The European Handball Association has become embroiled in a sexism row just days before the start of the Olympics after fining Norway 1,500 euros (£1,295) for wearing shorts rather than bikini briefs at the European Beach Championships.
The entire Norwegian women’s team opted for lycra blue shorts in their bronze medal match against Spain in Bulgaria at last weekend’s event, having worn black bikini bottoms throughout the tournament.
But they were later sanctioned by the EHA, which penalised all 10 members of the team for competing in “improper clothing”, with its disciplinary commission imposing a fine of "150 euros per player, for a total of 1,500 euros".
The body ruled that Norway had played with shorts that are "not according to the athlete uniform regulations defined in the IHF [International Handball Federation] beach handball rules of the game."
The incident sparked a widespread backlash on social media, with thousands condemning the EHF’s move as outdated and sexist. Many users posting photos of Norway’s male handball players who, like other national handball teams, wear shorts during competition.
The beach version of handball will not be at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics with only traditional indoor handball, which Norway women qualified for, being contested. Uniform normally consists of shorts and a shirt.
The furore came less than 24 hours after British paralympian Olivia Breen filed a complaint to English Athletics after receiving unsolicited comments from an official at the National Championships that her competition briefs were “too short”.
Following the decision to fine the players, the Norway Handball Federation, which had indicated it would pay any fine before the match, said: "We are very proud of these girls who during the European Championships raised their voices and announced that enough is enough! We at NHF stand behind you and support you. Together we will continue to fight to change the rules for clothing, so that players can play in the clothes they are comfortable with.”
The Norwegian women had asked for permission to swap the bikini bottoms for shorts ahead of the tournament, citing their preference to wear clothing that was less revealing and more comfortable. Katinka Haltvik, the team’s captain, told the Norweigan broadcaster NRK it was a “spontaneous” decision to switch from bikini bottoms to shorts for the game.
She added that the team were “threatened” with disqualification over their decision to change attire. “It should be an inclusive sport, not an exclusive sport,” added Haltvik, citing the discomfort that some players feel when wearing bikini briefs.