A photo of the Norwegian men’s and women’s beach handball teams is revealing, in so many ways.
It shows the men’s team in tank top shirts and loose shorts that almost reach the knee. Members of the women’s team, meanwhile, are in bikinis — tiny bottoms and small, tight tops.
What the women’s uniforms don’t do for boosting the wearer’s athletic advantage they probably do for boosting fan interest.
When the Norway women’s team protested and instead wore shorts during a recent match, the squad was fined by the European Handball Disciplinary Commission. The fine was for “improper clothing.”
According to International Handball Federation rules, the women are required to wear bottoms with “a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg.” The sides of the bottoms can be no more than 4 inches.
What possible reason could be behind a universal rule that requires such a skimpy uniform?
According to a New York Times report, a spokeswoman for the International Handball Federation said she didn’t know and that the organization is looking into it.
In lieu of what should be an easy explanation, it’s easy to assume the rules are about viewership and, probably, marketing.
Another women’s sport that draws attention for its uniforms is beach volleyball. Those players usually wear bikinis, too, but they are given several options; it’s the same in several other sports, too.
That’s the best method. Women must be allowed to determine their own uniforms without forceful oversight from above that could be construed as anything other than creating comfort and athletic advantage for the players.
Even at the high school level, this should be considered. Do form-fitting uniforms greatly increase a teenage girl’s ability to set a volleyball? Or do they possibly hinder participation of girls who are shy about wearing anything revealing in a packed gymnasium?
Yes, most — probably all — high schools have alternate uniforms available for girls who do not wish to wear tight spandex shorts, but it’s not easy to be the one girl who chooses alternate clothing. So will that girl go out for volleyball or just decide it’s not worth it?
That’s discriminatory at worst, unfair and unfortunate at best.
In 2012, the Mitchell (SD) Republic — a Forum Communications Co. newspaper — surveyed schools throughout South Dakota and found a majority of the state had converted to wearing spandex or tight-fitting uniforms, including all 17 schools in Class AA. A few schools, however, chose to not move in that direction for fear of making players uncomfortable.
Said one former player: "I wasn't the biggest girl on the team, and I was even uncomfortable playing. There were a couple of girls on our team who were more worried about the uniform than playing the game."
It appears some of the women on the Norwegian team might feel the same.
People, this isn’t funny, this isn’t cute and this certainly isn’t right. It’s sexist. Sports organizations must seriously evaluate this trend of flash over function and ensure uniform options exist for female athletes. Above all, the athletes themselves must be the ones who decide what they will wear during competition.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Grand Forks Herald.