Unraveling the Plethora of Sexism faced by Women in Sports

The Norwegian women’s beach-handball team was recently fined for refusing to wear bikini bottoms in the bronze medal game against Spain during July’s European Beach-Handball Championship. According to the guidelines of the International Handball Federation (IHF), women need to wear a “tight-fitting sports bra with deep openings at the arms” and a bottom no more than “10 centimeters on the sides.”

By wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms, the women challenged the rules which ultimately cost them a penalty of 1,500 Euros. While the women were fined for going against the norms, men were allowed to wear tank tops and shorts.

The IHF’s decision to impose a fine on the Norwegian team attracted a lot of condemnation. It also enticed an offer to pay the fine from the US pop star, Pink. The other participating teams like Germany, Sweden, France, etc. began pressurizing the IHF to change the rules regarding women’s clothing too.

Eventually, the Norwegian women’s beach-handball team dutifully paid the fine. They were proud to have raised their voices and made a statement by wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms. 

This incident is a clear example of the plethora of sexism that women face in sports today. Men were allowed to wear shorts whereas female athletes playing the same sport were under scrutiny to wear something more revealing and sexualizing. 

Women, at a very young age, have been taught to care more about their appearance than anything else. Men, on the other hand, have been encouraged to be athletic and have been diverted towards sports. 

Today, this gender gap is rapidly being closed, but it is not non-existent yet. Women weren’t allowed to run in marathons until 1972. Kathrine Switzer made history by participating in the world’s oldest marathon, the Boston marathon in 1967. She was pushed several times in the course of the marathon by fellow competitors but she finished the marathon in a time of 4 hours 20 minutes. Today, her bib number, 261 has become a symbol of equality.

Female athletes are often sexualized and dictated to portray femininity as sports is something that is perceived to be a male activity.

Recently, three German gymnasts competed in a unitard rather than a leotard in the women’s beam qualifications during the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Basel, Switzerland. Most women wear leotards, where the entire legs can be seen. Male gymnasts usually wear loose shorts or full-length leg coverings.

By wearing a unitard, the German gymnasts set an example to all gymnasts who may feel uncomfortable or even sexualized in normal suits. 

Female athletes are brought down in various other ways by making sexist and racist comments, pay gaps, etc.

In 1900, only 2.2% of participants in the Olympics were women. By 2021, that number has risen to 49%, the highest it’s ever been.

Women have come a long way in sports since then. But, sexism is yet to be eradicated.