Bye Bye Bikinis Athletes at the Olympics and Beyond Fight
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Bye-Bye Bikinis? Athletes on the Olympics and Past Struggle Sexist Uniforms – The Wall Road Journal

Off Model is a column that delves into developments in style and wonder.

IN 2004, then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter had an thought for making ladies’s soccer extra thrilling for spectators: tighter shorts. His feedback to the Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick advised that soccer may observe the lead of volleyball, the place the ladies’s uniforms are extra revealing than the boys’s. (Mr. Blatter, who has been banned from soccer by FIFA for moral violations together with unlawful bonus funds, didn’t reply to requests for remark)

Mr. Blatter’s opinion, whereas clearly retrograde, was unshocking to these—like me—who’ve performed ladies’s sports activities at any stage. As a high- college area hockey and lacrosse participant, I obtained extra “suggestions” concerning the size and elegance of my game-day kilt from fellow college students and passersby than every other facet of the sports activities. Even on lacrosse match days, after I needed to drag a 6-foot-long antiquated picket stick to each class, the feedback have been nonetheless concerning the skimpy outfit. Though I occurred to love the old style appeal of the standard skirt, more often than not my teammates and I’d have most well-liked the choice to put on shorts. It struck me then as now that the brief skirt enforced a way of objectification across the sports activities. The main focus was within the improper place.

In latest weeks, a number of elite athletes have expressed comparable issues as conversations about ladies’s athletic uniforms surfaced but once more. The German ladies’s gymnastics group wore full-body unitards to compete within the Olympics in Tokyo this previous Sunday as a substitute of the extra widespread bikini-cut leotard. In April, when the group first wore this covered-up look (which, although permitted by the game’s governing our bodies, is uncommon), the German Gymnastics Federation tweeted that it was an announcement in opposition to “sexualization in gymnastics.” It doesn’t appear coincidental that that is the primary summer time Olympic video games to happen following the 2018 sentencing of Larry Nassar for widespread sexual abuse inside the sport.

German gymnastics group member Pauline Schaefer-Betz competes within the 2021 Tokyo Olympics sporting a unitard, which the group has stated is an announcement in opposition to sexualization within the sport.


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The earlier week, the Norwegian ladies’s seaside handball group was fined 1500 euros (equal to $1783) by the European Handball Federation for its insistence on sporting shorts as a substitute of the mandated bikini bottoms on the European Seashore Handball Championships in Bulgaria. Following a world uproar—the singer Pink even supplied to pay the group’s tremendous—the EHF donated the tremendous to a corporation selling equality in sports activities. Michael Wiederer, president of the EHF, stated his group “will do all it could to make sure that a change in athlete uniform rules may be applied.”

Talitha Stone, a 32-year-old Aussie dwelling in Norway, began a petition instantly after the controversial seaside handball match to help the Norwegian group. It has amassed over50,000 signatures. “It’s on a reasonably large platform that we’re seeing these sorts of adjustments being pushed by ladies’s groups,” stated Ms. Stone of the one-two-punch strikes taken by the Norwegian handball group and the German gymnastics group. “So it could’t be ignored anymore. And I feel that is going to start out a sequence response and extra ladies are going to start out doing the identical factor.” 

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Paralympian Olivia Breen, proven right here on the British Athletics Championships in June, stated she was referred to as out on the competitors for her shorts being too brief.


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Whereas each of those extremely publicized examples contain ladies agitating in opposition to revealing uniforms, athletes are additionally policed in the wrong way. Welsh Paralympian Olivia Breen, who competes in sprints and lengthy soar, stated she was referred to as out by a feminine official at this month’s English Championships for sporting shorts deemed too brief. After the incident, Ms. Breen tweeted an announcement which learn partly, “I recognise that there must be rules and tips with reference to competitors package however ladies shouldn’t be made to really feel self-conscious about what they’re sporting when competing however ought to really feel snug and relaxed.” An England Athletics spokesperson stated, “We’re conscious of the put up and can be investigating as a matter of urgency. The wellbeing of all members in athletics is of the utmost significance and everybody ought to really feel snug to compete and take part within the sport.”

