International sporting authorities are really going out of their way to enrage potential new fans — that is the only way I can think to explain the latest athletic news out of Norway. According to the New York Times, the European Handball Federation just fined the Norwegian women’s beach team for wearing tiny little shorts rather than bikini bottoms during a championship match in Bulgaria last week.
A reasonable question to ask here might be: Why does the European Handball Federation care, if bike shorts get the job done? Another is: Does the European Handball Federation not have better things to do than police the length of women’s athletic gear? A natural third: Do they impose similarly revealing mandates for male beach handballers? Let’s start with the first one.
According to the Times, the International Handball Federation — unfortunately this matter goes all the way to the top — dictates that women wear sports bras and bikini bottoms “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg,” and sides shorter than four inches, during beach competition. Pressed to explain the existence of such seemingly arbitrary guidelines, IHF spokesperson Jessica Rockstroh could not point to any specific reasoning, telling the Times: “We’re looking into it internally.” Still, she noted, “Globally we know that other countries like to play in bikinis, for example, especially in South America.”
Norway, by contrast, likes to play in little spandex shorts, and in fact, has been petitioning the IHF to let women wear them since 2006. But that was not enough to help the Norwegian Handball Federation avoid a fine of 150 euros, or approximately $177, per player for this protest of baseless rules. The total tab comes to $1,770, a fee the singer Pink (I bet you didn’t expect to see P-nk here) has offered to pay. Explaining in a tweet that she is “VERY proud” of the team for protesting the “VERY SEXIST” uniform rules, Pink continued: “The European handball federation SHOULD BE FINED FOR SEXISM. Good on ya, ladies. I’ll be happy to pay your fines for you. Keep it up.”
The Norwegian Handball Federation also stands behind its players and seems prepared to help them fight this battle, but nice to know that Pink is there should anyone need her. In any case, charging $1,770 for a uniform violation sounds like a racket to me — particularly when you consider that the IHF allows male competitors to wear tank tops and shorts, provided the shorts hit at least four inches above the knee and are “not too baggy.” For Martine Welfler, a member of Norway’s beach handball team, the discrepancy makes no sense: “With so much body shaming and stuff like that these days, you should be able to wear a little bit more when you play.” And as her teammate Katinka Haltvik previously pointed out to Norwegian broadcaster NRK, the bikini requirement may alienate some would-be players: “It shouldn’t be the case that people don’t want to take part because of the outfit.”
Personally, I suspect that the requirement for women to show a lot of leg may have something to do with the IHF wanting to attract spectators — recall the time the Badminton World Federation made women play in skirts or dresses at the Olympics to boost ratings — though that is just a hunch I have. Anyway, this is just the latest example of an athletic agency clinging to archaic policy for archaic policy’s sake. In recent weeks, we have rehashed the International Olympic Committee’s anti-protest policy; USA Track & Field’s comparably outdated view on legal weed; and the International Swimming Federation’s Olympic ban on swim caps designed specifically for natural hair, just to name a few examples. With that in mind, I am once again asking that the sport lords simply cool it, and let the women wear little shorts if they want to.
This article has been updated.