London Olympics 2012: “Sexy” women’s volleyball and basketball uniforms updated at last

[This post is specifically about gender and Australian sports uniforms in the Olympics. For our general London 2012 Olympics thread, go here.]

Some of you oldie Hoydens might remember my 2008 post on Australian Olympics uniforms, Women still the sex class in international elite sports. I thought I’d do a bit of an update on gender and our Aussie uniforms for the 2012 Olympics. And – how often does this happen? – things have actually changed for the better, at least in two sports!

Most notably, the regulations dictating that all women playing beach volleyball are required wear teeny-tiny bikinis has changed. Female beach volleyball players will now have the choice of wearing shorts or bikini bottoms. This change ostensibly took place to enable the participation of more women from countries and cultures which restrict the amount of skin women may show; it also allows women from other cultures the opportunity to cover up a little more should they so desire.

The Australian women’s beach volleyball shorts are similar to cycling shorts. But guess what? We still get the “cheeky” butt shot for the publicity photos. Somehow I’m reminded of the “brokeback” tits-and-arse shows on comic book covers.

women in Australian beach volleyball uniform - tigh cycling-type shorts with a loose sleeveless tracksuit top. She is posed, bum pushed at the camera, with her fingers making an upside down V sign over her buttocks.

Men, however, will still be participating in loose tank tops and loose long shorts – no Speedos or bare chests for them. There’s no Australian men’s beach volleyball team this Olympics, but other countries’ uniforms are expected to be similar to these of the Brazil team last Olympics:

two men playing beach volleyball in loose tank tops and long shorts. Their arms are up, as in a victory pose.

The other noticeable change has been in the Australian women’s basketball uniforms.

Daily Life expands [emphases are mine]:

As they fight for more exposure, female Olympians worldwide will be more covered up at this year’s London games.

Or, in the case of Australia’s Opals basketballers – who since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 have been lobbying for uniforms that decrease, rather than encourage, the perve factor – they will ditch the skin-tight bodysuits that left little to the imagination for looser attire. […] When the Opals hit the basketball courts in London, hoping to improve on the silver medal they won at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, they will look much more like their male counterparts. Gone are the figure-hugging one-piece suits that, for some spectators, enhanced the pleasure of watching Australia’s best basketballers. Replacing them will be a far more traditional uniform – worn in the major leagues worldwide and in Australia’s Women’s National Basketball League – of shorts and singlets.

‘The players have been lobbying for a while to change and we’re really happy now that we’ve got the new uniforms,” Olympics hopeful Jenna O’Hea, a player for the Los Angeles Sparks in America’s WNBA and the Dandenong Rangers in Australia’s WNBL, said yesterday.

It’s a lot more comfortable with lots of room to move and we really enjoy playing in it.

Coincidentally, the Australian team’s uniform was launched on the same day the International Volleyball Federation detailed new rules for female beach volleyballers, who are no longer required to compete in the skimpy bikinis that announced the sport’s Olympic debut in Atlanta, in 1996, with a bang.

Here are the old and new Opals uniforms side by side:

two photos of women in basketball uniforms. The first is a tight single-piece suit, shaped like a steamer wetsuit, sleeveless with short shorts. The second is a loose tank tops and knee-length loose shorts.

The Hockeyroos, however, are still in skin-tight tank tops and short skirts while the men’s hockey team wear loose singlets and shorts. Not only that, but whoever’s in charge of publicity shots appears to be an upskirter. Ew.

two pictures of people in hockey uniforms. The first is a tight tank top and skirt, the camera low with a view up tot he woman's crotch. The second is a man, short from above in an action stance, wearing a loose tank top and loose mid-thigh shorts.

Athletics is another huge Olympics sport. What will our competitors be wearing? Well, the women, it seems, will be showing as much skin as possible within existing laws and reasonable boob-corralage: a bra top and short-short hotpants.

two pictures of a woman in athletics uniform: a bra top with tiny, very tight short hotpant-style shorts.

