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August 10 2008

Olympic Beach Volleyball

Could someone please explain the uniforms of beach volleyball to me?

As I was doing my work on Saturday, I had the Olympics playing as my background noise as opposed to my usual cartoons.  As I was watching Womens US Beach Volleyball duo Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh go on to their 102nd straight win, their uniforms, or lack there-of, struck me.  I know these bikiniesque uniforms have been the norm for a while now, but it doesn’t make them any less striking in how little there is to them.

This was contrasted by later in the day seeing the Mens US Beach Volleyball team of Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers in their baggy shorts and tank tops.  Why in the world do the women basically get made into sex objects while the men look like any pair of guys just hanging out on the beach?

The Olympic rules state the men must be in shorts that are at least 10 centimeters above the knees and in sleeveless tank tops.  Todd Rodgers has even said there should be a petition to get the rules changed.  ‘I’m in. I’ll sign,” he told RTE Sports, “It’s more comfortable anyway in this heat.”  Outside of the Olympics, the men do play shirtless, but for some reason the International Olympic Committee requires the shirts.

The women do have the option of wearing one piece bathing suits, but apparently they become a problem when sand gets in them, so bikinis are the best option.  The rules say they shouldn’t be indescent or overly skimpy, but when they are as tight as they wear them, they are unavoidable.  If you do a Google Images search on the women, and all you get numerous provacative pictures of them and very few action shots.

This is not some burning desire on my part to see shirtless men, but I do think it is an odd disparity between two genders in the same sport.  There is no doubt our women’s team are amazing athletes, but this seems horribly over shadowed by them being extremely fit women running around in extremely tight bikinis.  True, the women don’t seem that bothered by it as Kerri Walsh told RTE Sports “I feel I’m empowered. I’m a sportswoman, I’m getting stronger all the time and this is my uniform.”  She went on to say, “I don’t feel exploited at all. Hopefully we’re just encouraging people to be fit and healthy. Our lifestyle is so wonderful.”

If Ms. Walsh feels more empowered, good for her, and I understand the complaint about one piece suits, so why are men forced to play in so much concealment and in a way they find uncomfortable?  Would it be so horrible for them to play shirtless?  Male swimmers such as Michael Phelps are walking around the swimming pool in nothing but a Speedo and skull cap, so obviously the Olympics have no problem with the concept elsewhere in the games.  There are full body suits that swimmers can wear, some of them even causing less resistance in the water as it gives the swimmers a smoother surface, and some of our male swim team does wear partially covering suits.

I guess it is just the double standard I am struck by.  Why not give the women the option of the baggy shorts with a tank top and sports bra?  Why only swimsuits?  Why must the men wear shirts?  This, on the surface would seem to be a subject about comfort, but the longer you look at it, the more the old saying of “sex sells” starts to creep into my head, and I think that is an awful disservice to all the serious athletes effected by these decisions.



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  • The women seem to like their uniforms. They even have a video online with one of the women talking about how they need to wear as little as possible and the less fabric, the less sand they carry around with them, the faster and easier it is to get up from the sand after diving for a ball. I always thought they wouldn’t be pleased to wear so little, but I haven’t seen anyone upset with it. As for the guys, their uniforms should be made for comfort in the same way. I don’t understand why they aren’t allowed to be shirtless. They’re wearing the same thing as the indoor volleyball teams. You’d think with all the different countries involved, it would be the women that everyone has issue with not covering up.

  • And there you go, even more fodder for why this whole beach uniform policy makes NO sense.

  • I used to visit the Yahoo News Photo page. As I recall, whenever there were sporting events like the Olympics, the women’s beach volleyball always got enormously unrepresentative coverage, but just in photos–and, as you point out, very few action shots. It always struck me as being equivalent to soft porn.

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  • hanky

    i understand your theory of “sex sells” but the uniforms the women are wearing is actually a lot more conservative than you think.

    the truth of the matter is the the uniform that these ladies are wearing covers up MUCH MORE than they’d normally be covering up with their skimpy bikinis. if you look closely you’ll see the straps or ties for their normal bikinis underneath the uniform. you don’t see lots of bikini fabric sticking out from their uniforms so the uniform is definitely not smaller than their usual playing outfits. if these uniforms cover up 25% of their bodies, their usual bikinis cover up 10%.

    when you watch them play avp events they’re out there in next to nothing and proud of it. if you think they’re being exploited for their bodies it’s because they don’t mind it. they’re finely tuned athletes that work hard to get where they are physically and it’s part of the beach culture. again, it’s called BEACH VOLLEYBALL.

    if the men could play shirtless most probably would as your movement feels a lot less encumbered. but if the women had a choice to play in their regular (tiny)bikinis or these much bigger (in relative terms) uniforms, most would opt to go small.

