Women Handball Players Can Now Wear Shorts Without Getting Fined

The new rule comes after growing pressure from athletes to change uniform requirements deemed sexist.
November 2, 2021, 9:35am
women, athletes, olympics, sports, sexism, uniform, shorts, Norwegian, pink
Women athletes can now wear shorts like their male counterparts. Photo: Maxim Tumanov / Sputnik via AP

Gone are the bikini bottoms women beach handball players were required to wear during games. 

In updated rules published last month, the International Handball Federation, the sport’s governing body, dropped the uniform requirement many called sexist. Now, “Female athletes must wear short tight pants with a close fit,” the guidelines state.  

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The federation did not explain why they changed the rule. But the move came just months after growing pressure from athletes to rewrite discriminatory uniform guidelines, an issue that was discussed on a global scale at the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year.

In July, just days before the Summer Games opened, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team was fined 1,500 euros ($1,770) for wearing shorts like their male counterparts’, a violation of the European Handball Federation’s rules.

The penalty prompted outrage from a number of critics, including American pop musician P!nk, who offered to cover the fine. The Norwegian women’s handball team itself called it a “nonsense rule,” and said its players felt “very proud” about defying the bikini bottom requirement by playing in shorts.

At the Tokyo Games, an Olympics that organizers said was a landmark for gender equality, German women gymnasts also chose to wear full-length unitards instead of the usual bikini-cut leotards to resist “sexualization,” the German Gymnastics Foundation said. 

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The acts of defiance speak to a growing pushback against the persistent sexualization of athletes against their will.

A VICE World News investigation found just how frequently women Olympians were subjected to such sexualization on a popular section of Reddit openly dedicated to “sexually invigorating” photos of athletes, including those of wardrobe malfunctions of women competing in contact sports. Reddit later removed such photos, although most images that don’t feature nudity have remained.

Ahead of the Tokyo Games, the Japanese Olympic organizers, along with several other athletic bodies, pledged to eliminate sexually exploitative photos of athletes.

In May, a 37-year-old man in Japan was arrested for copyright infringement after he allegedly uploaded photos of women athletes, accompanied by suggestive comments, without their consent to a porn website he operated.

Weeks later, a 57-year-old man was arrested after he allegedly filmed a volleyball player using an infrared camera to highlight her underwear while she was competing and warming up, and posted the video online.

On Monday, the Norwegian Handball Federation president Kåre Geir Lio told NBC News that the updated uniform guideline was “both a real and symbolic step” toward resolving sexism in the sport, though the uniforms still differ for men and women. 

Women’s shorts must have a close fit, whereas men’s can be loose and must be at least 10 centimeters above the knee line. The new rule will come into force in 2022.

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