With the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday, there is progress to be celebrated on the road to women’s equality in elite sports.
In 1900, the first year that women competed in the Olympics, 2.2% of competitors were women. This year, 48.8% of competitors are, compared to 45% in 2016.
And women’s events and their stars, at the Olympics and other competitions, are gaining more attention than ever. More coverage attracts new fans, and they remain interested, because the competitions are fantastic: intense, balletic, athletic and fierce.
But there are still startling inequalities, especially when it comes to sexualization and uniforms, between women’s and men’s sports. Uniform conflicts continue to involve gender, racial and religious prejudices.
It’s a losing game that must end.
The Norwegian women’s beach handball team is receiving unprecedented attention after being fined by the European Handball Federation on Monday. Their offense? Players refused to wear the required bikini bottom and instead wore fairly long shorts, such as members of the men’s beach handball team. Each player was fined 150 euros (approximately $ 175).
Beach handball is not an Olympic event, although it is featured at the Youth Olympic Games, but controversy renews complaints about the rules of Olympic sports, such as tennis, track and field and beach volleyball, where uniform requirements differ by gender. , and sexualize women.
In beach volleyball, for example, men wear non-revealing shirts and shorts, while women must don either bikini briefs with shirts at stomach level or one-piece suits cut high on the leg, with an open back and a mostly exposed chest.
Such sexualization can be surprisingly open. In 2011, for example, the World Badminton Federation declared in order to promote a “more attractive presentation”, women had to wear skirts or dresses specifically to rekindle fans’ interest in the sport.
And competitors who are ready to wear light clothing can also be attacked for this. Olivia Breen, an elite Paralympian long jumper and British sprinter, was recently confronted with an official who said her socks, almost identical to those beach handball players are required to wear, were too skinny.
Then there is the swim cap controversy. With the With the Olympics just around the corner, FINA, which oversees swimming internationally, has yet to rule on whether black British swimmer Alice Dearing can wear a “Soul Cap” that properly covers her thick hair after initially banning it because it “does not match the natural shape of the head.”
Forcing female competitors to dress shamelessly repels many girls, especially if they come from lower religions or cultures. It also pushes back women and men, who believe that women’s competition should focus on athletics, not the breasts and buttocks.
Shaming women who want to compete in underwear is no better. The racist and xenophobic bans on headgear are not either.
All athletes should be allowed to compete in clothing that allows them to be physically and emotionally comfortable.
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