SPORT APPEAL NOT SEX APPEAL

This post is part of the Pandora's box series

Recently, the issue of what women should or should not wear in sport has come to the forefront in light of a number of female athletes pushing back against sexualization of their attire.


“For as long as there have been women in competitive sports, it often seems, there have been attempts to police what they wear: to make it more female or less; to hide the body because it may be too enticing for men to see or to show it off to entice men to pay to see it; to play down the idea of power and raise the idea of clichéd femininity.”[1]

FIFA suggests female players should dress more provocatively

In 2004, Sepp Blatter the FIFA president stated

“Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men—such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?”[2]


FIFA and football is not known for gender parity. In fact football is notoriously unequal. Allegedly close to half of professional female players do not receive salaries and close to 90% will quit before age 25 for lack of pay. Female football teams are usually under-resourced and underappreciated.[3] Given how pervasive football is in many societies, it is concerning that the blatant sexism remains mostly unaddressed. UN Women and FIFA have partnered up[4] to improve on gender equality in football and hopefully that contributes to gender parity in the sport.


Boxing: Women should wear skirts

In 2011, the president of the International Boxing Association stated:

“I have heard many times, people say, ‘We can’t tell the difference between the men and women,’ especially on TV, since they’re in the same uniforms and are wearing headgear,”

My first reaction would be: And what’s the problem with that? This could be a whole thesis but there is this idea that women must subscribe to a certain standard of “womanliness”. I recently shaved by hair because I realized that I did associate my hair with femininity and was afraid that a shorter hair version of me would somehow not be “womanly”. We have to confront our own internal prejudices (but I detract).

Anyway, the International Boxing association then asked female boxers to wear the skirts during their World Championships in preparation for the introduction of women’s boxing into the Olympic games. Poland mandated the wearing of skirts with the coach stating “By wearing skirts, in my opinion, it gives a good impression, a womanly impression,”


Bikinis in Volleyball

International Handball Federation regulations require female beach handball players to wear sports bras and bikini bottoms. Men can wear tank tops and shorts. Recently the Norway women's beach handball team decided to wear shorts instead of bikinis and the Disciplinary Committee of the European Handball Federation fined the Norwegian Handball Federation 1,500 euros.

A few more inches of fabric can’t be detrimental to the effective playing of a game especially considering that same even less sexualized attire is worn by the male players.


Serena in a catsuit

Given some of the examples above, you would think the sports world is pinning to see women in less attire. However, Serena has been criticized for wearing a medically necessitated catsuit and on a separate occasion a tutu skirt[5]. Insist on gymnasts wearing lowcut leotards and frown upon loger leotards but claim that a catsuit is indecent?

The patriarchy seems obsessed with policing what women should wear and when and when not they can be “sexy” or not.


Sexual harassment of female athletes

The sports world has been rocked by many sexual harassment scandals. Simone Biles revealed that she was among those harassed by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and consequently suffered depression and anxiety. In Kenya, a phone call recently circulated where a young girl in distress was locked up in a hotel room by a sports official demanding sex at the peril of career regression in case she denied him. There is no signs or communication from the concerned sports bodies or government stepping in to address the issue and one can only wonder what else goes on untold.


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/29/fashion/olympics-dress-codes-sports.html [2] https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1657592-sepp-blatters-most-embarrassing-outbursts [3] https://www.iadb.org/en/improvinglives/what-womens-world-cup-says-about-gender-equality [4] https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2017/3/speech-ded-puri-at-fifa-making-equality-a-reality [5] https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/top-female-athletes-speak-defy-convention-uniforms/story?id=79149087

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