Even if you haven’t been closely following the Olympics news, you’ve probably heard about a lot of the controversy, from firing the opening ceremony director just days before the event to empty stadiums with fans barred from watching. But one of the trends that keeps appearing is controversy around what the female athletes are wearing, there’s shorts that are too small and shorts that are too long, leotards that cover too much and swimsuits that don’t cover enough, it all has people asking, why do people in sports care so much about what women are wearing?
Whilst not all of the controversies have happened at the games, it’s undeniable they’ve had an impact with most of the competitions own rules on outfits coming from the individual sporting bodies. There are, of course, fair concerns about athletes safety and ensuring a fair field but it is hard to see how the length of Paralympian Olivia Breen’s sprint briefs being ‘too short and inappropriate’ is at all relevant to her sporting efforts. Those comments came from a female official at the English Championships, showing that it isn’t even just men who feel the need to comment on what female athletes are wearing. Breen said that incident left her speechless and questioning whether a male athlete would have been asked the same thing, something we can all guess the sadly obvious answer to.
A similar issue came for the Norwegian beach handball team who were fined a total of €1,500 for wearing shorts at the European Championships instead of bikini bottoms. The same competition requires men to wear tank tops and shorts. Whilst the sport is not an Olympic event, don’t confuse it with its volleyball cousin where female athletes do have a choice of outfit albeit all being form-fitting compared to the men’s loose shorts, the issue is indicative of a wider issue around uniforms being used not to support the athlete in their endeavours, but to support those watching the sport to see a bit of skin.
Thankfully the Norwegian team have been supported by their country with the Norway Handball Federation offering to pay the fines, an offer which was matched by singer Pink, and an MP tweeting: ‘it’s embarrassing, disgraceful and sexist. You [European Handball Federation] are ruining both the sport and your own reputation.’ The Olympics aren’t exactly world leaders with their rules either as, for example, female figure skaters are required to wear skirts whilst men must don trousers, a rule which feels more steeped in ‘tradition’ and the physical attractiveness of the sport then anything relating to skill or fairness.
This is something that Germany’s female gymnastics team knows well as they have begun wearing full-body suits, instead of the usual leotards, to stand against the sexualisation of their sport. Pauline Schaefer-Betz of the team said: ‘We wanted to show that every woman, everybody, should decide what to wear.’ Whilst the bodysuits are allowed under Olympic rules, the issue is an important one in the sport, which has recently seen numerous horrific scandals, including the sexual abuse by the US women’s team doctor Larry Nassar for years, which then opened the flood gates on stories of abuse in the sport. Indeed, the sexualisation of athletes is the issue at the heart of this all, our sporting stars are at the peak of human health for fitness and not for creeps and hyper-modest weirdos to comment on their sexuality. The costumes they wear are not even the worst way that sporting bodies mistreat their athletes but it’s an easy fix.
So next time you find yourself wanting to comment on how inappropriate the sprinter’s shorts are or how you think gymnasts should get over themselves and stop covering up, think: Does it matter to the fairness or safety of the sport and athletes? If the answer is no then keep your mouth shut, especially if you’re a sporting official.