While Lucie Marie Kretzschmar, beach handball player for Germany, was participating in a tournament in Romania, she noticed a spectator in the front row who was filming intensely with his phone.
When she was off the field, she saw that he was zooming in on the bodies of the players, who were dressed in small bikini bottoms as required by the sports federation. She then saw him in two more games, recording the players again.
The 2019 tournament left a question for Ms Kretzschmar and her teammates: Were the spectators there to watch them play as elite athletes or to admire their bodies?
“It really made me think, ‘OK, maybe they don’t look at us as professional players,'” Ms. Kretzschmar said, but more like “their free time activity of watching girls in bikini”.
Event organizers eventually asked the man to leave, but the question of the team persisted, along with other concerns about sexism and double standards affecting female athletes at all levels of competition and in sports such as gymnastics, badminton and tennis.
On Wednesday, following international outrage over the issue, Hassan Moustafa, president of the International Handball Federation, said new rules were “very likely” to be enacted.
Last month, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team were fined 1,500 euros for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms in the championship bronze medal match in Bulgaria, a sanction which sparked widespread condemnation, a petition against the rule and an offer from the singer Pink to pay for the good.
Teams from Germany, Sweden, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Spain and American Samoa have increased pressure on the IHF, the sport’s governing body, to change its rules .
The IHF requires women to wear bikini bottoms that are âfitted and cut at an upward angle of the upper legâ. The sides of the bikini bottom should be no longer than four inches. Men, on the other hand, can wear shorts as long as four inches above their knees as long as they aren’t “too loose.”
The Norwegian handball federation proposed last week that the IHF abolish its bikini bottom rule, citing the double standard of dress for male and female athletes. âPlayers should have a choice of two to four options,â recommends the proposal.
So far, the Basel, Switzerland-based IHF has said it cannot make any changes until its international conference in November.
The federation decided to require the players to wear bikini bottoms because it was the rules of beach volleyball, which is played on the same surface, Moustafa said in a statement.
The IHF also said it was “unfortunate” that Norwegian players wear shorts, contrary to league rules, during the Olympics.
âDue to the timing of their event and their campaign, the accomplishments of the athletes were simply overshadowed,â the organization said.
The Danish Handball Federation, in a letter to the IHF in May, wrote that several Danish players had decided not to participate in this year’s tournament because they felt uncomfortable in bikinis.
âMany feel downright uncomfortable having to wear such tiny clothes, which don’t cover much more than underwear,â the letter said. The Danish federation requested a waiver of the rules so that its players could wear shorts, but the request was denied, the organization said.
Morten Frandsen Holmen, the Danish women’s team coach, said that âif you type ‘beach handball’ into Google you can find thousands of photos of women that make you think, ‘Does it matter to the sport that we have this uniform? ? ‘ In interviews, players from multiple teams said worrying about bikini bottoms slipping out of place distracted them from the game.
Kare Geir Lio, president of the Norwegian Handball Federation, said Norway had complained on several occasions since 2006 about the requirement to the IHF, on the grounds that some women felt embarrassed to have so many of their exposed bodies and that the requirement was insensitive to certain cultural norms.
In American Samoa, for example, where many people dress conservatively, the bikini requirement has made young beach handball players particularly uncomfortable, players and coaches in the region have said.
When the territory’s youth beach handball team won the 2017 regional championship, the players, aged 15 to 17, did not want to wear bikini bottoms to compete to the next level, according to CJ Sagapolutele Floor Sr., the head coach of the team.
The IHF, however, informed the league that players, who usually wear shorts, must wear bikini bottoms if they want to compete at the world championships in Mauritius.
“I had to get the parents’ permission first,” said Mr. Sagapolutele Floor, who is also the vice-president of the Oceania Continental Handball Federation. The parents finally agreed, but the girls felt embarrassed when they saw photos of themselves from the game, including the ones with their legs open, he said.
Prospective athletes were choosing not to join the league because of the clothes, he said. “It doesn’t seem fair that men can wear shorts and a swimsuit and women have to wear a bikini and a sports bra,” he added.
American Samoa beach handball player Naomi Mataua Aasa said the rule had humiliated the players.
Girls were sexually harassed by male players because of the uniforms, she said, and photographs posted on social media included embarrassing body shots.
The uniform rules, she said, said “we’re here to put on a show rather than being branded as athletes equally.”