Elite athletes should probably be permitted to compete wearing whatever clothing best serves their individual sport. Of course, that isn’t the case — especially for athletes who identify as female.
For the latest example, see: the Norwegian women’s handball team, whose 10 players were each fined 150 euros for refusing to play in itty bitty bikini bottoms, opting instead for the coverage (and protection against sand) that more substantial lycra shorts can provide.
The shorts, which covered the women from belly button to mid-thigh, were deemed too long by the organization that governs the sport. The European Handball Federation described the shorts as “improper clothing” saying that the women dressed in a way that was "not according to the athlete uniform regulations defined in the International Handball Federation beach handball rules of the game."
Like beach volleyball, handball is played on a sand court and involves leaps, dives, and other types of bodily contortions which bikini bottoms fail to provide much coverage for. Men’s teams dress in shorts while women are not permitted to do the same.
For the Norwegians, deciding to show up in shorts was a protest against that blatant inequality. "It was very spontaneous,” said Katinka Haltvik, one of the team’s players. “We thought, 'Let's just do it now, and then see what happens,'" she told Norway’s NRK news station.
At home in Norway, the team’s local federation backed up the decision, writing "We are very proud of these girls who are at the European Championships in beach handball. They raised their voice and told us that enough is enough. We are the Norwegian Handball Federation and we stand behind you and support you. We will continue to fight to change the international regulations for attire so that players can play in the clothing they are comfortable with.”
The team isn’t the first among female athletes who’ve faced fines and bans for dressing in a way that was deemed “inappropriate.” Sporting world icons like Serena Williams have been cautioned and restricted for wearing certain styles during competition (the French Tennis Federation banned catsuits after Williams wore one on the court that was meant to help control blood clotting post-pregnancy). And in 2017 the LPGA banned female pro golfers from wearing “plunging necklines” along with short skirts and (confusingly) leggings.
Though the team didn’t medal this year (and are out a total of $2,246 CAD), they were proud of their decision to wear statement-making shorts in the bronze medal match, posting on Instagram that “We really hope this will result in a change of this nonsense rule!” And that kind of change, of course, is priceless.
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