While the men will be covering up in loose long tops with bike shorts (the jumper) or loose running shorts (the long distance runner):

two men in athletics uniforms. The first is in long cycling-type shorts and a tank top; the second in a loose tank top and loose shot marathon shorts.

I can’t find a picture of the official walking uniforms, but here are recent pictures of Australian long-distance walkers: again, women in tiny bikini-like outfits, and men covered up in loose gear.

two walkers, one female, one male. The woman is wearing a tiny bikini style outfit; the man, tank top and loose marathon-style running shorts.

Gymnastics is another sport in which the men inexplicably are much more covered than the women. Woman wear high-cut skin-tight leotards while men have full-length trousers:

two gymnasts in competition gear. The woman is in a tight leotard, long sleeves, high cut at the hip; the man in a tank top, long non-skin-tight trousers, and socklike foot covering.

There are a few sports where things are equal: judo, soccer, cycling, and some others. Here are our cycling teams!

two cycling teams, male and female, in identical gear: short sleeved tight zip-up tops and knee length cycling shorts.

In which sports do men have less skin coverage? Diving, water polo, and some swimmers (though all-over suits are pretty common too). Here are a couple of our divers.

two divers in flight, a woman in a one-piece swimsuit, a man in a speedo type suit.

Lastly – guess which uniform was featured front and centre when the official Australian Olympics team uniforms were unveiled? It’s really not that difficult:

group of athletes in various uniforms. The one in front is an athlete wearing a bra type crop top with tiny hotpants shorts.

What do you think of our team uniforms? What changes would you make, in a world where the survival of some women’s sports didn’t rely on a titillating skin show?

Categories: gender & feminism

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20 replies

  1. I’m going to be optiimistic (it is the Olympics!) and hope the survival of women’s sport doesn’t depend on the skin show. People (including uniform designers) are just so exposed to a culture where women’s bodies and skin are always on display. I hope that whoever designs clothing for the next Olympics designs with functionality as their first priority (for all the different body types wearing the uniform). On a related note the outfits for the Aussie team in the opening ceremony were quite good, but I was watching in the US and might have missed something ’cause we were on screen for about ten seconds.
    So excited for the Olympics! So many amazing athletes! Fully expect to be eye-rolling at the blatant and subtle sexism that (has and) will occur, but with online streaming we can ignore some of the more egregious commentators/ events. 🙂

  2. Interesting to see that the mens gymnastics uniforms are long pants. Kind of wierd that the men’s uniforms uncovers the arms (men made to show off arm muscles?), but covers the legs and the women’s does the reverse! I did a few years of competitive gymnastics as a child and us boys wore short leotards (no longs for arms or legs) as well, but the boys wore shorts as well whereas the girls didn’t.
    I did read a news report that the Australia beach volleyball team are wearing long sleeved and legged clothing underneath their bikinis this year at the olympics because its simply too cold when they’re playing.

  3. It’s probably worth pointing out: the way our elite female athletes are dressed influences what’s acceptable and available in the public domain for even the most amateur female sportsperson. These over-sexualised and overly-skimpy outfits mean someone who isn’t in the “physically attractive to look at” range has an incredibly difficult time finding sporting wear. It also means people who aren’t in the “attractive to look at” range can wind up finding it very difficult to actually participate in sporting pursuits in public.
    I’m size 24 in dresses, over forty, and 5’2″ tall. I don’t partake of sporting activities (even though it would be great for my figure, my overall health, and my social skills) because quite frankly, I don’t fancy the thought of dealing with any of the following:
    1) Heading down to the nearest sporting goods shop to discover the only female attire they have that will fit me is some of the shoes, and maybe the odd sweatband.
    2) Trying to find the money (out of my extremely low income) to cover the cost of what sporting wear is available for a person of my physical size (here’s a hint: a sports bra alone is likely to set me back at least $100, if I’m lucky).
    3) Finding such sporting gear which is available in my size is inadequate for the purpose it’s supposed to be serving. In this category I put all the swimsuits for size 24 women which appear to be designed on the principle “no woman ever goes past a B-cup in breast size” (and therefore all upper torso designs can be made with the archetypical B-cup in mind). I haven’t gone swimming in five years because I can’t find a swimsuit anywhere my E-cup tits won’t pour out of the top of in the first minute or so.
    4) Having purchased the gear, heading out to participate in my activity-of-choice and dealing with the looks and comments of various interested bystanders. (This accounts for at least part of my dislike of joining gyms – I’m there, I’m doing my workout, and I’m getting these LOOKS from the other people there which imply I’m getting fat cooties all over their nice temple to thinness).
    Now, I’m not saying the uniforms for our Australian Olympic athletes are directly to blame for all of this. However, I’d say there’s a certain problematic attitude involved which says a woman who is involved in sporting activity still has to be appealing to the male gaze at all times (and if she isn’t, why is she doing it?).

