Olympics: New IOC guidelines allow beach volleyball players to cover up

Remember the ensuing hoopla when American soccer player Brandi Chastain whipped off her jersey to reveal a relatively modest black sports bra when her penalty-shootout kick bested China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup?

Just in time for the 2012 London games, the International Olympic Committee and the International Volleyball Federation sparked a very different body-conscious conversation — this one a sort of “reverse-Chastain” — when they announced that female beach volleyball athletes could choose more modest alternatives to the customary bikini. The move is intended to court participation from nations whose cultural and religious beliefs prevent women from donning the revealing, two-piece bathing suits that have been the required attire for the sport since it debuted at the Summer Olympics in 1996.

According to the new guidelines, female competitors can now take to the sand in shorts of a maximum length of 1.18 inches above the knee and full-coverage tops with sleeves.

The move instantly launched a flurry of press fretting the potential loss of the sport’s inherent sex appeal, while athletes who favor bikinis — including American beach volleyball superstars Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor (below) — also defended their preference’s superiority in terms of comfort and performance.

“I’ve played in a bikini for a very specific reason and it’s that it’s most comfortable,” Walsh explained to Sports Illustrated, “I’ve worked really hard with Oakley to get a really good suit that I’m not worried about wardrobe malfunctions, and it’s really sporty.”

In any case, the move may prove much ado about nothing terribly new if the 17 countries that have secured participation in the women’s division of the sport are any indication, since none have the aforementioned cultural or religious restrictions that the new guidelines were intended to embrace.

• Australia (2 teams)
• Brazil (2 teams)
• Czech Republic (2 teams)
• Germany (2 teams)
• Netherlands (2 teams)
• Russia (2 teams)
• USA (2 teams)
• Argentina
• Austria
• Canada
• China
• Great Britain
• Greece
• Italy
• Mauritius
• Spain
• Switzerland

Nonetheless, while their profile page on the official Australian Olympic team’s website seems to indicate otherwise, the Aussies — Natalie Cook, Tamsin Hinchley, Louise Bawden and Becchara Palmer — may someday take advantage of the new rules. The Australian Sports Commission recently released a “sexploitation” fact sheet taking certain women’s sporting events, including beach volleyball, to task for uniform requirements that “intentionally focus attention on the athletes’ bodies rather than for any technological, practical or performance-enhancing reasons.”

Since it’s nearly impossible to imagine that any athletes come to the games intent on losing, it could be that the most appropriate uniform choice is ultimately that in which any of the athletes — bound by cultural mores or otherwise — feels best contributes to her own optimal performance.

Without the rest of the world chiming in.

Photo: ©Paul Kitagaki Jr/Sacramento Bee/ZUMAPRESS.com

About Lori Acken

Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.
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