Miss Universe Harnaaz Sandhu ends India's 21-year wait for title - GulfToday

Miss Universe Harnaaz Sandhu ends India's 21-year wait for title

Harnaaz Sandhu poses after being declared winner of the Miss Universe pageant in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, Israel. Reuters

Harnaaz Sandhu of India was crowned the 70th Miss Universe on Sunday, topping a field of some 80 contestants in a pageant that was touched by politics and the pandemic.

The previously reigning Miss Universe, Andrea Meza of Mexico, crowned her successor in the Israeli Red Sea resort town of Eilat. The pageant was held in the middle of the night, wrapping up at 5:00am local time to accommodate the primetime schedule in the US.

The pageant included traditional displays of national costumes, evening gowns and swimwear, as well as a series of interview questions to test contestants' public speaking skills. But it also drew attention in recent weeks for other reasons.

A grassroots Palestinian-led boycott had urged contestants to skip the event to protest Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Harnaaz Sandhu reacts during the Miss Universe pageant. Reuters

In the end, only Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country with close ties to the Palestinians, did not send a representative, citing the global COVID-19 situation.

The South African government, which also strongly supports the Palestinian cause, withdrew support for the country’s representative over her participation.
Harnaaz-2021 Harnaaz Sandhu with other contestants during the Miss Universe pageant. AFP

In an interview last month, Meza urged contestants to leave politics out of the pageant, saying the gathering was meant to bring together women from different backgrounds.

"When you are in there you forget about politics, about your religion,” she told The Associated Press at the time.

Sara Salansky, an official with the Israeli Tourism Ministry, said the country was selected to host the contest earlier this year because of Israel’s successful coronavirus vaccination programme.

The contest also suffered a last-minute hiccup with the arrival of the omicron variant, which forced Israel to close its borders to foreign tourists late last month.

Harnaaz Sandhu presents herself during the swimsuit competition. AFP

Most of the Miss Universe contestants were already in the country before the new regulations came into effect. But those who came afterward were given special permission to enter, albeit with a mandatory 72-hour quarantine period.

Throughout the run-up to Sunday’s contest, all contestants were tested for the coronavirus every 48 hours and required to obey strict mask requirements.

Amid all the safeguards, France’s contestant, Clemence Botino, tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after arriving in Israel. After 10 days in quarantine, she was declared virus free last week and allowed to rejoin the competition.
Harnaaz Sandhu with other contestants during the Miss Universe pageant. AFP

Last year’s pageant was delayed due to the pandemic before Meza was crowned in May for her abbreviated tenure.

Sunday’s contest was hosted by US TV personality Steve Harvey. Organizers said the pageant was expected to reach an estimated 600 million viewers via the FOX network in 172 countries.

Associated Press

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