Australian athletes call for change after Norwegian team is fined for not wearing bikini bottoms

Ana Medjed plays in the Australian beach handball team. Source: Chris Seen Photography/ Handball Queensland

Members of Australia’s beach handball team are calling for a change to rules forcing female players to wear bikinis. It comes after Norway’s team was fined for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms.

Australian athletes are calling for a change to ‘outdated’ rules after Norway’s beach handball team was fined thousands of dollars for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms. 

The European Handball Federation fined the team over $2,000 over “a case of improper clothing” in the bronze medal match against Spain in Bulgaria.

International Handball Federation rules stipulate female players must wear tops and bikini bottoms, while men wear singlet tops and shorts.

Rose Boyd plays for Australia’s beach handball team. She told The Feed no athlete should be forced to wear a uniform that they do not feel comfortable in.

“Could you imagine how many men would be deterred from playing the sport if they were required to wear budgy smugglers?” Boyd told The Feed

“It is so much easier to focus on your performance... when you do not have to worry about whether your bikini bottom has ridden up in an unflattering way… or what angle a photographer might be able to capture you on.”

Norway's beach handball team pictured wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms at a European championship match.
Norway's beach handball team pictured wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms at a European championship match.
Instagram / @norwaybeachhandballwomen

Boyd said she’s had teammates quit the national team or consider not representing the country due to their discomfort in bikinis.

She added that for players who are menstruating, following these rules can be particularly uncomfortable.

“I’ve had conversations with my teammates during tournaments, where you let your best mate know to be on tampon watch, just in case,” Boyd said.

“At no point in the game would a male competitor have to think about their tampon string hanging out of their bikini bottom, or perhaps a testicle in their case.... when diving in the sand to gain possession of the ball.”

Boyd said at domestic competitions, where the international rules are not enforced, she generally chooses to wear bike pants over her bikini bottoms or a pair of bottoms that offer greater comfort. 

“These would not be allowed in international competition due to the maximum coverage requirements outlined in the rules of the games,” she said.

According to regulations, female athletes must wear bikini bottoms with a side width a maximum of 10 centimetres, with a "close fit" and "cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg."

Rose Boyd told The Feed no athlete should be forced to wear a uniform that they do not feel comfortable in.

In a statement to The Feed, Handball Australia said it “acknowledges the International Handball Federation's current uniform regulations and our teams abide by these rules in international competitions”. 

However, the organisation said it would “welcome the ability of teams to have a shorts and singlet option to encourage greater participation in the sport.”

Ana Medjed plays alongside Boyd in the Australian beach handball team. 

She told The Feed she was proud of the Norweigan team for taking a stand “and giving light to an important issue that needs to change.”

 “It is time for a change and time to allow us, female athletes, to be able to voice that we are uncomfortable being exposed and objectified in a certain type of apparel whilst competing,” Medjed said.

Mejed said competing in a bikini, opens athletes up to sexual harassment and inappropriate comments from the general public.

“From inappropriate photos to internet memes to jokes and comments – one way or another we have all experienced some form of being objectified or sexualised.” 

“With rules such as women ‘must compete in a bikini bottom with a certain number of centimetres’ or else, it leads us to feel that male players are there to compete for their athletic ability and skills, whilst female elite athlete players are there to put on a show.” 

Boyd had been a member of the Australian team for nine years and feels that wearing a bikini also puts pressure on women to conform to certain beauty standards. 

When Boyd returned to the sport after giving birth, she felt “extremely conscious” of how her body would look.

“When my second child was six months, I rejoined the Australian team in the World Games in Wroclaw, Poland,” she said.

“Our team had an amazing tournament and finished top six, which was one of our highest finishing performances to date.” 

“Unfortunately, my memories of that tour are marred by my appearance in photos from that tournament.”

Boyd believes beach handball should be accessible for all players, and that’s it’s time for the rules to change.

‘We know all women's body shapes are different, to be strong, fit and athletic is not a one size fits [all].”

“It should be determined by how you feel when you can jump your highest, run your fastest, the speed and accuracy of your shot, your ability to read the game, none of which are determined by how you look in a bikini!”

The Feed has contacted the International Handball Federation for comment.