Updated: Sep 2, 2022
It is no secret that women’s bodies can achieve incredible feats, from childbirth to elite athletic performances. Unfortunately, society is still too focused on what women’s bodies look like, rather than what they cando.
Last week, the International Handball Federation fined Norway’s women’s beach handball team for wearing spandex shorts, instead of the required bikini bottoms during their bronze medal match at the European Handball Championships. Required bikini bottoms, you read that right. The International Handball Federation requires women to wear bikini bottoms “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg.” The side fabric on the bikini bottoms is limited to four inches. In stark contrast, men can wear shorts as long as they are not too baggy and are no longer than four inches above the knee.
Since it is permissible for men to wear shorts, it is clear that shorts do not provide an illegal competitive advantage. Thus, there is no reasonable justification for requiring women athletes to wear bikini bottoms when men do not face similar requirements. Even worse, the International Handball Federation was unable to produce any reasoning for the rule whatsoever. This is unacceptable. While the double standard regarding uniforms is abhorrent, it is important to note that banning bikini bottoms will not solve the problem.
Unless there is a competitive advantage, an athlete’s clothing choice is none of any athletic federation’s business. As long as there is no illegal competitive advantage, athletes should be allowed to choose whatever uniform is most comfortable for them to compete in. A woman who prefers bikini bottoms should be allowed to sport them without question, comment, or punishment. A woman who prefers shorts instead of bikini bottoms should equally be allowed to do so without question, comment, or punishment.
As women’s sports are featured on the global stage at the Tokyo Olympics over the next few weeks, let’s remember to appreciate what women can do instead of focusing on what they can wear. After all, it is what these women have done that earned them spots in the Olympics, not what they wore. It is time to let women dress themselves.
Dani Bland is a 3L at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law where she is Editor in Chief of the Sports Law Society Blog. She was a 12-time NCAA Track All American at Emory University. For inquiries, email [email protected] or dm on Twitter at @DaniB_315.