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Norway beach handball sexism row: Will 'bikini bottoms' to 'tight pants' kit change satisfy critics?

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By Matthew Holroyd
The Norwegian Women's Beach Handball team had protested against the uniform policies in July.
The Norwegian Women's Beach Handball team had protested against the uniform policies in July.   -   Copyright  Credit: Reuters

When Norway's women refused to wear bikini bottoms at the European Beach Handball Championship last summer, they were promptly fined.

The International Handball Federation (IHF) sparked outrage by imposing a €1,500 penalty on the team for wearing shorts instead of the required attire.

American musician Pink called the rules "very sexist" and offered to pay Norway's fine.

Then government ministers from five European countries -- Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland -- called for the rules to be changed.

In an open letter to the IHF, the Nordic ministers called for uniform rules to be changed "in accordance with gender equality".

But, three months on, what's changed?

Previously, the IHF required female players to wear "fitted, low-cut bikini bottoms". That's now changed to "short tight pants", Euronews has learned.

Men, meanwhile, are still asked to wear a tank top and shorts.

Women's uniforms for official beach handball competitions have for years been criticised as too degrading or too impractical.

Denmark's sports minister Ane Halsboe-Joergensen said rules were "obsolete" and "belonged to another country".

"It should be a free choice within standardised rules," added NHF president Kare Geir Lio.

But it was not until Norway lined up for their July bronze medal match against Spain in shorts that global headlines were generated.

The Norwegian Handball Federation (NHF) stated that it was prepared to pay the penalty of €150 per player for not wearing bikini bottoms that were "close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg". However, the team gained tremendous support for their stance.

And, after the widespread outcry, the IHF has now quietly altered its official policies on "improper clothing".

By October 3, the official "Rules of the Game" for Beach Handball were indeed updated as below:

  • "The Beach Handball male player’s uniform consists of tank top and shorts, and eventual accessories."
  • "The Beach Handball female player’s uniform consists of a body fit tank top, short tight pants, and eventual accessories."

Meanwhile, for cold or severe weather, female players are permitted -- as before -- to wear a tight shirt and "long tight pants". No change there.

Accompanying graphics indicate the change in rules from 2014 to 2021.

So female players are no longer required to wear low-cut bikini bottoms on the field without risking a fine.

But if their uniforms must still be "body fit" and "tight" and there is no such rule for male players, do the new regulations satisfy the complaints?

International Handball Federation via Euronews
The required uniform for female beach handball players changed from July 2014 (L) to October 2021 (R).International Handball Federation via Euronews

One of those who called on the IHF to make the change was Norway's former Minister for Culture and Equality Abid Raja -- who has since left his government role.

Raja had stated that the previous uniform policies for female beach handball players were "completely ridiculous," "clearly discriminating and outdated".

In a statement, the former minister said that the IHF needed to go further to achieve gender equality.

I had rather seen ... equal rules for male and female players.
Abid Raja
Former Norwegian Ministry for Culture and Equality

"I am glad that the International Handball Federation has listened to the broad criticism, both from the sport itself and from outsiders such as the Nordic Ministers of Sport, and decided to change the clothing requirement for beach handball players," Raja told Euronews.

"This being said, I would have wished that the International Handball Federation had taken the full step towards gender equality."

Raja stated that the IHF should have omitted the requirement for female players to wear "short tight pants".

"I had rather seen that the Federation would listen to the female players themselves and ensured equal rules for male and female players," he told Euronews.

The NHF has described the uniform change as a "huge step in the right direction" but they too stopped short of praising the new rules.

"It’s our view that it would have been even better if the rules consisted of one set of uniform regulations independent of gender," the authority said in a statement. Euronews has contacted the IHF for a response to Norway on the new rules.