The International Handball Federation has responded to widespread accusations of sexism by changing its rules around women’s uniforms to allow bike shorts and tank tops instead of bikini bottoms and crop tops.
The sport’s global governing body has been the subject of international pressure since July, when the European Handball Federation made headlines for imposing a €1,500 fine on the Norwegian women’s beach handball team for wearing shorts like their male counterparts during the Euro 21 tournament in Bulgaria. At the time, the EHF described the shorts as “improper clothing”.
At some point over the past month the IHF has quietly altered its regulations for beach handball, which now stipulate that “female athletes must wear short tight pants with a close fit”. Male athletes can still wear regular shorts as long as 10cm above the knee “if not too baggy”.
It follows a campaign by Norway-based Australian activist Talitha Stone, whose petition – supported by gender equality organisation Collective Shout – attracted 61,000 signatures.
“I hope this is the beginning of the end of sexism and objectification of women and girls in sport,” said Stone, who led Collective Shout’s 2012 campaign against the Lingerie Football League. “And that in future all women and girls will be free to participate in sport without fear of wardrobe malfunctions and sexual harassment.”
In July, US pop star Pink threw her support behind the Norwegian team, tweeting her pride in them “protesting the very sexist rules” and offering to pay their fines. The country’s minister for culture and sport, Abid Raja, described the ruling as being “completely ridiculous” and women’s sports associations across Europe also called for the resignation of the presidents of both the IHF and the EHF.
Last month, the sports ministers from five European countries – Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland – wrote a joint letter to the IHF urging them to update archaic dress regulations “not only to accommodate current female athletes, but also to support and encourage all athletes regardless of their gender or background to remain in sport”.
At the time, the IHF rules stated that female players playing beach handball must wear “tops and bikini bottoms and eventual accessories”, while male players wear “tank tops and shorts and eventual accessories”.
Even now, there are differences in terms of requirements for women to wear uniforms that are “body fit” and “tight” when there is no corresponding rule for men.
Female athletes have spoken out against uniform double standards numerous times. Women are required to wear more revealing outfits in several sports, including track and field, beach volleyball and tennis.
In 2011, the Badminton World Federation decreed that women must wear skirts or dresses to play at the elite level in order to help revive flagging interest in women’s badminton.
A decade later, in July this year, double Paralympic world champion Olivia Breen said she was left speechless and outraged after being told that her competition briefs were “too short and inappropriate” by an official while competing at the English Championships a few weeks before the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.