The women's handball team of Norway has been fined €1,500 ($1,765) for wearing shorts instead of the mandatory bikini bottoms expected at the European Beach Handball Championship, which took place at the weekend.
The players chose to wear shorts during a bronze medal match against Spain in Bulgaria, a decision the European Handball Federation has punished by imposing a fine, citing a case of "improper clothing".
A disciplinary commission stated a fine of "€150 per player, for a total of €1,500" would be imposed. The Norwegian Handball Federation had already said it would pay if the players were fined.
Jessica Rockstroh, a spokesperson for the International Handball Federation (IHF), said on Tuesday she did not know the reason for the rules, but that they were "looking into it internally", as reported by The New York Times. She said the organisation had not received any other official complaints before, only from Norway. "Globally we know that other countries like to play in bikinis, for example, especially in South America."
The move received widespread backlash, being referred to as "sexist" and a "double standard".
The IHF requires women to wear bikini bottoms "with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg", according to its handbook. Men can wear shorts as long as 3.9 inches above the knee if they are "not too baggy".
"Can you please stop the forced bikini nonsense at your beach handball games?" wrote Norwegian politician Lene Westgaard-Halle on Twitter. "It is embarrassing, disgraceful and sexist. You are ruining both the sport and your own reputation."
“In 2021, it shouldn’t even be an issue,” Eirik Sordahl, president of the Norwegian Volleyball Federation, told national news agency NTB.
Hafsa Lodi, author of Modesty: A Fashion Paradox, says the rules are "absolutely ludicrous".
"For all the progress we've made in making fashion more inclusive over the past half-decade, shining a light on the drawbacks of a traditionally male-dominated fashion industry and celebrating the rise of the global modest fashion movement that caters to modesty-conscious women, I think it's absolutely ludicrous that Norway's female handball team was denied adding just a few inches of fabric to their uniforms to ensure their bums were covered," Lodi tells The National.
"When we have an Olympian hijabi fencer and numerous hijab-wearing athletes who wear leggings and long sleeves under their sleeveless tops and shorts while practising sports, it's mind-boggling to think that women wishing to trade in their bikini bottoms for less-revealing shorts cannot have their wishes accommodated, even though male handball players are allowed to wear shorts."
Women may choose to cover their skin for numerous reasons, says Lodi, ranging from religious beliefs to comfort, and rules like this can deter women who dress modestly from becoming professional athletes altogether.
"In light of wider demands for gender equality across the board, the European Handball Federation should really revisit its uniform requirements for women. Fashion has been historically created to cater to the male gaze, and since men are allowed to wear shorts while women can only wear bikini bottoms, the federation's uniform rules seem to be inspired by this sort of deeply entrenched societal narrative that places undue focus on women's bodies over their talent and merit, and sexualise women instead of prioritising their comfort and their needs.
"A few more inches of fabric, after all, will not impact their performance in the sport."
Kare Geir Lio, head of the Norwegian Handball Federation, says the country has repeatedly complained about the bikini bottoms requirement to the IHF since 2006, saying it was insensitive to some countries' cultural norms and embarrassing for some women, according to The New York Times.
“Women should have the right to have a uniform they think is suitable for performing in their sport."