You don’t have to be a huge sports fan to know that women in sports deal with a lot, especially surrounding their bodies. Under the guise of uniform requirements, officials go wild when it comes to policing what women wear. And, unfortunately, high-level organizations aren’t free from this type of misogyny. Recently, Norway’s handball team was fined for wearing spandex shorts instead of bikini bottoms with their uniforms, despite the fact that the sport’s governing body doesn’t even know why the bikini bottoms are required in the first place.
During a match against Spain in Bulgaria on Sunday, the Norwegian beach handball team wore thigh-length elastic shorts. That shouldn’t cause much of a stir, right? After all, men in the sport can wear shorts as long as 4 inches above the knee, as long as they are “not too baggy.” But under the International Handball Federation’s regulations, women don’t have the same flexibility. Instead, they have to wear bikini bottoms “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg.”
A day after the match, a statement from the European Handball Association’s Disciplinary Commission announced that the team was fined 1,500 euros for “improper clothing.” However, the problem doesn’t lie just with the requirements for women’s bottoms. In addition to the whole shorts issue, NBC News reported that men are also allowed to play in tank tops, while women must wear something more akin to a sports bra.
When asked by The New York Times about the bottoms rule, Jessica Rockstroh, a spokeswoman from the International Handball Federation, said she didn’t know why it existed. “We’re looking into it internally,” she told the Times.
At home, the women’s team trains in shorts anyway, according to Kåre Geir Lio, the Norwegian Handball Federation President. When abroad, though, they’re subject to the IHF’s standards. However, Lio is in full support of the women’s actions, telling NBC News that bikini bottoms are “not [appropriate clothing for] the activity when they are playing in the sand.”
This isn’t the first time that Norway’s women’s team has raised issues about the uniform. Per NBC News, Lio stated that the team petitioned to wear shorts from the start of the tournament. Rather than honoring their request, the EHA threatened them with a fine or disqualification.
Because Sunday’s match was a bronze medal game, the women decided to just do what they wanted from the start. Player Katinka Haltvik told Norwegian broadcaster NRK, “It was very spontaneous. We thought, ‘Let’s just do it now, and then see what happens.'”
Although the IHF doesn’t have any real response for why its rule exists, Rockstroh did try to justify the requirement. She told the Times that the organization that no one had complained before about the rule, adding, “Globally we know that other countries like to play in bikinis, for example, especially in South America.”
Lio, however, told the outlet that Norway had in fact complained about the requirement as early as 2006. Besides, what other countries like to do is beside the point. It’s clear there’s no sporting reason to require women to wear bikini bottoms if the same is not asked of men.
“I don’t see why we can’t play in shorts,” Martine Welfler, one of the Norwegian players, told the Times. “With so much body shaming and stuff like that these days, you should be able to wear a little bit more when you play.”