Norway’s women’s beach handball team has been fined over $2,000 for ‘improper clothing’ because they failed to wear bikini bottoms during their game against Spain in Bulgaria. The team members opted to wear bike shorts instead.
By contrast, in a stand against sexualisation, Germany’s female gymnastics team wore full-body suits at the Tokyo Olympics over the weekend in order to promote freedom of choice and encourage women to wear what makes them feel comfortable.
The International Handball Federation (IHF) rules state that female players must wear tops and bikini bottoms, whilst male players on the other hand are allowed to wear singlet tops and shorts. The requirements are very specific, prescribing that the side width must be a maximum of 10cm width, a ‘close fit’ and ‘cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg’.
Members of Australia’s women’s beach handball team reacted to the news last week, with one team member, Ana Medjed, saying how proud she was of the Norweigan team for taking a stand and bringing this issue to light:
“It is time for a change and time to allow us, female athletes, to be able to voice that we are uncomfortable being exposed and objectified in a certain type of apparel whilst competing.
“From inappropriate photos to internet memes to jokes and comments – one way or another we have all experienced some form of being objectified or sexualised.
“With rules such as women ‘must compete in a bikini bottom with a certain number of centimetres’ or else, it leads us to feel that male players are there to compete for their athletic ability and skills, whilst female elite athlete players are there to put on a show.”
Another team member, Rose Boyd, agrees, saying “no athlete should be forced to wear a uniform they don’t feel comfortable in”.
“It is so much easier to focus on your performance … when you do not have to worry about whether your bikini bottom has ridden up in an unflattering way … or what angle a photographer might capture you on.”
The European Handball Federation (EHF), which is in close contact with the IHF, issued a statement in response to recent adverse media coverage, stating that the matter will be discussed at a meeting of the newly elected Beach Handball Commission in August this year. Their statement is focused particularly on the impact these rules may have on discouraging more people to take up the sport, rather than on the impact they may have on female players involved in their competitions.
It seems this double standard regarding uniforms between male and female players may in fact be working as a disincentive for some women to take up the sport professionally. Boyd noted that she has had teammates “quit the national team or consider not representing the country due to their discomfort in bikinis”.
It is simply not acceptable for a sporting organisation to require females to wear inappropriate attire without any justification given by the Federation as to why this is the case, and certainly when male athletes playing the same sport are not similarly required to do so. This disparity has not been addressed on the Federation’s website, nor in the EHF’s press release.
Surely the era of women being objectified in such a blatant way is long gone. The Norweigan women’s team is to be congratulated for bringing this issue to international attention and displaying leadership on behalf of every female athlete’s right to play a sport that they love without being objectified in the process.