Women in sports always had to fight a lot more obstacles than their male counterparts, and they have always done, they fought society’s stereotypes, lack of funds lack of equality in opportunities with all these fights now the women athletes are fighting against dated and sexist clothing rules. The women athletes are breaking traditions and taking back control of their bodies. One may think it would be relatively easier at the turn of the twenty-first century but that one would be surprised.
The Norwegian Women’s beach ball team was fined a hefty 150 euros per player fine in light of improper clothing during the European championship in Bulgaria, the reason being the team wore sports shorts with tops as opposed to bikini bottoms. The European Handball Federation that decides the dress code, in their 2014 regulation mandated that women have to wear bikini bottoms that are “close fit and cut on an upwards angle towards the top side of the leg and have a side with of maximum of 10 cm”. The men’s beach ball teams however always been allowed to wear shorts.
In a similar protest, German gymnast, Sarah Voss and two other female teammates took a stand against hyper sexualisation of female athletes by donning full body suits at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championship in Switzerland earlier this year. While the Gymnastic Federation allows wearing one-piece full-length suits, they press on it having “elegant design”. On the opposite end of the spectrum a British Para Olympian Olivia Breen described being disappointed rather, she was rendered speechless when a female official berated her sprinting shorts as too revealing. Revealing inappropriate elegant feminine vocabulary around the sports attire of women shows how dated and gendered the conversation is. It needs to move towards the modern athlete’s and the vocabulary should include words like practical and comfortable etc. and the most important word is ‘choice’ of the athletes.
Nothing new about it
Controversies around uniforms or clothing are nothing new it has always been there since women entered professional sports which were always a men’s field. If we go back a little it is clear that women in the earlier half of the 19th century when women were being ‘allowed’ into sports it was not for serious sporting competitions but to look modest and pretty at the same time and the purpose was to get the attention of future husbands. But now the women are seriously competing in sports so their clothing should be according to the comfort and physical requirements of the athletes to perform better, sadly the women athletes feel their clothing is sexualising and commodifying them to serve them for the television audience which is degrading their sporting accolades. Needless to say, male athletes do not have to face any such issues. This issue is not limited to one or two sports on the contrary barring few sports like soccer or basketball most other sports requires female athletes to wear ‘skimpy’ uniforms.
Women are fighting for change
Women athletes trying to change their uniform according to their purpose should not be controversial but it is, whether it forcing women to wear raveling cloths or deeming clothing too revealing or inappropriate or allowing athletes to adorn hijab the female athletes had to face unnecessary scrutiny and that shows how women athlete’s bodies are seen and controlled by sporting federations. But these athletes have taken a stand against the dated and gendered outlook against women in sports. And they have successfully drawn the attention of the world towards this gender gap in sports. The fine against women beach ball team has drawn sharp criticism from around the world also support for the athletes. One such show of support came from the American superstar singer Pink who in solidarity has offered to pay for the fine on behalf of the athletes the bright side the Norwegian beach ball federation has come out in support of its players and called the fine ridiculous and has paid for the fine against the players.
The gender gap in sports is seen, in every aspect of sports, not just attire and the pandemic has increased the difficulties of women athletes who are forced to leave behind their breastfeeding babies to participate in the greatest sporting event on earth Olympics. Women in sports are fighting for their dignity, where they are either ridiculed for being masculine or hyper-sexualised and commodified. What these women achieved through their strong stand is a small but definite victory in the war against gender disparities in sports. It is time already that we see the athletes: male and female for their talent and prowess. Till then we all can support these athletes in their fights against sexism.
Real change would start with the money
Women athletes not only are discriminated against in terms of clothing but in terms of pay as well. Gender pay gap is a reality in sports like all other jobs. Countries like USA measure that for every dollar earned by a male employee a women earn 85 cents, and the difference is gender wage gap. Speaking in an equal pay day US President said “no matter whether you are an electrician an accountant or the member of the best soccer team in the world pay gap is real’’. Speaking in the same event member of 2019 soccer world championship winner said they were mad to accept less because they were women, US women’s team sued the soccer federation for equal pay to no avail but now Biden is pushing for equal pay. In countries like India, we are not even talking of the abysmal gender pay gaps, when any women athlete wins a medal, society like ours are quick to claim their victory, bestow them with prize money claim them as pride of the nation but we are also the same society that stops girls from going into sports.
Until we start talking about women in sports in general, we can never bridge the gaps. Till then appreciate the effort and struggles of athletes like Mirabai Chanu and many other women like her who fight mountains of odds to showcase their talent.