The full-length uniform worn by German gymnasts to compete in the Tokyo Games has reopened the debate on sexuality in sport. The new clothing covers the legs to the ankles and breaks with the normally used jersey. The televisions and the photographers who come to the Ariake Gymnastics Center where the competition of one of the sports par excellence of the Games is held captured the novelty that its promoters use to send a message. “We hope that gymnasts who are not comfortable in their usual attire will be encouraged to follow our example,” explained Sarah Voss, the 21-year-old athlete from the German Olympic team who pioneered and carried out the idea. “All women want to feel good in our skin. In the sport of gymnastics it becomes increasingly difficult as your body grows as a girl. As a child, I didn’t see tight gymnastics outfits as that important. But when puberty started, when I started having my period, I started to feel more and more uncomfortable, ”Voss explained.
The media coverage of the novelty introduced by the German gymnasts evokes more controversial recent episodes. Last month, the International Handball Federation imposed a fine of 1,500 euros on the players of the Norwegian beach handball team for competing in shorts instead of the bikini required by the regulations. It was against Spain in the European Championship held in Varna, Bulgaria. The regulations establish that the bottom of the bikini must not measure more than 10 centimeters on the sides. Norway requested authorization for its players to be able to compete in shorts and announced that, in any case, it would pay the fine.
The episode in turn recalls that of Spanish beach handball in 2014. The Spanish Federation warned the teams participating in the Suances Cup, one of the phases of the national tour of this sport, which was going to be the last year that it would allow them to breach a rule in force since 2010 that required female players to compete in top feminine (design with the abdomen exposed and tight) and bikini (the wide side of a maximum of 10 centimeters). Many players made their discomfort evident, the Higher Sports Council (CSD) intervened and agreed with the Spanish Federation that the bikini was no longer going to be mandatory, although the International Federation continues to require it in its competitions. The norm and the controversy disappeared in Spain. Since then, the players compete with the most comfortable outfit for them, some with a bikini, others with shorts; some with top and others with shirts with sleeves.
The German gymnasts had already competed in the new outfit at the European Championships in April. “We want to make sure everyone is comfortable and show them that they can wear whatever clothes they want and look and feel amazing, whether it’s a long or short jersey. We want to be a model ”, they commented.
The regulations of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) indicate that gymnasts may use a one-piece leotard that covers the legs from hip to ankle, provided that its design is elegant. The German Gymnastics Federation has made explicit its support for the initiative of its athletes. “The coaches were also very interested in the new suits,” Voss said. “They said their wish is for us to feel more secure and comfortable.”
The controversy is cyclical. At the Rio 2016 Games, the Egyptian beach volleyball team wore a uniform with tights and a sports shirt with long sleeves and a hijab. Doaa Eighobashy, one of her athletes, assured that those who attacked her for wearing the hijab “have retrograde and reactionary minds” and lamented that many people are never happy with anything: “If I had played in a bikini, they would have been surprised and called me immoral . And if we play with a veil, they criticize us ”.
Many basketball players were outraged in 2011 when the International Federation (FIBA) introduced into the regulations of European competitions that pants and jerseys should be narrower, following the curves and contours of the body. The Association of Players denounced that it sensed a sexist bias in the regulations and indicated that the development of women was torpedoed and female basketball players were used as “attractive objects from the point of view of male aesthetics, which supposes a mentality expires ”. That same year, the World Badminton Federation wanted to force its players to compete in skirts. So did the International Boxing Association. Many countries rejected the attempt as sexist.
Now, FIBA is proactive in the search for more appropriate sportswear for female players. Ignacio Soriano, head of the Federation’s Events Department in 3×3, present at the Tokyo Olympic tournament, explains the reasons why a project was launched to design kits for female athletes. “It didn’t make sense for them to wear the same uniforms as the men. We consider it necessary to create specific uniforms for women ”. That was the commission that the European Institute of Design (IED) of Barcelona received. Denise Graus, one of its designers, says: “We carried out research work”. “Many players looked like sacks of potatoes, with huge sizes, elastic garments that were tight to the body by turning the elastic bands of the pants. And if they used smaller sizes, they were too tight. The main problem is that the male pattern is used ”, he explains. A uniform was manufactured with Seamless technology, which allows the application of different elasticities and compressions. Its size adapts to the width of each player and the length of the garment, incorporating three more sizes (S +, M + and L +). “Women’s sport is growing and this is another step in improving women and reducing inequalities in sport,” says Graus.
The innovation of German gymnasts when competing in leotards has helped to highlight issues of sexism, the objectification of the female body and who decides what type of clothing is considered appropriate. Yiannis Exarchos, the executive director of Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS, the agency that facilitates the images of the Games to televisions), assured that, with the slogan “sports attractiveness, not sexual attractiveness”, in the coverage of competitions “no you will see some things that have been seen in the past, with details and short shots of parts of the body ”. The goal is to respect the integrity of athletes, who are valued for their effort and work in sport and not for their body.
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