Tuesday 09 June 2020, 05:40

Catwalk queen balling down Beckham bridge

  • Sasha Gigliani is Miss Argentina Hispanoamericana

  • She also plays up front for Velez Sarsfield

  • She aspires to follow David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo

When Sasha Gigliani arrived in La Paz as Miss Argentina to compete for the title of Hispanic-American Queen 2020, she did so with a football under her arm. And while the combination certainly elicited some strange looks, the Velez Sarsfield striker was not perturbed. After all, the 26-year-old is well used to dealing with prejudice.

"There are still people who call you 'butch' or ‘unfeminine’ just because you’re a footballer," she told FIFA.com. "There are also those who label us models as superficial or say we only know how to be cute. I'm nothing like that.

"I'm a footballer and a model, but no less a woman for that. Not only do I do both things, but my aim is for modelling to help empower women's football in general."

So, if a genie appeared and offered to grant her one wish, what would it be?

"To go far in football," said Gigliani. "More than that, I’d like to be the best player in the world."

Gigliani owes her passion for the beautiful game to her grandfather Faustino, who was a groundsman at a club in her native Saladillo, a livestock farming town 180 kilometres from the capital Buenos Aires.

"When I was six years old, he’d take me with him to cut the grass, but when I saw the boys playing, I realised I wanted to play too," said Gigliani. "He allowed me to and told me that the good thing about starting so young was that I’d learn a lot. He still advises me."

Gigliani played alongside the boys until Faustino himself put together Saladillo’s first women's team. "Some criticised him, but he didn't care," she said. "That also helped me."

After starting out on the wing "because I was very fast", the Argentinian grew up to become one of the tallest in the team and found her ideal position. "Because of my physique, but also because I could turn quickly and take just one touch, they played me as centre-forward," Gigliani said. "And I was a top scorer quite a few times."

As a child she also liked acting, but as she got older, she discovered something that interested her even more: beauty contests.

"Selecting the local Carnival Queen was a popular event in which I had been doing well," Gigliani explained. "So at 15 I entered the Saladillo Queen competition, and at 18 I started the journey towards becoming Miss Argentina."

However, Gigliani is keen to clarify two things: "For me beauty always went beyond the mere physical. Women have other skills, such as in the fields of study and work. And I never envisaged giving up football!"

At 19, she went to study at the University of Buenos Aires "knowing that there was a women's football team there or that, failing that, some other team would be interested".

She first tried multimedia communications then switched to public relations, before "I realised I wanted to be a sports ambassador". By then she was playing for Velez Sarsfield, although the club were not officially in any competitions.

By the time Velez started competing in the Argentinian third division, Gigliani was on her way to becoming Miss Argentina and also working to pay the bills. "My priority was and is football, but there were times when I’d be removing my make-up on the way to training," she confessed.

The process taught her something, however: "Beauty pageants and marketing can be tools. What will enable us to develop as footballers is the support of brands, because there is a lack of money. We all need to have a facet like that, for example, to be comfortable dealing with the media."

The Argentinian insists gender should make no difference in this regard.

"Would you say something to Cristiano Ronaldo about the adverts he does?" Gigliani asked. "No, you wouldn’t. So why would people think it’s ok to say it to me?"

Sasha Gigliani, Velez Sarsfield player and beauty contest competitor 

"I'm a league player at present, but I work every day to be Velez’s first-choice centre-forward, play abroad and represent the national team," Gigliani said. "Clubs wanted Beckham because he was a good player, not for his image alone. I aspire to something like that."

While acknowledging that "a match is more nerve-wracking than a fashion show", one exception was when she was competing as Miss Argentina Hispanoamericana: "Then you’re representing your country and the feeling in your stomach is altogether different."

That experience, coupled with watching Argentina at the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™, left her dreaming more than ever about donning the famous Albiceleste shirt "even once and on the bench".

"They proved that we’re good enough," said Gigliani. "Can you imagine what it would be like if, say, there was mixed football in schools until the age of 12, or we all got paid a minimum salary? Something big can be achieved here."

Sasha knows she may be an example to others, but she nonetheless finds it challenging to overcome the prejudice she encounters.

"What I'd like to do is bigger than me, and I don't feel like a standard-bearer for anything," she said. "I still have a long way to go to be who I want to be."