India triumphs in a Miss Universe marked by politics and pandemic

The triumph of the Indian Harnaaz Sandhu in Miss Universe put an end to the 70th edition of the beauty pageant, which took place in the Israeli city of Eilat, and was marked by political controversies and uncertainty due to restrictions due to the pandemic.

At twenty-one years old, 1.76 meters tall, with polished English and an inspiring message for the young women of the world, the new Miss Universe was one of the favorites and was at the height, imposing on the Paraguayan Nadia Ferreira, who finished second, and South African Lalela Mswane, who placed third.

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The contestants, Miss Paraguay Nadia Ferreira, Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane and Miss India Harnaaz Sandhu pose on stage at the 70th Miss Universe Competition on December 12, 2021 in Eilat, Israel. (Photo by Amir Levy / Getty Images)

By profession an actress, a native of the city of Chandigarh and with her gynecologist mother as a role model, the young woman remarked on multiple occasions that if she became Miss Universe, the women of the world should not hesitate to pursue their dreams.

“As a beauty pageant we want to reach each and every one of the women who are looking at us and who hope to be the leaders of their own lives,” said the winner during a press conference after the gala, in which she insisted: ” If we can, they can too ”.

On the other hand, Sandhu defended the restrictions that apply in different parts of the world to stop the advance of the pandemic and the obligatory nature of vaccination and pointed out that “health should be the priority, since after all it is all that we have”.

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Miss Universe Harnaaz Sandhu from India speaks to the press on December 12, 2021 in Eilat, Israel. (Photo by Amir Levy / Getty Images)

In a very close competition, in which the presence of the South African participant among the finalists surprised, the Indian dazzled the judges both with her parades down the catwalk (including in a bathing suit and gala dress) and with the confidence with which responded to the questions that were asked.

One of the peculiarities of his performance was the moment in which the presenter, Steve Harvey, asked him to demonstrate his talent by imitating animal sounds, to which he responded by meowing like a cat. When asked about it, Sandhu mentioned that “one of the stereotypes that people have about beauty pageants is that it is only about looking pretty, and it is not like that, it is about being yourself on stage.”

In addition to the other two finalists, the winner left on the way the representatives of Colombia and the Philippines, who made up the group of five that reached the last cut, and the other 75 contestants who were present on Sunday in the Israeli city of Eilat.

A politicized contest

As is often the case with events of this magnitude that take place in Israel, the competition was preceded by a series of political controversies.

One of them was the decision of the South African participant – who finished third – to appear in the contest and ignore the call of the Government of her country to withdraw and not associate her country with Israel “for the atrocities committed against the Palestinians” .

Many critics of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians also raised a cry for hosting this event as Israel’s way of looking away from the conflict.

On the other hand, the presence of the representatives of Bahrain and Morocco was celebrated by the Israeli media and politicians, who saw in it a sign of the growing bond between these countries and Israel, after the normalization of diplomatic relations last year.

According to figures from the Ministry of Tourism, the Israeli government made a contribution of NIS 6.5 million (just over two million dollars) to the organization of the event, which the authorities hope will contribute to increasing tourism once the borders reopen. to foreigners and to improve the image of the country internationally.

The pandemic, once again protagonist

The Israeli government’s decision to veto the entry of tourists for two weeks to prevent the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus initially raised fears that the competition would be canceled and annoyance among some over the exceptions granted to contestants and fans.

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Harnaaz Sandhu from India parades on stage at the 70th Miss Universe Competition on December 12, 2021 in Eilat, Israel. (Photo by Amir Levy / Getty Images)

The main trace of the pandemic, however, was perceived in the stands, several of them empty in the face of the absence of foreigners and the apparent disinterest of the local public.

On the other hand, due to the postponement last year of the previous edition of the pageant, the triumph on Sunday of the representative of India marks the end of the shortest reign in the history of Miss Universe, after the coronation of the Mexican Andrea Meza in March of this year.

This story was originally published on December 13, 2021 5:49 am.

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India triumphs in a Miss Universe marked by politics and pandemic