovic, have limited influence when it comes to humanitarian awareness raising and activism. They help perpetuate the status quo of the nongovernment organizations that they represent, but are unable to meaningfully change the dynamics that contribute to complex problems – like hunger.
“Its rise has not been fueled by popular demand but by corporate power. Celebrity advocacy is by and for elites,” he writes on his website. “It provides a means for NGO elites to work more effectively with corporate and policy elites, not the broader population.”
There might be more awareness and indignation about the global hunger problem, but a bunch of signatures on the body of a soccer star might not do much to change things. Even still, Ibrahimovic succeeded in getting his picture and the issue on the pages of one of the more-read sections in daily news – and here.