  4. @Megpie- judgmental people at the gym are terrible, I’m sorry. Also, I don’t know why swimsuits for recreational swimmers are designed for people with low body fat and/ or small breasts. I had to go online and read reviews to find a swimsuit that I wouldn’t fall out of when I sprinted! It’s ridiculous- and obviously foolish in terms of profits and whatnot.
    If sports clothing manufacturers would just make functional clothing (if you’re going to include pockets, add zippers!) it would make exercising so much easier. The idea that we should look good while working out (and should be working out to look good) is so obviously flawed. Which is one of the reasons why the sporting uniforms of the Aussie team is so important, I guess.

  5. In which sports do men have less skin coverage? … some swimmers (though all-over suits are pretty common too)

    Not since 2010, because of the controversy over the advantages that full-body swimsuits appeared to confer: between 2008 and 2010, swimming world records fell at something like 3 times the rate in immediately preceding years. Since 1 January 2010 the FINA guidelines for swimwear are:

    … swimwear for men shall not extend above the navel nor below the knee, and for women, shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulder, nor shall extend below knee.

    The result is that elite swimming (worldwide) can be definitively added to the list of sports where men wear less, since covering their chests is forbidden.
    I don’t know enough about any elite sport to have much of an opinion about what the optimal clothing is independent of sexualisation, but the skirt in the hockey uniform doesn’t look like in the picture like it has the kind of give that would allow for long strides when running, so might actually hinder performance.
    For amateur athletic wear, I have issues with swimsuits too (6’4″ tall, size 16–18 in tops, D/DD-ish breasts, I cobble together men’s swim shorts with Speedo long two piece athletic swim tops but they only go to size 16 with a B-ish cup so it’s a literal squeeze), and in addition they suffer from seasonal availability problems despite swimming being a year-round sport in much of Australia: athletic swimwear is sold in spring and decorative in spring/summer. Start swimming at any other time and extra tough luck finding a suit.

  6. I read an interview with Natalie Cook and she wasn’t happy she would need to wear more clothes at the Olympics than the usual bikini (so she would be warm). She said she preferred the bikini and in fact, would prefer to be naked when she played!
    So perhaps *some* of the skimpy uniforms are designed taking into consideration what the players want?

  7. I’ve no doubt that is true for some of the athletes Bri, but I’m always suspicious of the claims that skimpy clothing is better for athletes to compete in. I always wonder why this only applies if the athlete is female in some sorts. The blokes in beach volleyball seem to be able to play just as well in singlet tops and loose shorts.
    There was a Kickstarter a few weeks ago that Kath (@fatheffalump) tweeted about for aa startup company for exercise gear designed and made by fat women for fat women.

