In multiple sports, women athletes have recently been under discussion. A number of female athletes have spoken against the prescriptions in recent weeks. The Norwegian beach handball team wore shorts instead of bikini bottoms during a match, and during the Olympics the German gymnasts will wear long leg pants instead of the high cut suits.
The theme is getting more and more attention lately, says a spokesperson for the Royal Netherlands Gymnastics Union (KNGU). Also in the Netherlands, and in multiple sports. “The discussion about freedom of choice is being held more intense. At the KNGU we believe that the athlete should be in control and feel comfortable with what he or she wears. If a package is an issue, don‘t stare blind at the rules, but think about how to solve it.”
Not everywhere they are so open minded. The Norwegian beach handball team was fined by the European Handball Association (EHF) for wearing the shorts instead of bikini bottoms. According to the Association, the Norwegian athletes’ clothing went against the official dress regulations of the International Handball Federation: beach handball players must wear a top and bikini bottom.
Yesterday it was announced that American singer Pink wants to pay those fines worth 1500 euros. Pink claims to be proud of the team “protesting the very sexist rules about their uniform”. According to the singer, the European Handball Association should be fined for sexism.
Before Pink‘s financial commitment, the Norwegian Handball Association said that it will pay any fines for the players. Support also came from the French team, which found things to be “unfair”. “Fines should not be part of this discussion. To create change, countries need to stand together and we are doing so now,” says national coach Valérie Nicolas against the press.
From all the attention and the amount of support the Norwegian ladies receive, it is possible to conclude that there is a lot of social attention to this theme, says the KNGU spokesman. “It’s good that Pink speaks out because it shows how people are in this discussion.”
The discussion of dress code is not only held at beach handbalsters, but also deals with other regulations. For example, last week twelve MEPs sent a burn letter to President Bach of the International Olympic Committee and the Chairman of the World Athletic Association calling for a stop stigmatizing especially black women in sport, NRC reported last week. One of the incitations for that letter was not allowing the Soul Cap, a swimming cap specially designed for afro hair, during the Games.
According to the international swimming federation and the IOC, the swimming cap would not match the ‘natural shape’ of the head. “Refusing the Soul Cap with the accompanying explanation is nothing but ignorance and racism,” said one of the signers of the letter, Samira Rafaela (D66) to NRC.
In addition, a discussion about the German gymnasts erupted in April. They no longer play races in the short, high cut packages, but in a long leg competition kit. They showed them for the first time at the European Championships in Basel and are now wearing the kits at the Olympics.
“As a child, I didn‘t mind the packages, but when I got to puberty I started to find it uncomfortable. You feel very naked at times,” gymnast Sarah Voss explained her choice. Some of her compatriots quickly joined Voss.
A suit that covers the legs is now allowed in gymnastics, but has hardly been carried at competitions so far. That changes now, partly because of the German team. But even in the Netherlands, steps have been taken earlier. For example, the Dutch gymnastics women all wore pants during a practice match in Heerenveen this spring.
The KNGU already relaxed dress code in 2018. “You don’t just have to wear a leotard with us anymore, you can wear a pair of pants over them too. This is a very important topic and deals with the elements that allow you to change a sports culture,” says the spokesperson.
That change is needed, she goes on. “Often children start sports very young, even at a high level, especially in gymnastics. As a union, you need to be very aware of that essential development phase and deal with it in the right way. If you feel comfortable, it affects how you exercise your sport. But vice versa too.”
There are changes not only in the gymnastics world. For example, the international basketball union Fiba changed dress code in 2017 to allow female players to play basketball with a headscarf.
Tokyo is now for the first timeheadscarf-bearing referee can be seen at 3×3 basketball. Egyptian Sarah Gamal says she never got any comment on her headscarf in her referee career. “From the beginning of my career as a referee, I have not received any negative comments or have run into obstacles. The headscarf is normal for me and does not create any problems.”