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Norwegian handball team wins fight over uniform mandates

Players in the IHF can now wear more practical and appropriate uniforms, sports analyst Callie Hummel reports.

For the past 15 years, beach handball teams have been pushing for the International Handball Federation (IHF) to change their uniform rules and drop the mandate demanding female players wear bikini bottoms to compete. On Oct. 3, the IHF finally announced that starting January 2022, players would have the option to wear less revealing uniforms.

Previously, female players could be fined and disqualified if they didn’t wear bottoms in accordance with the federation’s mandate saying their bottoms must be a close fit, have an upward cut towards the top of the leg, and a maximum side width of 10 centimeters, or just three inches. For a top, women had to wear tight midriffs.

The men’s uniforms are starkly more conservative and comfortable than the women’s. The men’s team must wear tank tops and shorts no longer than four inches above the knee. Charlene Weaving, a human kinetics professor at St. Francis Xavier says that, “If there was any kind of biomechanical advantage to having little fabric, then men would be in Speedos. But they’re not.”

On July 25, the Norwegian beach handball team decided to publicly fight against the uniform rules by playing their third-place match against Spain wearing thigh-length elastic shorts instead of bikini bottoms. They said that wearing shorts is more practical in their game, and that they felt more comfortable and secure making dives with the extra fabric.

After the game, the IHF fined each player wearing shorts 150 euros ($175), with the team total coming out to 1,500 euros ($1,700). The protest and fines gained international attention and many people, handball fans and not, joined the fight to change the uniform regulations. American singer Pink even offered to pay the fine and encouraged the team to continue fighting for their right to comfortable uniforms.

All of the attention made it impossible for the IHF to keep the uniform mandate, and with all the pressure they agreed to change the regulations to make uniforms less revealing for the women. The new requirements are “short tight pants with a close fit” and a “body fit tank top,” giving players more choice in what they want to wear. The Norwegian protest did more than change the uniforms for women’s beach handball but sparked a global discussion on women’s uniforms in general.

Before the 2012 Olympics, the Amateaur International Boxing Association attempted to pass a regulation that female boxers had to compete in skirts so “spectators could tell them apart from men.”

On the other side of the spectrum, Paralympic athlete Olivia Breen was told by an English Championships official that her sprinting briefs were too short and inappropriate for the Games. Breen pushed back, saying that as an athlete she shouldn’t have to worry about spectators sexualizing the uniform that allows her to compete at her full potential.

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the German women’s gymnastics team wore full-legged unitards for this exact reason, trying to protest against the sexualization of their sport and it’s traditional bikini-cut unitards.

While sports have strict regulations under the premise of keeping the game fair, the associations need to consider the opinions and comfort of the athletes when mandating their uniform requirements.

Post Author: Callie Hummel