  8. I think what I’d really like to see, both as an athlete myself and when watching elite athletic competitions, is more individual choice when it comes to uniform (or general availability of athletic wear) components. When I was reading through the comments in A defense of skimpy running clothes at Fit and Feminist, I was struck by how much variation there was in preferences. Some of us wanted full tanks and long shorts, some wanted sports bras and long shorts, some wanted full tanks and short shorts, some wanted sports bras and short shorts — and all had a performance or comfort-based reason for their choice. This was with a small sample size and within the same basic athletic activity (distance running, which admittedly encompasses a lot of varieties of “distance”). Bodies — even bodies competing in the same sport — are different, and it would stand to reason that different people would have different needs and preferences.
    I understand that this isn’t going to be feasible in an all-on team sport (e.g., basketball, soccer, etc.). There’s a legitimate case to be made there for all members of the team wearing identical uniforms. However, in events where athletes perform individually (e.g., gymnastics, diving, at least most track and field events), I can’t see why athlete athletes shouldn’t get to choose their own pieces from, say, a pre-designed and pre-approved selection.

  9. I’m with Tori – do sportswear designers really not know that different people have different preferences? Is it really feasible that a country as medal-obsessed as Australia has uniforms based on looks rather than what the athletes demand for optimal personal performance?
    And even team sports do not need identical uniforms – AFL and I think other football codes allow players a fair bit of choice within an overall team look. As long as you have the colours the same (and I mean the long and short sleeved versions made at the same time on the same equipment) the players will look like a team.

  10. For those looking for plus size active wear, search ‘Cult of California’. They have very fashion-forward stuff up to size 30. In the USA of course! The availability of such things in Australia is nonexistent apparently. I was in Target yesterday and they had a display with activewear and promoting 30 minutes of exercise a day as great for your health. No plus sizes of course. The best we get is a few ‘casuals’ – black trackies or leggings, plain t-shirts and sweatshirts; nothing actually designed for sport. Grr.

  11. ’This change ostensibly took place to enable the participation of more women from countries and cultures which restrict the amount of skin women may show’

    While the change to beach volleyball costume rules is welcome, it’s disappointing that it’s motivated by cultural concerns, not gender political arguments. In other words, it’s merely the dude rules of one patriarchy respecting the dude rules of another patriarchy.

  12. FWIW, the mens gymnastic uniforms depends on which discipline they’re on. Some use full trousers, but vault and floor they typically wear some very short-shorts. Not sure I’d lump them in the sexist category.
    And athletics uniform decisions are typically left up to the individual athlete. Tight/loose, skin or full-body suit (ala Cathy Freeman) is up to them. If they choose to use their bodies for marketing purposes, that’s really the athletes prerogative.

  13. I am wondering how much control over the uniforms falls to the designers, and how much to the various sports governing bodies. If the movie (not doco) I saw is anything to go by, gymnastics is pretty strict about what you can wear, and how you wear it.
    Even at a very junior level in tennis, I was forbidden to wear tracksuit pants, and had to wear a netball skirt (because that makes sense, right?), whatever the weather. One player was granted an exemption on religious/cultural grounds. Once I was discovered not to be her, I was told to remove the pants post haste.
    And on the equality stakes, male and female rowers dress the same.
    I think in some sports the athletes have choice from a preapproved range, you’ll notice swimmers wear a small variety of suits, for example.

  14. That is true Arcadia, but it doesn’t mean that the governing body is necessarily thinking only of the athletes comfort when making those rules. Beach volleyball is the outstanding example here. The width of the women’s bikini bottoms is mandated to be miniscule. Is that really necessary for the sport to be played?

  15. Mary: You might like ”Olympics Or Gay P*rn? It’s hard to tell sometimes.”
    [Edited to add: Fairly NSFW, in case it wasn’t obvious, but dangly bits are censored.]

  16. I agree, Mindy.

  17. Lauredhel: I had seen that and was amused, yes 🙂

  18. The women playing volleyball don’t have to wear bikinis–but I wonder how many have chosen anything else, assuming the British weather isn’t too cold. And if some of the players have wanted to stay more covered, what did they say about it?

  19. Relevant post on Sociological Images links to a newspaper photo essay on what it would be like if various male athletes were photographed in the same way that the female beach volleyball players are photographed.

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