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Protests like the present Norwegian case against silly rules for women's athletic wear are vital for urging as many people as possible down the path to "That's somebody".
It's unlikely that even one in ten Americans could describe the first thing about the rules of beach handball. But the International Handball Federation not only exists, it has strong opinions regarding the acceptable apparel for players. In short: Men are to dress like they're playing a sport, and women are to dress like they're going for a swim. And the Norwegian women's national team took a stand and said "no" to playing in bikini bottoms.
■ This protest -- conducted in shorts -- resulted in fines, which the national organization will cover for the players. Now, the European Handball Federation says it "will do all it can to ensure that a change of athlete uniform regulations can be implemented", whatever that means. In its statement of support, the European organization pled innocence to the rule, saying that only the international governing body could do anything about it.
■ For its part, the International Handball Federation issued the kind of mealy-mouthed defense-de-bureaucratese that the world has come to expect from unaccountable worldwide governing bodies. Its defense begins "First of all, both the European Handball Federation and the International Handball Federation are committed to popularising beach handball" and leans on "the ideal presentation of the sport" as its most important objective.
■ They have the option to prove otherwise, but that sounds like veiled language for a pretty obvious pretext: They want female players to bring sex appeal to the game. There's no serious justification for the difference between the men's and women's uniforms, and three cheers for the women of Team Norway for taking a stand. Three additional cheers for the officials backing them.
■ And it's not just handball: Gymnasts from Germany have taken a stand on women's uniforms in that sport, as well. If a uniform has something to do with the actual performance of the sport, then elite athletes will choose it on their own. If the uniform is being selected merely because it shows more skin, then those same athletes should be free to make reasonable choices for themselves and their own level of comfort.
■ Rules like the IHF's tend to reflect a thoughtless sexual objectification of women. Sometimes, along the way to some enlightenment on the matter, men (almost always older than the women affected by their policies) will go from (a) not considering the humanity of the affected women at all to (b) thinking "That's somebody's daughter". And while that's better than no consideration at all, it has to be no more than a way station before whittling down "That's somebody's daughter" to "That's somebody".
■ Protests like the present Norwegian case are vital for urging as many people as possible down the path to "That's somebody". It's a cause in the same spirit as the justified drive to permit swimmers to cover their natural hair in a sensibly accommodating way.
■ Athletes empowered to make their own choices may choose to expose more of themselves or less -- but what matters is leaving it up to them, within the bounds of fair competition.
■ We're not returning to the ancient practice of nude Olympics, but there's no shame in an athlete choosing to appear in the ESPN Body Issue, either. What matters is the person who makes the choice. May the 2020(-ish) Olympics bring the world more than a few instances when we can appreciate what the athletes do more than how they look, and who they are more than what shapes they occupy.