BEIRUT -- A Lebanese alpine skier competing in the Sochi Winter Olympics has landed in hot water back home after topless photos of her taken during a photo shoot for an Austrian sports calendar surfaced on the Internet.
The calendar pictures, taken several years ago, show Jackie Chamoun, who is now 22, standing in snow amid ski equipment.
But a leaked video of the photo shoot, filmed in Lebanon's Faraya ski resort outside Beirut and aired on Lebanese TV along with stills this week, showed more revealing images of the Olympian.
Freewheeling Lebanon is often seen as one of the most open and tolerant countries in the Middle East. But the images ruffled the feathers of some among the more conservative strands of Lebanese society.
Lebanon's outgoing youth and sports minister, Faisal Karami, apparently felt the images were such a pressing matter that he called up Lebanon's Olympic committee and asked for an investigation into the photos to ensure the protection of Lebanon's "reputation,” the official National News Agency (NNA) reported.
Chamoun, meanwhile, has responded to criticism in a message posted on her official Facebook page.
“The video and photos that you are now seeing are part of the making off, the preparation, it wasn’t supposed to go public,” read the message. “Anyways, 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.”
He statement in turn sparked an outpouring of support for Chamoun from Lebanese social media users, who denounced her critics and said she had nothing to apologize for. By Wednesday, Chamoun's Facebook page had attracted some 50,000 likes and the site was flooded with thousands of comments in support of the skier, who is one of only two athletes representing Lebanon in Sochi.
“Why are you apologizing, Jackie? We must thank you for making Lebanon appear in the Olympics," read one comment.
“You're one of the only Olympic athletes of Lebanon. Be proud of yourself!” read another.
Going one step further, an online campaign under the hash tag "#StripForJackie urging people to snap pictures of themselves topless and post them to Twitter in support of Chamoun has also surfaced, as well as a similar Facebook campaign called “I am not naked.”
As for Karami, the sports minister has faced a slew of criticism and ridicule for wanting to investigate the Olympian over some topless pictures, especially at a time when Lebanon is being hit with a wave of car bombings and other serious security issues.
Media Against Violence, a local nongovernmental organization, issued a statement Wednesday in which it suggested that Karami focus on more pressing issues in the country, such as the deteriorating security situation and the continued government deadlock.
“[Karami] should turn his attention to cases of murder, crime, assassinations, women who are killed or beaten to death and the continual degeneration of the government rather than attacking a sports star who has made [real] achievements for Lebanon,” read the statement according to local media reports.
The country's Olympic Committee has reportedly said the racy pictures were not representative of Lebanese sports but will not call Chamoun back home.
Sandels is a special correspondent.