It’s been a while since news broke out about the Norwegian women’s beach handball team. During the Tokyo Olympics, the women’s team chose to wear shorts instead of the mandated bikini bottoms and were fined by the International Handball Federation (IHF). While the male athletes in the same sport wore loose shorts and loose sleeveless jerseys, the rules for women were more revealing. They should be able to wear exactly what the male players are wearing. I believe sexist uniforms limit individuals from participating in sport.
The Norwegian beach handball player Katinka Haltvik in an interview spoke on how it felt to play in bikini bottoms.
In the start, it was extremely uncomfortable. You become more concerned about your bikini bottom staying in the right place than actually playing the sport.
The Norwegian athletes are not the only ones trying to end sexist uniforms and sexualization of sports these days. The female German gymnastics team made a strong statement at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, replacing revealing leotards with full body-suits.
As an American Muslim woman, I am happy to see the outpouring support for the German women’s gymnastics team and beach handball team at the Olympics. Both teams are leading the way for female athletes to assert control in decisions relating to their bodies and attire. Women should not be sexualized in athletics and should have the right to choose what they wear.
However, what has been missing in this conversation is the control of what Muslim female athletes can and cannot wear. Hijab bans have affected Muslim women for decades. For instance, a hijab ban remains by the Federation du Football Francais (FFF) in France, despite FIFA striking it down in 2014.
While I don’t play a sport myself, I have Muslim friends who do. One told me about a time when a coach told her that she couldn’t play in a tournament for her respected sport, unless she took off her hijab. This small example echoes the case of many other female Muslim athletes.
We need to support Muslim women athletes like the Norwegian Olympic beach handball team and Germany’s women’s gymnastics team. Forcing women out of clothing is just as violent as forcing them into it. And denying their access to sport ever because of this is a grave injustice. Sport deserves better and so do female Muslim and non-Muslim athletes.