Are The Skimpy Beach Handball Bikinis At The Olympics Really Necessary?

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The Summer Olympics are here. 

The world tunes in to see extraordinary athletes compete for the gold, and most of us are not paying particular attention to what they’re wearing. 

Or why they have to wear it

That changed this summer before the Olympics got underway, for a sport that isn’t even in the games. 


Fined For Covering Up

It began at the European Beach Handball Championships last week, when the Norwegian women’s team was FINED, yes, ORDERED TO PAY MONEY, when the players donned shorts instead of bikini bottoms. 

The team turned up for their match wearing the total coverage bottoms (oh, the horror) instead of teeny bikinis, which is a no-no according to the International Handball Federation’s official rules. 

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Those rules state that the shorts were “not according to the athlete uniform regulations defined in the IHF beach handball rules of the game,” leading to all 10 members being fined $240 each. 

The issue caught the attention of nations around the world; Pink even offered to pay the Norwegian team’s fines.

Let’s look at the dimensions on the official regulation bottoms, shall we? 

“The bottom must not be more than ten centimetres on the sides.”

10 centimeters = 3.937 inches. A small measurement that’s not a Brazilian cut bottom, but close. 

The team captain told national broadcaster NRK that they were threatened with disqualification if they didn’t wear the regulation bottoms.

“So then we are forced to play with panties. It is so embarrassing,” she said.

Forcing women to compete while scantily clad because of some archaic rule, which, let’s face it, was probably made up by men at the start of the Olympic Games way back when, is sexist at best and abusive at worst

They were willing to pay, and the Norwegian Handball Federation stepped up to support the women by offering to pay the fines, but they ultimately ended up playing in bikini bottoms to avoid disqualification. 

“We are very proud of these girls who are at the European Championships in beach handball,” the federation said in a statement.

“They raised their voice and told us that enough is enough. We are the Norwegian Handball Federation and we stand behind you and support you. We will continue to fight to change the international regulations for attire so that players can play in the clothing they are comfortable with.”

They lost the bronze medal match, but the team spoke about the overwhelming support they’ve gotten from all over the world for standing up to the ridiculous bikini regulations. 

France’s beach handball team manager Valerie Nicolas expressed that her teammates had uncertainties about the rule on bikini bottoms.

“We have lost players due to the suits,” she told newspaper Verdens Gang. 

“The players tell me they are uncomfortable, feel naked, and watched. It is a sport with a lot of movement and you are hindered by the bikini.

“There is also discomfort associated with menstruation and not least religion.”

Which brings us to this year’s Olympic dress code/official uniform controversy. 

Women’s Beach Volleyball Dress Code

Why, in the year 2021, can’t women wear what they want to compete in a sport they love and trained for most of their lives?

They’ve trained their asses off. And not so we can gawk at their asses

In my opinion, if women have to play in bikini bottoms, so should men. 

Now, I don’t particularly want to see men in Speedos, aka Banana Hammocks, Grape Smugglers or Snake in a Pouch, but fair is fair. 

There shouldn’t be two sets of rules, but of course there are — there always have been, and it’s infuriating. 

When it comes to the official Olympics dress codes, women’s beach volleyball players are the only competitors subject to the bikini bottom mandate. 

Swimmers get to wear one-piece bathing suits. Runners can wear shorts. Gymnasts don’t have to wear two-pieces. You get the point. 

Again, the ONLY sport mandated to wear bikinis during the games are women’s beach volleyball players. 

Seems very sus to me, and I’m not alone. People all over the world have voiced their opposition to the bikini rule, lending support to the players.

Women’s Beach Volleyball In The Olympics

Beach volleyball officially dove into the Olympics in 1996 at the Atlanta summer games, and it became one of the most-watched events.  

Did that have something to do with the fuss around the revealing uniforms? Somewhat. 

During the London Olympics, players were allowed (ALLOWED??) to wear shorts and tops with sleeves, out of respect for countries with different standards and religious beliefs. 

But not for their own comfort — that would be crazy! 

So we go out of our way to make others comfortable with our bodies, but ignore women’s pleas to wear what they want and be comfortable in their own skin? MAKE IT MAKE SENSE, PLEASE. 

Pushing Back

Not only is beach volleyball embroiled in a tizzy for its bottoms rule — Paralympian Olivia Breen was recently told her track briefs were “too short and inappropriate” at an event in England. 

