Handball Federation Finally Scraps Sexist Bikini Rule With Uniform Changes - Women's Health

Handball Federation Finally Scraps Sexist Bikini Rule With Uniform Changes

Women will now be allowed to wear bike shorts and tank tops for competition.

In a good news story worth celebrating, the International Handball Federation has responded to widespread accusations of sexism by finally changing its rules around women’s uniforms. After mounting pressure from players and fans of the game alike, the IHF has now introduced changes that will allow female athletes to compete wearing bike shorts and tank tops, instead of bikini bottoms and crop tops. 

The saga has been a long-running one, but came to a head in July when the European Handball Federation made headlines for imposing a hefty $2,410 fine on the Norwegian women’s beach handball team after the players decided to wear shorts like their male counterparts during the Euro 21 tournament in Bulgaria. At the time, the EHF defended its actions and the imposed penalty on the players, describing the shorts as “improper clothing.” 

The Norwegian beach handball team believed bikini bottoms were unnecessary and the actions of the EHF merely revealed the sexist standards female athletes are still subjected to. Around the world, sporting fans, players, and celebrities alike were quick to vocalise their support for the team, while Pink took to Twitter to tell her followers that she would be “happy to pay” for the fines. “I’m VERY proud of the Norwegian female beach handball team FOR PROTESTING THE VERY SEXIST RULES ABOUT THEIR “uniform.” The European handball federation SHOULD BE FINED FOR SEXISM. Good on ya ladies, I’ll be happy to pay your fines for you. Keep it up,” wrote the singer. 

It was a sentiment echoed by tennis great Billie Jean King, who also tweeted her support for the team: “The Norwegian Women’s Beach Handball team is facing fines for wanting to wear shorts instead of bikini bottoms. The bottoms are not to cover ‘more than 10cm on any sides.’ The men’s team wear shorts. The sexualisation of women athletes must stop.”

Sports ministers from five European countries also wrote a joint letter to the IHF urging them to update their archaic dress regulations “not only to accomodate current female athletes, but also to support and encourage all athletes regardless of their gender or background to remain in sport.”

Since then, the sport’s governing body has looked to uniform regulations and made changes, as it now stipulates “female athletes must wear short tight pants with a close fit.” Male athletes, in contrast, can still wear regular shorts as long as 10cm above the knee “if not too baggy.”

The uniform changes comes after a successful campaign by Norway-based Australian activist Talitha Stone, whose petition – supported by gender equality organisation Collective Should – attracted 61,000 signatures. “I hope this is the beginning of the end of sexism and objectification of women and girls in sport,” she said, having led Collective Shout’s 2012 campaign against the Lingerie Football League. “And that in future all women and girls will be free to participate in sport without fear of wardrobe malfunctions and sexual harassment.” 

The uniform changes in handball reflect a current climate where female participation in sport is something to be nurtured and encouraged. Just recently, Netball NSW unveiled flexible uniform options that allow players to choose a uniform that feels comfortable and in keeping with their gender identity and cultural background. It’s hoped that this will become the norm for sports clubs and organisations, as they look to champion inclusivity and acceptance. 

By Jessica Campbell

Jess is a storyteller committed to sharing the human stories that lie at the heart of sport.

Recommended to you

More From