The Norwegian women’s handball team is at the center of a clothing controversy. Their decision to wear shorts instead of the officially prescribed bikini bottoms saw them whacked with a EUR 1,500 fine by the European Handball Federation. In the current era of #MeToo, their choice of clothing, and subsequent fine, has left many confused and enraged about the double standards, sexualization, and patronizing of women in sport.
NOK 15,000 fine for simply wearing shorts
When the Norwegian women’s handball team played Spain, on July 18, for the Bronze medal in the European Handball Federation Euro 2021 tournament, they did so in shorts. Having played the whole tournament in the “correct” uniform for women (bikini bottoms) they felt that they needed to make a stand in this game.
The result was that the European Handball Federation handed them a EUR 1,500 fine (approximately NOK 15,000) for “a case of improper clothing.”
Going into the tournament, the Norwegian team had given officials advance warning that they intended to play that match in shorts instead of the skimpy bikini bottoms that the women had been wearing all tournament. The women felt that not only were these bikini bottoms impractical (due to the amount of falling and diving in sand) but that they are also degrading to women.
Double standard rules for uniforms?
In what many have seen as a double standard, there are different rules for the male and female uniforms. The International Handball Federation, which officiates the sport, has clear regulations for what women and men can wear during the game as uniforms.
The Federation clearly states, in its official rulebook, that “female athletes must wear bikini bottoms” which means that women are thus forced to wear a skimpy and revealing uniform. For men, however, they are allowed to not only wear shorts but can even be baggy so long as “they remain 10 centimeters above the kneecap”. For the men, these uniforms would only be considered skimpy and revealing, perhaps, a century ago.
Upon handing down its decision, the European Handball Federation said that “The Disciplinary Commission at the Beach Handball EURO 2021 has dealt with a case of improper clothing…the team of Norway played with shorts that are not according to the Athlete Uniform Regulations defined in the IHF Beach Handball Rules of the Game.” So, for the “crime” of simply wearing shorts, out of a need for both comfort and privacy, the team was handed a NOK 15,000 fine. In 2021. The third decade of the 21st century.
Fine met with sense of solidarity and utter disbelief
Whilst the decision was met with disbelief by some, the Norwegian Handball Federation has strongly backed its players. President Kare Geir Lio told AFP that not only would the Federation pay the fine but that “we are all in the same boat”. In an Instagram post, player Martine Wafler was grateful for all the positive support the team has received and said “this positive feedback is insane and I can’t believe it to be honest”.
The move to fine the team for wearing shorts was met with disbelief by the Norwegian Volley Association President Erik Sørdal. Talking with NTB he said that “it should not be the case that in 2021 this is an issue again.”
The Association knows only too well the battle against women wearing such skimpy attires facing its own battles against the authorities since the sport became an Olympic one in 1996. The International Volleyball Association eventually lifted the requirement for women to wear a bikini, in 2012, and female athletes now have tot option to choose bikini bottoms, tights, or shorts.
Outcry is based upon “disinformation,” according to Federation
In reply, the European Handball Federation has taken a rather bullish and combative stance. It said, according to NPR, that “from a European perspective, the reaction is based on disinformation on the procedure”.
Furthermore, the Federation noted, the Norwegian team had only made one request, in April, to discuss a change of uniform for the female team. No more requests had been made since then. However, it did concede that women’s uniforms would be right at the top of the agenda when the newly established Beach Handball Commission adjourns for the first time in August.
That the European Handball Commission is receiving bad press and bad publicity for this decision should surprise no one. Regardless of the fact that the Norwegian team had only requested a discussion for the change of uniform, one time, the fine is outrageous. The women on the team simply wanted to wear something that they both felt comfortable in and modest in.
Yes, technically, they did “break” a clear written rule and regulation of the game but they also did give an advance warning and they did so only to regain some sort of dignity
Sexist attitudes of those in power must change
With this fine, it appears that a desperate change is needed in those governing the European Bach handball and, perhaps, sport in general. Given the vast array of sport this year- back on after a COVID led hiatus last year – there will be world or regional championships in swimming, rugby union, rugby league handball, football, netball, ice hockey, cycling, equestrian events, and even table tennis – sport seems ever-present.
Yet how inclusive are the governing bodies of these sports? How many women are in charge or positions of power?
Given that the start of the (delayed) 2020 Tokyo Olympics, one only has to look at the perfect storm of resignations and disgraceful attitude of some of the men in charge. The Head of the Tokyo Organising Olympics committee, Yoshiro Mori, resigned earlier this year after making a spate of sexist comments including that women “talk too much.”
Barely a month later, the Creative Director of the Opening Ceremony, Hiroshi Sasaki, resigned due to its idea of dressing a plus-sized model as a pig or – as he put it – an “Olympig.” How these men ended up in charge of a major global sports event beggars belief!
Sport and politics…don’t mix?
There is an old adage that sports and politics do not mix. However, in recent times, sports have been charged with political protests, movements, and messages.
The Black Lives Matter protest movement, which highlights social, economic, and political injustice for non-white peoples has seen many athletes “take a knee” in solidarity. The decision to not let the German football authorities light up a stadium, in the Pride flag colors, caused widespread condemnation and disbelief.
Norwegian teams too, given the equitable, democratic, and open society in which they come from, have also been at the forefront of pushing social and political issues. The Norwegian men’s football team has openly discussed boycotting the next World Cup (should they qualify) in Qatar due to its horrendous human rights record. They have become humanitarian trendsetters.
Perhaps, the women’s beach handball team can use this fine to start a discussion about the role of women in sport, the inbuilt misogyny, double standards, blatant sexism, and sexualization that permeates most female professional sport. The European Handball Federation should rescind the fine and apologize before it is too late. A whole generation of girls is watching.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Norway Today unless specifically stated.
About the author:
Jonathan is a lover of the written word. He believes the best way to combat this polarization of news and politics, in our time, is by having a balanced view. Both sides of the story are equally important. He also enjoys traveling and live music.
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