Women's beach handball players win fight over uniform rules

3 minute read
15 December 2021

On July 18, 2021, Norway's beach handball team was sanctioned for wearing athletic shorts instead of the required bikini bottoms at the bronze-medal match at this year's European Beach Handball Championship against Spain in Bulgaria. Shortly after, in light of the team's stance against the mandated dress code, the Disciplinary Commission of the European Handball Federation (EHF) reacted by issuing fines of €150 to each of the team's 10 players, which sparked widespread outrage in international sport.

In an important reversal, on Oct. 3, 2021, the International Handball Federation (IHF) published new regulations relating to women athletes' uniform requirements. Pursuant to Section 2 of the IHF's Athlete Uniform Regulations (the "Regulations"), women are now required to wear "short tight pants with a close fit" and a "body fit tank top" while competing. Under the previous uniform rules, women athletes were required to wear bottoms "with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg." As such, any woman athlete deemed to have not followed that rule could be fined or disqualified, as the EHF did.

The recent update to the IHF's rules on women's uniforms resulted from significant pressure asserted by the international sporting community, including various athletes, coaches and stakeholders. During the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, the president of the Norwegian Handball Federation, Kåre Geir Lio, and the president of the International Handball Federation, Hassan Moustafa, held behind-the-scenes meetings to address the issue regarding women's uniforms and the agency of female athletes. Shortly after these discussions, the IHF agreed to the requested changes and took immediate action.

With respect to the new Regulations, President Lio drives home the good sense of the revised approach in stating: "I think it's good for the game, but first of all, it's good for the women, and it's good for how we treat each other in sports." President Lio further reports that Norway's athletes are very satisfied with the departure from the previous regulation bikinis and their new agency to choose the length of their shorts. Ultimately, the IHF's decision to update their uniform regulations sets a significant precedent in international sport and represents a noteworthy milestone in the continual resistance against gender inequality in sport.

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