Jaime Schultz, the creator of “Qualifying Occasions: Factors of Change in U.S. Ladies’s Sport” and a professor at Penn State, stated that each one three of those latest cases are related. “It’s all the time about controlling what ladies put on by way of the lens of what individuals consider as applicable femininity and applicable sexuality. You’ll be able to’t be too horny, however you’ll be able to’t be too female and you’ll’t be too masculine. It’s a ‘you’ll be able to’t win for dropping’ form of factor.”

The historical past of girls’s sports activities is rife with examples of makes an attempt to regulate ladies’s uniforms, typically targeted on whether or not to make them kind of modest. Ladies started taking part within the Olympics in small numbers beginning across the flip of the final century, however for essentially the most half, have been solely permitted to play sports activities that allowed them to put on lengthy skirts: tennis, crusing, croquet, equestrianism and golf. Pictures of British tennis participant Charlotte Cooper, who received the gold medal in Paris in 1900, present her in a long-sleeved shirt, tie, ankle-length skirt and, seemingly, a corset. It can not have been conducive to athleticism. In 1955, officers barred Billie Jean King from a gaggle picture of fellow tennis gamers as a result of she was sporting shorts as a substitute of a skirt. In 2011 as ladies’s boxing ramped up, the Newbie Worldwide Boxing Affiliation inspired ladies to put on skirts so that they might be differentiated from males (shorts quickly prevailed).

Right now, the message from many feminine athletes is that they need extra alternative round what they put on, in order that they will really feel relaxed and give attention to their work. Susanne Pettersen, one of many gamers on the Norwegian seaside handball group, defined to me that she discovered the bikini bottoms unsuitable for the game as a result of it entails acrobatic actions comparable to 360-degree pirouettes and jumps. She and her teammates additionally felt deeply uncomfortable after they found the existence of movies and footage specializing in their our bodies circulating on-line. (These have since been eliminated to her data, though close-ups of girls’s our bodies are nonetheless widespread in sports activities protection.) As she put it, “We’ve got to shift the main target to the game and our efficiency, and never how we glance.“

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Australian seaside handball participant Rose Boyd at left, photographed together with her kids, husband (additionally a seaside handball participant) and sister-in-law. The distinction in ladies’s and males’s uniforms is clear right here.


Rose Boyd

What’s extra, Ms. Pettersen stated, altering costume codes in sports activities comparable to seaside handball may encourage extra women and girls to take part. Rose Boyd, an Australian seaside handball participant in Queensland, voiced comparable hopes after we spoke. She remembers that when she returned to the game after having her second youngster, “my focus was extra about how I used to be going to look within the bikini than how I used to be going to carry out.” She stated the uniform has deterred individuals she is aware of from enterprise the pursuit: “A number of associates that I attempted to encourage to play the game weren’t eager to present it a shot in any respect as a result of they didn’t need to put on the bikini.”

Athletic uniforms are sometimes dictated by the person sport’s governing physique. Some issues, in fact, transcend pure desire. In lots of sports activities, for instance, the members of a group should costume identically to be differentiated from their rivals on the sphere. In swimming, the size of 1’s swimsuit is immediately correlated to aerodynamics and thus efficiency, so all swimmers’ fits should conform to a typical. However barring such examples, athletes are more and more questioning accepted knowledge round outfits. The Ladies’s Sports activities Basis, an advocacy group based in 1974 for girls athletes, presently has a place paper on uniforms which states that, “Athletes must be afforded most flexibility within the alternative of uniform materials and kinds.”

Dr. Schultz, the Penn State professor, in contrast this motion to the marketing campaign ladies have lengthy waged to put on what they want at a extra conventional office like an workplace. “That is [the athletes’] office they usually’re there to do a job,” she defined. “In the event that they’re dressing in a method that makes them really feel extra snug or provides them some form of psychological edge, who’s to argue in opposition to that?”


Seashore handball participant Rose Boyd is ready to put on shorts at a 2020 native event in Australia, the place the federation relaxes the foundations for home play.


Chris Seen

Write to Rory Satran at

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