  • hanky

    i understand your theory of “sex sells” but the uniforms the women are wearing are actually a lot more conservative than you think.

    the truth of the matter is the the uniform that these ladies are wearing covers up MUCH MORE than they’d normally be covering up with their skimpy bikinis. if you look closely you’ll see the straps or ties for their normal bikinis underneath the uniform. you don’t see lots of bikini fabric sticking out from their uniforms so the uniform is definitely not smaller than their usual playing outfits. if these uniforms cover up 25% of their bodies, their usual bikinis cover up 10%.

    when you watch them play avp events they’re out there in next to nothing and proud of it. if you think they’re being exploited for their bodies it’s because they don’t mind it. they’re finely tuned athletes that work hard to get where they are physically and it’s part of the beach culture. again, it’s called BEACH VOLLEYBALL.

    if the men could play shirtless most probably would as your movement feels a lot less encumbered. but if the women had a choice to play in their regular (tiny)bikinis or these much bigger (in relative terms) uniforms or board shorts, most would opt to go small.

  • Anon

    I’m boycotting beach volleyball this year, because the men are required to wear uniforms that aren’t part of their typical uniform, whereas women have no such requirements. It’s pure sexism. And, most websites who’ve published such information actually provide more pictures of women’s asses than anything else (no pics of men… and I’m not referring to this site). Nude (or nearly nude) women sell. But not to me.

  • Dawn

    It is a shame that women feel the need to take off their clothes to look pretty or feel “empowered”. God gave women all they need to empower themselves and sadly they don’t use it. Could we please get back to some sense of modesty and decency in America. Why do we crave all this sensuality. It would seem to me many people aren’t living in a satisfying marriage with great free sex. They have to get their licks from all this stuff!!! Shame on us!!

  • Patricia

    My issue is not that they choose to wear the bikinis but that they don’t have the option of wearing shorts or a shirt. If their only option is a one-piece, I’m not surprised they choose a two-piece.

    A few years ago, a beach v-ball player, who was in her 30’s and a mother, wanted to wear a shirt or shorts but wasn’t allowed to vary from the uniform. It was not her choice to wear the bikini but she was forced to do so to compete.

    Both the men and women should have the option to wear the most appropriate uniform for them, within reasonable guidelines.

  • Patricia – You hit the nail on the head, the players SHOULD have the options. If the woman you mentioned wanted to wear a shirt, let her wear a shirt! How is that possibly going to give her an advantage?

  • I guess that pretty much cuts most muslim women out of the competition–now that sounds fair!

    ;-)

  • Agreed, they should have options – they do in other sports. I mean, let’s be fair, Olympics. Fair across the board, regardless of sport. For example, Roqaya Al-Gassra of Bahrain competed in the women’s 200m the other night, covered from head to toe – unlike any of the other runners she was competing against. She won her heat in full hijab (although came in second to last in the finals, if I recall correctly).

    http://www.adnmundo.com/userfiles/contenidos/items/84629_detail.jpg

    It seems should you elect to wear this kind of attire, you should be allowed to. Aren’t we supposed to be letting the best athletes from all over the world perform? Doesn’t seem we do that if there is discrimination like this in certain sports.

    If this woman wanted to play beach volleyball, she should be able. You know, assuming she qualified and all.

    So, I guess we should be congratulating track and field for being inclusive. Way to go!

  • hanky

    i get your example of roqaya al-gassra running completely covered up, i wish she would’ve worn gloves and a mask to cover every inch of skin. maybe japan will enter a ninja and s/he will be completely covered in a stealthy black outfit? where’d s/he go?

    and you think by her doing so in track and field she’s able to exercise some form of choice? yes and no as this relates to women’s beach volleyball. no, she has no choice because she still has to wear the standard shorts and tank top. yes, she has a choice because she can wear a fur coat underneath it if she so chooses. big friggin deal!

    if the women of beach volleyball felt shy about their finely sculpted bodies or exploited even, instead of wearing tiny bikinis underneath their required uniforms, they could be completely covered up as well. of course from a performance perspective this would be retarded because they’d die from heat exhaustion. i haven’t done the research because i think this whole thread is ridiculous (but this is my opinion and i will respect yours) and unless there is a rule that says they cannot wear anything undeath their uniforms, you are seeing them show the skin they’re showing because the athletes are ok with it, not because you’re ok it. please, someone show me that rule and i will shut the hell up. if it doesn’t exist, turn off the tv and read about the results online.

  • Charlene

    The only reason Beach Volleyball is an Olympic sport is because of the women’s almost bare asses which will drag in the viewers. Put the men in a thong and I’ll be there too – and i don’t like BVB! The Olympics is quickly losing credibility with me and I think it is time to cancel it or change the rules to anything goes – let them dope themselves to death and compete naked – I really don’t care.

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  • Rachel

    hey i really like your article because i myself play beach volleyball and i think the uniform is extremely uncomfortable i hate showing pieces of skin here and there i think its some what degrading but we really dont have much of an option as the coach says rules are rules its extremely unfair. to many people are caught up in relating the uniforms the olympic athletes but what about young teens who want to get involved and then pull out because of what they not have to wear. australia is quick to blame parents about how obese their kids are but maybe if they actually had a look at what kids are forced to wear if they want to play sport im pretty sure they woudl then come to different conclusions on why australia is obese if only they could use their brains to come up with ideas to gain media coverage and more spectators instead creating a sex atmosphere for a sport tehn maybe they could concentrate on more important things then debating whether or not uniforms are approriate and stupid things like that i hope this makes sense well its just my opinion anyways