Beach uniforms: is handball out of touch?

In frosty countries like Sweden, it has always been necessary to allow special uniforms on the beach!

I just recently wrote about uniforms, although the context then was the issue of the head scarf. I noted that our handball rules are amazingly vague as to what constitutes a proper ‘uniform’. So among other things, I was asking if we could interpret the rules to allow the beach style bikinis in indoor handball (assuming, of course, that they had enough room for player numbers)…

Little did I know that we would now suddenly have reason to raise the issue of the bikinis required for women players in beach handball! I had listened to John Ryan’s podcast and chats with some members of our USA beach handball team, and I was a bit amused when I heard that they seemed to have difficulties in figuring out how to put on their bikini uniforms. And I remember only too well that, in the supposedly liberal or emancipated Scandinavian countries, there had been major protests when the IHF made it mandatory for the women to use bikini-style uniforms. They thought this was insulting. But part of the IHF ‘excuse’ was that it simply followed the example of beach volleyball.

So I was now a bit surprised to read a few days ago that beach volleyball has decided to stop making the bikinis mandatory. In fact, the obligation has really been to wear a bathing suit, so one-piece bathing suits have already been allowed for the women. But now, not just on an experimental basis, but for all the official competitions, including the 2012 Olympic Games, there will be flexibility. It will be permitted to use shorts and a top, with or without sleeves, as an alternative to the bathing suit. In fact, the wording seems to suggest that one could, for instance, combine a bikini top with shorts.

This may now raise questions for beach handball: will we be ‘ahead’ of everyone else by continuing to insist on bikinis, or will we be ‘behind’ in the sense that we are (in a sport essentially managed by men!) forcing the women to wear something that they may not like to use? This is of course a matter of ethics and equal treatment, and that is the consideration that I personally see as the most relevant one. But then I am sure that other observers will argue more cynically that we must not overlook the aspects of PR and ability to attract spectators and sponsors. Indeed, some media comments already suggest, apropos the decision of beach volleyball, that “this sport, which in itself is boring, will lose its glamour and ability to gain attention, if the bikini uniforms are not part of the spectacle in the beach setting”.

It will be interesting to see if the decision in beach volleyball will cause a reaction in the IHF, and I would also be curious to know how current and potential beach handball players and spectators look at it! Would you want handball to follow the example of volleyball?