Opinion: From ‘bikini bottoms’ to ‘tight pants’, Norwegian Handball Team has started a global conversation on sexist sports kit

By Jagriti Choudhry

Sexism has found its way into the world of sport’s kits with the policing of what
women athletes should and shouldn’t be allowed to wear.

The Norwegian beach handball team, in an Instagram post thanking supporters. (Instagram)

This year we witnessed Paralympian track athlete Olivia Breen being told by a
competition official that her briefs were “too short and inappropriate.”

On the other hand we have the Norwegian Beach Handball team being fined for
not wearing ‘bikini briefs’ at their competition.

However, thanks to the courageous efforts of this team – who deliberately broke
the sexist rule – the International Handball Federation (IHF) has allowed women to
wear ‘short tight pants’.

In July, when the Norwegian beach handball team went viral for wearing shorts
and being fined €1500 for wearing ‘improper clothing’ at their match, player
Martin Welfler said: “I don’t see why we can’t play in shorts. With so much
body shaming and stuff like that these days, you should be able to wear a little
bit more when you play.”

The team that rebelled against sexism had been unhappy with the uniform for a
long time. The head of the federation Kare Geir Lio said that the Norwegian
Handball Federation has been campaigning since 2006 to change the uniform
requirements, but nothing happened.

Thus, in a courageous stand, knowing it may have repercussions, the feisty beach
handball team of Norway showed up in bicycle shorts in their match at the
European Championship.

American popstar Pink applauded the stand made by the women’s handball team
and even offered to pay their fine.

The new rule published by the IHF states that “Female athletes must wear short
tight pants with a close fit”. Even though, the shorts are not as revealing as earlier
stated bikini bottoms, the rule is still flawed as the term “tight pants” and “closely
fit” are missing from the rules for men’s uniform regulation. However, it is a step
in the right direction.

In April, the German gymnastics women’s team wore ankle-length unitards
instead of revealing leg-baring leotards. It was a stand against the
sexualization of female bodies. They continued their stand at the Tokyo 2020
Olympics, where they were noticed on a global stage.

Serena Williams on twitter, ‘Catsuit anyone? For all the moms out there who had a tough recovery from pregnancy – here you go.’

Similarly in 2018, tennis player Serena Williams wore a body tight, black cat
suit at the French Open. Rather than applauding her resilience for competing
at the grand slams less than a year after giving birth to her daughter amidst
medical issues, Williams’ costume became the focus of conversations.

After the tournament the French Open organisers ‘banned’ Williams from
wearing the catsuit at the event in future.

Many sports such as athletics, beach volleyball, and tennis have been deemed as
promoting sexism and objectification of women by putting such uniform rules in

Jessica Ennis-Hill wrote her opinions for The Telegraph in July this year stating
she lived in a fear of wardrobe malfunction. She added that female athletes have to
be worried about their kits along with their performance, which is unfair.

There is no such news reported by men being policed strictly for their uniforms,
but women have to bear the brunt of strict uniform regulations.

Talitha Stone, who gathered 61,000 signatures at change.com to demand scrapping
the sexist uniform for the Norwegian women’s team said: “I hope this is the
beginning of the end of sexism and objectification of women and girls in sport, and
that in future all women and girls will be free to participate in sport without fear of
wardrobe malfunctions and sexual harassment.”

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