Miss World organisers have banned bikinis from this year’s contest in Indonesia amid protests from conservative Muslim factions which want to see the entire pageant cancelled.
Contestants at the event in September will instead model less-revealing beachwear based on traditional sarongs.
Adjie S Soeratmadjie of RCTI (Rajawali Citra Televisi Indonesia), the official broadcaster and local organiser, said: “There will be no bikinis in this year’s Miss World pageant to respect our traditional customs and values.
“This is a sensitive issue in Indonesia. We have discussed it since last year and they [the Miss World Organisation] have agreed.”
The pageant began in the 1950s, and the first winner was crowned in a two-piece bathing suit. This is the first time contestants will not appear in bikinis. However, in the past five years they have only been worn during “beach heats”, not on stage.
Indonesia has a population of 238 million, and 203 million of them are mostly moderate Muslims. But hardline Islam has grown in strength recently.
The chairwoman of the Miss World Organisation, Julia Morley, confirmed the bikini ban for the 137 contestants. “Indonesia is designing for us a very beautiful one-piece beachwear, and I’m very happy with them,” she said. “We like to work in the manner respectful to every country.”
Organisers have reportedly insisted the decision to ban bikinis was taken when the deal to stage the show in Indonesia was struck last year – and not after pressure from radicals.
However, earlier this week the Jakarta-owned Bali Daily newpaper reported the government had proposed a bikini ban, quoting deputy tourism minister Sapta Nirwandar. “Some people in Indonesia still consider it taboo for women to wear bikinis and outfits that expose body parts,” Mr Nirwandar reportedly said, before adding that only a very small group of people were against the competition.
The pageant has provoked controversy since it was announced in April last year that the 2013 event would be held in Indonesia. Although the earlier heats will be held in Bali, a majority Hindu region popular with western holidaymakers, where bikinis would not usually be controversial, the final will take place in Bogor outside Jakarta.
Bogor is in West Java, parts of which are considered a stronghold for radicals.
Hardline group the Islam Reformist Movement (Garis) said the bikini ban was not enough.
“They will still wear outfits that will encourage sex and immoral acts,” said Chep Hernawan, head of Garis.
Ismail Yusanto, for hardline Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia, warned of more protests. “Supporting this event is the same as supporting the selling of women’s bodies,” he said.
Clerics of the Indonesian Council of Ulema said they would petition president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to demand that the beauty pageant be cancelled.