IHF edits attire rules after international criticism over mandated bikinis for beach handball

The International Handball Federation has amended the rules of beach handball to move away from bikinis towards less revealing beach attire. The change is reminiscent of similar clothing debates in other sports over the last decade.




The International Handball Federation (IHF) made a small, but significant, change to the rules of beach handball in early October; women will no longer be required to wear bikinis while playing the sport.

The shift away from mandated bikini attire at international tournaments comes on the heels of the decision of the Norwegian women’s beach handball team to wear shorts in preference to bikinis at the 2021 European Beach Handball Championships.

The team was subsequently fined €1,500 euros ($1,740.68) by the European Handball Federation (EHF) for “improper clothing.” The story quickly gained international attention thereafter, with many people calling for the sports attire rules to be changed.

American singer, P!nk, even offered to pay the team’s fine, stating on Twitter, “I’m VERY proud of the Norwegian female beach handball team FOR PROTESTING THE VERY SEXIST RULES ABOUT THEIR “uniform”. The European handball federation SHOULD BE FINED FOR SEXISM. Good on ya, ladies. I’ll be happy to pay your fines for you. Keep it up.”

The issue was further pushed by sports ministers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden in a letter sent to the IHF in September. According to Euronews, the letter read, “[We] urge the International Handball Federation and other international sports federations to review uniform rules and to allow athletes to be dressed in a way that suits performance and comfort.”

“We emphasise the need for action not only to accommodate current female athletes but also to support and encourage all athletes regardless of their gender or background to remain in sport.”

No official announcement of the rule change was made by the IHF, but a check of the new version of the rules of the game for beach handball confirmed that a change to the attire rules had been made.

The previous rule read, “the Beach Handball female player’s uniform consists of tops and bikini bottoms and eventual accessories.”

The new, current rule now reads, “the Beach Handball female player’s uniform consists of a body fit tank top, short tight pants and eventual accessories.”

Female players will now be allowed to wear less revealing clothing, but the rule still emphasizes that the uniform be “body fit” and “tight.”

The International Handball Federation is by no means the first international federation to run into issues regarding their mandated competition attire.

Germany’s gymnastics team chose to wear full body unitards over the more revealing unitards generally worn by gymnasts at the international level during the 2020 Summer Olympics.

The team stated that they were protesting the sexualization in gymnastics. In a statement translated to English from German, the team stated “the aim is to present aesthetically - without feeling uncomfortable.”

The debate over clothing rules for female athletes also harkens back to Zahra Lari. Lari was the first female figure skater to wear a headscarf while competing internationally.

She was deducted a full point at her first international competition in 2012. The judges had found her headscarf to be in violation of the International Skating Union (ISU) rules regarding appropriate skating attire.

In an interview with CNN, she commented, “I really don’t have any negative feelings towards this ruling. The judges at that time had never seen someone compete with it so they really didn’t know how to score me.”

The ISU eventually allowed Lari to compete in a headscarf without being deducted points on the basis of competition attire guidelines.

The rule change by the IHF represents the next chapter of the clothing battle in female sports. A battle that is likely to continue as international growth of sports, and more specifically beach sports, continues.