The Olympics in England is around the corner and it will be exciting to watch the skillful and dedicated women and men who are going to be competing. At the same time, the controversy over women’s volleyball outfits is ongoing. I came across the article “Blimey!!! Long johns, not bikinis, at Games?” in the Sacramento Bee. The article discusses how long johns may be necessary during this year’s game as temperatures will probably be low and some games will be played in the evenings. When asked whether or not long johns will detract audiences, Australian player Tamsin (Barnett) Hinchley said no, while stating “We need it to keep our muscles warm. It’s an extremely strenuous sport.” But the author of the article did not seem so pleased with that answer instead arguing that “Yes, but let’s get real. Long sleeves and leggings aren’t the main draw for many beach volleyball fans.”
Perhaps that is true, but anyone who has ever lived in or visited the UK or the northern hemisphere during the summer knows that just because the calendar says July or August does not mean that it is summer weather. In fact, it can be cold, really cold, rainy and windy. Let the female athletes wear whatever they want to, and let us focus on their skills as athletes. After all, they made it to the Olympics, so they must be kick-ass.
The controversy over gear is not new to beach volleyball. Very recently, women were allowed to wear tight shorts and sleeveless tops if they wanted to. The decision was made after some competing teams requested different clothing due to religious reasons. Traditionally, two options of clothing was available, the bikini and the one piece. Many women prefer the bikini because it does not trap sand in the same way as the one piece when one is moving around or diving in the sand. Completely understandable if you ask me. Chafing might not be desirable during a high tempo, competitive game.
What I take issue with is the notion that people focus more on the outfits than the skills of the top-performing athletes. The focus on sexualized female bodies more so than their skills is annoying and detracts from the performance and competence of the women. No doubt these women work extremely hard to get to the Olympics, and when they get there, some whiny people complain that they might be wearing long johns instead of the formal bikini.
Sexploitation of women in sports is extremely common, and the Australian Sport Commission wrote the following about sexploitation of female athletes:
“Sexploitation applies to forms of marketing, promotion or attempts to gain media coverage which focus attention on the sexual attributes of female athletes, especially the visibility of their bodies. In a context of sexploitation, the value of the female athlete is judged primarily in terms of her body type and attractiveness, rather than for the qualities that define her as an athlete”.
“Women’s beach volleyball, on the other hand, has introduced uniforms intentionally to focus attention on the athletes’ bodies rather than for any technological, practical or performance-enhancing reasons. Women must compete in bra-style tops and bikini bottoms that must not exceed six centimetres in width at the hip (men compete in shorts and singlets)”.
Not surprisingly, the article in the Sacramento Bee ended with the statement that “Even Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, has acknowledged the sports’ fast-rising popularity, joking that organizers got his backing for London’s initial Olympic bid by promising to put bikini-clad sportswomen outside what was then his window.”
Well aren’t you funny Tony!