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Women’s sports clothing controversy: IHF changed the rules for beach handball players

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Women’s sports clothing controversy: IHF changed the rules for beach handball players

A few months ago, the Norwegian team was fined 1.500€ for wearing shorts but not bikini bottoms during an Euro 21 tournament’s game.

A new step has been recently reached for women in sports. At the beginning of this week, the International Handball Federation (IHF) stated that the women beach handball players were finally allowed to wear something else than bikini bottoms to play. As promised by the IHF to the Guardian in August, “a proposal for new uniforms [was] presented to the body’s council in November”.

A new era?

They are not really equal to men yet on this scale - since their clothes must be fitted - but it’s another small victory for the right of women to dispose of their own bodies. In fact, “female athletes must wear a body fit tank top, short tight pants and eventual accessories” while regular shorts – 10cm long above the knee, “if not too baggy” - are the norm for men, according to the IHF rules.

“I hope this is the beginning of the end of sexism and objectification of women and girls in sport”, appreciates Talitha Stone, leader of Collective Shout’s 2012 campaign, in the Guardian. “And that in future all women and girls will be free to participate in sport without fear of wardrobe malfunctions and sexual harassment”, she hopes.

Norwegian’s case

A few months ago, a huge polemic had gone through the women’s beach handball world. In July, the Norwegian played with shorts but not the regulatory bikini bottoms, to protest against these clothing rules, in their game facing Spain for the third place of the Euro 21 tournament.

Contrary to their men counterparts that were allowed to wear shorts, the 10 players had received a 1.500 € penalty - each one of them were fined 150 €. At that time, beach handball women’s teams were only allowed to wear “bikini bottoms” and “crop tops”. The European Handball Federation (EHF) justified the sanction by “improper clothing”. And both European and International federations stated that it was “committed to popularising beach handball”.

Under pressure

A way to promote beach handball for some so, an act of sexism for others. Luisa Rizzitelli is one of the latter. The President of Assist, an Italian association for the rights of female athletes accused: “This is a blatantly sexist custom that needs to be eliminated”. The sport’s global governing bodies gave in under the important pressure imposed all around the world by sport’s crews, political figures, celebrities, and more.

With six other associations, they had written a letter to the organizations asking them to resign and pointing the fact that they “have established an embarrassing point of no return regarding their image as international sports institutions”.

“Not only did they not immediately drop the rule [after the incident with Norway], but they confirmed the fine – that’s the shameful thing”, Rizzitelli condamned.

The pop star Pink supported the players on social media, on the 25th of July: “I’m very proud of the Norwegian female beach handball team for protesting sexist rules about their uniform”. She even offered to pay their fines!

A few days ago, sports ministers from Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark urged the IHF in an open letter to change these uniforms’ rules.

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