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Female handball players will no longer have to wear bikini bottoms

Norway's team lines up during the 2018 Women's Beach Handball World Cup final against Greece in 2018 in Kazan, Russia.
Ilnar Tukhbatov
Epsilon/Getty Images
Norway's team lines up during the 2018 Women's Beach Handball World Cup final against Greece in 2018 in Kazan, Russia.

Remember this summer when players on the Norwegian women's handball team fined for wearing shorts rather than the requisite bikini bottoms?

The battle between the team and handball's governing body sparked a global conversation about the sexualization of women in sports.

And now, it's also sparked change.

The International Handball Federation has revised its uniform rules, saying female players must wear "a body fit tank top, short tight pants and eventual accessories." The new regulations were published on Oct. 3 and will take effect on Jan. 1.

Women were previously required to wear bikini bottoms "with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg," with a side width no longer than 4 inches. (Male players' shorts don't need to have a "close fit" as women's do, but they must be no longer than 4 inches above the knee.)

The rule change is an apparent victory for Norway's women's beach handball team, after months of controversy.

The players told the European Handball Federation in July that they would wear shorts rather than bikini bottoms in a championship game against Spain — saying the bottoms were not practical in a sport that requires diving into sand and calling the requirements degrading to women.

Each member of the 10-person team was fined 150 euros, or around $175. American singer P!nk offered to cover the cost at the time, though the federation said it had donated the money to a "major international sports foundation which supports equality for women and girls in sports."

It added that it would "do its utmost to influence a change in the beach handball uniform regulations" but that any formal decision rested with the international governing body, or IHF.

In an open letter, 5 countries urged the IHF to review uniform policies

The IHF said back in July that it appreciated the feedback it had heard as a result of the Norwegian team's protest but couldn't change any uniform requirements without undergoing a thorough approval process.

It explained that the IHF Commissions and Working Groups are traditionally tasked with evaluating beach handball regulations ahead of each IHF Congress and that a working group was already looking into equipment and uniforms.

"While alternatives to the current uniform have been already studied and elaborated by the IHF Beach Handball Working Group, the IHF cannot take a decision without analysing the implementation procedure as well and several steps need to be taken to implement new rules," it said.

In September, the sports ministers of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland wrote an open letter to the IHF, urging it to review its uniform policies "in accordance with gender equality."

The rule change will be officially presented to the IHF Congress in Turkey next week before taking effect in January.

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Corrected: November 1, 2021 at 10:00 PM MDT
A subhead on a previous version of this story incorrectly said an open letter was sent by four countries to the IHF last month. The letter was signed by five countries in September.
Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.