Breen, a long jump and 4 x 100m relay world champion, was told to write a formal complaint to UK Athletics so they could further investigate the matter.

Hopefully Breen’s letter will be taken seriously and can lead to change.

The Dress Code Rules

The international governing body for beach handball, Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB), has laid out players’ uniform guidelines for the Olympic Games.

Male beach volleyballers are required to wear a tank top and shorts, with FIVB rules stating: “For all athletes the bottom of the shorts must be a minimum of 10 cm above the top of the knee cap.”

Meanwhile, female beach volleyballers have four warm-weather options. In past Olympic Games, it was a one piece or a top and briefs (that had a maximum side of 7cm), but there are no longer dimensions for briefs. Teams must agree to the same style.

Women’s briefs “should be in accordance with the enclosed diagram, be a close fit and be cut on an upward angle towards the top of the leg.”

The one piece “must closely fit and the design must be with open back and upper chest, respecting the space for the required inscriptions to be made.”

The knee-length pants must “be a close fit and the design is recommended to feature total length of 47 cm (from waistband) and 3 cm above the knee, and a waistband of 6-7 cm wide.”

The shorts must “be a close fit and the design is recommended to feature total length of 26-28cm (from waistband) and 26cm above the knee, and a waistband of 6-7 cm wide.”

The FIVB stated that noncompliance of uniform regulations could see national federations fined up to $10,000 for each match in which the rules are infringed, while there is also the risk of disqualification.

Beach Volleyball Champion Talks Why She’s OK With The Bikini

Jennifer Kessy, a 2012 London beach volleyball silver medal winner, says the bikinis make perfect sense from an execution viewpoint. 

“Our suits need to fit just right so they don’t move places we don’t want them to move. So how about this: Let’s call them competition suits or competition gear — then perhaps it won’t make people uncomfortable or there won’t be a stigma attached.”

Today asked Kessy, former coach of Team USA’s April Ross and Alix Klineman, to weigh in on the uniform question ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, rescheduled for 2021.

Q: Why do beach volleyball players wear bikinis in competition?

A: With beach volleyball historically being played at the beach, what do you wear at the beach? A bathing suit. The beach is usually hot and sandy with a body of water near or next to the court. As a pro athlete, everyone has a different comfort level with either a bikini or one-piece bathing suit. Playing in a one-piece was never comfortable for me. It was restricting and limited my movements — imagine diving chest first and lodging more sand than you care to think down the front of your suit. You can’t keep it in there and it is not easy to get out. I found myself adjusting my one piece all the time and while it was embarrassing, sure, it also took my focus off the match I was playing. I started looking at my bikini as my competition suit, kind of like track and field.

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Q: How does the type of uniform you wear impact performance?

A: There are a few important factors when designing or picking your competition suit. Fabric is very important. It cannot be too thick or it will be much too hot and hold too much sand. Now, it also can’t be too thin or you have a privacy issue. The fit comes in a close second. A tailored fit is key — because all bodies are different and beautiful and we are playing a very high intensity and high impact sport.

Q: Would shorts be worse than a bikini bottom?

A: It’s totally a personal choice. It wasn’t comfortable for me. Way too sweaty and too much sand. But, in certain situations leggings could be a good option — just not in the heat. There are also certain times of the month that wearing a bikini isn’t always such a comfortable option, especially when you’re on TV. So it’s important to have the freedom to choose what works best for you.

“Players should be able to wear what they want and what makes them perform the best — and for me it was a bikini.”

Q: What impacts freedom of movement the most?

A: When you need to think about your gear during a play or timeout. I found myself putting things back in place during a rally when I should be focused on volleyball. Freedom of movement is different for everyone, so most of all, choose what is best for you and what lets you focus 100 percent on the game and not worrying about a malfunction.

It’s great that Kessy feels comfortable and able to be at peak performance in a bikini. 

But just because one woman feels this way, does not in any way, shape or form excuse women being forced to wear apparel that they do not want to by some old rules made up by who knows who during who knows when. 

What happens next is up to who else pushes back, if the Olympic higher-ups listen, and if we can all agree to let go of out of date, sexist “rules” that don’t allow women to wear what they want. 


What are your thoughts on the bikini debate? Share with us in the comments.

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