NYT > Sports
When Lucie Marie Kretzschmar, beach handball player for Germany, was taking part in a tournament in Romania, she noticed a front row viewer filming attentively with his mobile phone.
When she left the field, she saw that he was zooming in on the bodies of players dressed in bikini bottoms as required by the sports federation. Then she saw him at two other games and took on players again.
The 2019 tournament left a question for Ms. Kretzschmar and her teammates: Were the spectators there to watch them play as top athletes or to stare at their bodies?
“I really thought: ‘Okay, maybe they don’t look at us as professional players,’” said Ms. Kretzschmar, but rather as “their leisure activity, watching girls in bikinis”.
Event organizers eventually asked the man to leave, but the team’s question persisted, along with other concerns about sexism and double standards affecting female athletes at all levels of competition and in sports such as gymnastics, badminton, and tennis.
On Wednesday, Hassan Moustafa, President of the International Handball Federation, said after international outrage over the issue that new rules will be “very likely” to be enacted.
Last month, Norway’s women’s beach handball team was fined € 1,500 for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms in the championship bronze medal match in Bulgaria, a penalty that has been widely condemned, a petition against the rule and an offer the singer pink that fine.
Teams from Germany, Sweden, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Spain and American Samoa have put pressure on the IHF, the governing body of sport, to change its rules.
The IHF requires women to wear bikini bottoms “with a tight fit and an upward cut towards the top of the leg”. The sides of the bikini bottoms must not be more than 10 cm long. Men, on the other hand, can wear shorts up to ten centimeters above their knees as long as they are “not too wide”.
Norway’s handball federation suggested last week that the IHF lift its bikini bottoms rule, highlighting the double standards of clothing for male and female athletes. “Players should have two to four options to choose from,” the suggestion suggests.
So far, the IHF, based in Basel, Switzerland, has announced that it will not be able to make any changes until its international conference in November.
The association has decided that female players must wear bikini bottoms because these were the rules for beach volleyball played on the same surface, Moustafa said in a statement.
The IHF also said it was “unfortunate” that Norwegian players wore shorts during the Olympic Games against the league rules.
“Because of the timing of their protest and campaign, the athletes’ performances were simply overshadowed,” the organization said.
The Danish handball federation wrote in a letter to the IHF in May that several Danish players had decided not to take part in this year’s tournament because they felt uncomfortable in bikinis.
“Many feel downright uncomfortable having to wear such tiny clothes that do not include much more than underwear,” the letter says. The Danish federation requested an exception to the rules to allow its players to wear shorts, but the request was denied, the organization said.
Danish women’s team coach Morten Frandsen Holmen said: “If you type in ‘beach handball’ into Google, you will find thousands of photos of women that make you think, ‘Is it important for the sport that we have this uniform? ? ‘”In interviews, players from multiple teams said that worrying about bikini bottoms was distracting them from the game.
Kare Geir Lio, chairwoman of the Norwegian Handball Federation, said Norway had repeatedly complained about the requirement to the IHF since 2006, on the grounds that some women are ashamed of having bared so much of their bodies and that the requirement is for some are insensitive to cultural norms.
In American Samoa, for example, where many people dress conservatively, the bikini rule felt particularly uncomfortable among young beach handball players, said players and coaches in the region.
When the territory’s youth beach handball team won the 2017 regional championship, players between the ages of 15 and 17 didn’t want to wear bikini bottoms to compete on the next level, according to CJ Sagapolutele Floor Sr., the head coach of The Team.
However, the IHF informed the league that the players, who normally wear shorts, would have to wear the bikini bottoms if they wanted to compete in the World Cup in Mauritius.
“I had to get parental permission first,” said Sagapolutele Floor, who is also vice president of the Oceania continent’s handball federation. Parents eventually agreed, but the girls were embarrassed to see photos of themselves from the game, including ones with their legs open, he said.
Budding athletes chose not to join the league because of clothing, he said. “It doesn’t seem right that men can wear shorts and a leotard and women should wear a bikini and sports bra,” he added.
Naomi Mataua Aasa, a beach handball player for the American Samoa team, said the rule caused humiliation for female players.
The girls were sexually molested by male gamblers because of the uniforms, she said, and photos posted on social media included embarrassing images of their bodies.
The uniform rules showed that “we are there to put on a show instead of being identified as athletes”.