At the Olympic Games, all attention is on athletes and their performance. It’s a time where the best in the world take to their sports with a steely-eyed determination and focus, proving to audiences watching at home just how much training, blood, sweat and tears go into a moment like this. We should then, be talking about the performance, about the tactics, the grit, the unwavering drive to succeed exhibited by all those competing. But instead, Tokyo 2020 has simply highlighted an issue rampant in sport: sexism.
For the Norwegian beach handball team, athletes were fed up with having to wear bikini bottoms in competition. Believing it unnecessary, the team competing at the Olympics instead chose to wear shorts. As athletes, you can only think that such a decision is theirs to make. Surely they should be able to play in what they believe is comfortable? Unfortunately for the Norwegians, the European Handball Federal (EHF) handed down the “improper clothing” ruling after the team played Spain, fining the athletes $240 per player – or a total of $2,410 – as it said the shorts were not in accordance with the athlete uniform regulations.
The news made headlines and not surprisingly, around the world celebrities, athletes and Hollywood stars spoke up about the decision and its implications on younger generations. One such supporter of the Norwegians was Pink, who took to Twitter to tell her followers she would be “happy to pay” the fines. “I’m VERY proud of the Norwegian female beach handball team FOR PROTESTING THE VERY SEXIST RULES ABOUT THEIR “uniform.” The European handball federation SHOULD BE FINED FOR SEXISM. Good on ya ladies, I’ll be happy to pay your fines for you. Keep it up,” she wrote.
The team replied, “WOW! Thank you so much for the support.”
Tennis great Billie Jean King also tweeted her support for the team, writing: “The Norwegian Women’s Beach Handball team is facing fines for wanting to wear shorts instead of bikini bottoms. The bottoms are not to cover ‘more than 10cm on any sides. The men’s team wear shorts. The sexualisation of women athletes must stop.”
Norway officials have also weighed in on the debate, suggesting that the uniform requirements for women are not practical. “In 2021, it shouldn’t even be an issue,” said Norwegian Volleyball Federation president Erik Sordahl. While male players can wear shorts, rules state that “female athletes must wear bikini bottoms” and that these must have a “close fit,” be “cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg,” and a side depth of no more than 10 centimetres.
As Norway’s minister for culture and sports, Abid Raja, tweeted after the ruling: “It’s completely ridiculous. What a change of attitude is needed in the macho and conservative international world of sport.”
Norway’s team captain has since spoken out and informed the media that the team felt forced into bikini bottoms. Even after the fine, the team were told that they would be disqualified if they played like that in the shorts. Consequently, they’ve had to wear bikini bottoms simply to keep their Olympic hopes alive.
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