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Bewildering bikini rules highlight sport’s issue with archaic dress codes

In one of those “Excuse me, what?” moments last week, it was revealed that at the European Beach Handball Championships in Bulgaria, Norway’s female Olympic team was fined €1500 ($A2400) for what the European Federation called improper clothing and “a breach of clothing regulations”.

There are rules, apparently that insist that women must wear bikini bottoms, and rather tiny ones at that, while men wear shorts

It had truly never occurred to me that female elite athletes wearing skimpy bikini pants and crop tops could be an officially approved uniform.

I just assumed they wanted to wear them, because if I had a body that looked anywhere as fit as theirs, you’d probably see me in that outfit everywhere, 24/7, shops, parties, bars, paired with a four-inch sandal and red lip.

But what lecherous hobgoblin made it a rule?

It’s part of that tired trope, be an outstanding female world athlete by all means, but please look sexy doing it, and whatever you do, don’t cause Aunty Jean to mutter “She looks like a man” while you are standing on the podium receiving your medal.

The tennis world also has issues with archaic dress codes.

The international Women’s Tennis Association only “modernised” its dress code in 2019, with the rollout of new rules which finally allowed leggings and mid-thigh length compression shorts to be worn without a skirt or dress. A bold “Oh, hi 21st Century!” move.

Serena Williams had already given them a run for their money, which more than likely prompted this overdue expansion of the rules when she wore a “Black Panther” full body catsuit to prevent post-pregnancy blood clots at the French Open in 2018.

“I call it like my Wakanda-inspired catsuit. It’s really fun,” Williams said. Photo: Getty

The French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli objected, saying catsuits would no longer be accepted at the tournament.

“I think that sometimes we’ve gone too far … one must respect the game and the place,” he said at the time.

I’m all for respect, but it is high time to move past the ‘cute tennis dress showing off a cheeky bottom’ cliché, like an infamously cheesy 1970’s poster.

Serena served their sexism right back at them when she then promptly and ironically wore a truly fabulous tennis tutu to the French Open, a dress comprised of a sleek Lycra performance top and tiered black tulle skirt designed by Off-White’s Virgil Abloh, showing you can do your job masterfully wearing pants or a skirt.

The real point comes down to personal choice.

Some of the players in Norway’s handball team may like the freedom and lightness of a bikini bottom with a side of less than four inches, but I’m sure there are times they would rather be in comfy, stretchy style shorts more like the … men’s team?

While the fashion world is currently undergoing a massive shake-up regarding traditionally gendered fashion, a spokeswoman for the International Handball Federation, Jessica Rockstroh, said, gobsmackingly, that she did not know the reason for the bikini rules.

“We’re looking into it internally,” she said, and I’m sure that female athletes kicking back in their trackies and big undies around the globe can’t wait for those findings.



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