Biker shorts, denim shorts, cargo shorts, skorts or capris – trends come and go but what seems to remain are the sexist rules of the European Handball Federation. On July 20th 2021, the Norwegian volleyball team was fined €1,500 because the women players decided to wear shorts instead of bikini briefs during a bronze medal match at the European Beach Handball Championships.
The Norwegian Handball Federation had prior to the championship requested for women players to compete in short tights but were informed that this could lead to fines. If any country can afford to challenge sexist double standards it’s Norway. However, before the first game, The European Handball Federation threatened the Norwegian team with higher punishments, including the possibility of disqualification.
The rules broken by the Norwegian players specify that women should wear a bikini, where “the top should be a tight-fitting sports bra with deep openings at the arms” and “the bottom must not be more than ten centimetres on the sides”. This oddly specific requirement must have a purpose, you would think. Well, from the look of the men’s loose-fitting shorts and tank top uniform, the only purpose is to dictate women’s clothing at best and have a peek at their bum while doing so at worst.
The case of the Norwegian volleyball team received extra attention when British Paralympian, Olivia Breen, was told at the English Championships held the same week that her professional sprint shorts were too short. Can women win? And I don’t mean medals because we know they can. These examples illustrate the double standards in which societies simultaneously sexualise and shame women, and just how far we are from having basic respect for women and what they want to wear: Regardless of whether that involves a headscarf, a deep cut top or any form of athletic bottoms for a competition.
As far as volleyball goes, the International Volleyball Federation decided to get rid of the ridiculous bikini requirement in 2012, in doing so changing the rules applicable to the Olympics. The change was made out of respect for cultural beliefs and now permits shorts, in addition to sleeved or sleeveless tops. Yet, if you decide to tune in on an international volleyball match any time soon and wonder why players still stick to the briefs, rest assured that athletes know perfectly well what uniform they need to perform at their best, be it short or long shorts.