Eilat , Dec 13 : Harnaaz Sandhu from India was crowned Miss Universe 2021 on Sunday, beating contestants from 80 contestants in the pageant held in Israel. The 21-year-old from Punjab brings home the title 21 years after Lara Dutta became Miss Universe in 2000.
Only two Indians before Harnaaz Sandhu have won the title of Miss Universe – actors Sushmita Sen in 1994 and Lara Dutta in 2000.
Last year, Miss India Adeline Castelino was the third runner-up at 69th Miss Universe 2020.
The previously reigning Miss Universe, Andrea Meza of Mexico, crowned Sandhu in the Israeli Red Sea resort town of Eilat. The pageant was held in the middle of the night, wrapping up at 5 am local time (10 pm EST) to accommodate the primetime schedule in the United States.
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.
A grassroots Palestinian-led boycott had urged contestants to skip the event to protest Israels treatment of the Palestinians.
In the end, only Malaysia 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.
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 program.
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.
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.
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. Organisers said the pageant was expected to reach an estimated 600 million viewers via the FOX network in 172 countries.
(With AP and PTI inputs )