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Who Decides What a Champion Should Wear?

  • July 29, 2021

In 2012, just before the London Olympics, the Amateur International Boxing Association proposed that female boxers wear skirts, not shorts, to differentiate themselves from men. (A petition and uproar put an end to that idea.) This followed a similarly unsuccessful attempt in 2011 by the Badminton World Federation to make women players wear skirts and dresses.

When the women’s soccer league began to break through in the early millennium and players started to lobby for equal treatment, Sepp Blatter, then the president of FIFA, the international soccer federation, suggested they play in tighter, smaller shorts, to “create a more female aesthetic.” The implication being that the only way to get people to pay to see the players was for them to essentially sell their bodies.

That notion was shut down pretty quickly, though the viewership argument still comes up in conversations about dress and sports. (The assumption that the watching fan base is largely male is itself a questionable one.) It wasn’t until 2019, however, that female soccer players actually had uniforms made specifically for their needs rather than scaled-down versions of the male cuts.

At this point, an alien landing on Earth could be forgiven for being confused about the so-called skirts worn by women in tennis, field hockey, squash and lacrosse, since they resemble the vestige of a skirt — like a vestigial tail — more than an actual garment.

Likewise, it would make no sense that men and women wear such strikingly different amounts of clothing in, say, track and field, whereas in sports like rowing, basketball and softball they wear close to the same thing.

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