The Norwegian women’s beach handball team has been fined for refusing to play in bikini bottoms during a game in the sport’s Euro 2021 tournament.
The team wore thigh-length elastic shorts during their bronze medal match against Spain in Bulgaria on Sunday to protest against the regulation bikini-bottom design that the sport's Norwegian federation president called “embarrassing.”
The team was fined 1,500 euros total ($1,700) for “improper clothing,” according to a statement from the European Handball Association's Disciplinary Commission.
While male players are allowed to play in tank tops and shorts no longer than 4 inches above the knee, women are required to wear midriff-baring tops and bikini bottoms “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg” and a maximum side width of 4 inches, according to International Handball Federation regulations.
"It's not [appropriate clothing for] the activity when they are playing in the sand," Norwegian Handball Federation President Kåre Geir Lio told NBC News by phone from Oslo. The women's team trains and competes in "what they want, like the boys" at home in Norway, but is subject to the International Handball Federation's clothing rules when playing abroad, he said.
The team had petitioned to wear the shorts its players train in from the start of the tournament, Lio said, but was threatened by the EHA with a fine or disqualification. By Sunday's bronze medal game the women decided to make a statement.
"It was very spontaneous. We thought, 'Let's just do it now, and then see what happens,'" player Katinka Haltvik told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
"I got a message 10 minutes before the match that they would wear the clothing that they were satisfied with. And they got our full support," Lio said.
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The team received support at home and abroad on social media.
"This is completely ridiculous! How many attitude changes are needed in the old-fashioned international patriarchy of sports?" tweeted Norway's Minister of Culture in response to news that the team had been fined.
Norway has campaigned since 2006 for shorts to be officially considered acceptable in beach handball, and will submit a motion to change the rules in an extraordinary congress of the IHF in November, said Lio.
Haltvik hopes it will make the sport more inclusive. "It shouldn't be the case that people don't want to take part because of the outfit," she told NRK in April.
Efforts to regulate official female attire in other beach sports have proven controversial. The Qatar Volleyball Association's initial proposal to ban players from wearing bikinis during an international beach volleyball tournament hosted by the country this year was met with threats of boycott from some players.
The International Volleyball Federation updated its own uniform rules in 2012. In this month's Tokyo Olympics, female beach volleyball players can choose to play in shorts and T-shirts, as well as bikinis or one-piece bathing suits.