Beach Volleyball Bikini Ban Leads to Top Players Boycotting Tournament

Two German beach volleyball stars will boycott a tournament in Qatar over the nation's refusal to allow female players to wear bikinis on the court.

Karla Borger, who won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and her doubles partner, Julia Sude, will not take part in the FIVB World Tour event in Doha as Qatar is "the only country" which mandates female players to wear shirts and long trousers.

"We are there to do our job, but are being prevented from wearing our work clothes," Borger told radio station Deutschlandfunk on Sunday.

"This is really the only country and the only tournament where a government tells us how to do our job—we are criticizing that. [...] We are asking whether it's necessary to hold a tournament there at all."

Qatar has hosted a men's beach volleyball competition over the last seven years, but next month's FIVB World Tour event will mark the first time the nation will stage a women's tournament.

In a separate interview with Der Spiegel magazine, the duo said they were happy to "adapt to any country" in normal circumstances, but would not comply with the demands of the organizers of the event in Doha.

In a statement emailed to Newsweek, FIVB—the International Volleyball Federation—said it "respects the rights of all athletes to decide which events they compete in."

However, the organization added it "only received positive feedback" when a "democratic consultation" with players was held over the possibility of the tournament being held in Qatar.

"In early January, the female Athletes' Commission members collected opinions among athletes about hosting the event in Doha and an anonymous survey among the international beach volleyball players was also conducted," the statement read.

"The FIVB worked closely with the QVA (Qatar Volleyball Association) to provide detailed information about the event, including uniform requirements and safety protocols in the bubble.

"The FIVB only received positive feedback from this consultation and no concerns regarding uniforms were raised. Players expressed their support for the initiative to hold the first-ever women's beach volleyball tournament in Doha."

Qatar has grown to be a major player in the world of sporting events, hosting the World Athletics Championship two years ago and the FIFA's Club Soccer World Cup earlier this month, despite its notoriously scorching hot weather.

Karla Borger, Julia Sude
Karla Borger (R) of Germany talks to team mate Julia Sude of Germany on day three of the Comdirect Beach Tour 2020 on August 16, 2020 in Hamburg, Germany. Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty

The country's heat and humidity—temperatures can climb as high as 86F even in March—are such that next year's FIFA World Cup will be held in December, as opposed to its traditional June-July slot to minimize the impact of the weather.

Punishing heat aside, Qatar's human rights record and attitude towards women has cast a long shadow over the country's suitability to host major sporting events.

Last week, Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad Al Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family, seemingly refused to acknowledge female officials during the FIFA Club World Cup awards ceremony.

Footage of the trophy presentation showed the sheikh bumping fists with male match officials following Bayern Munich's win over Tigres UANL in the tournament's final, before allegedly snubbing female referees Edina Alves Batista and Neuza Back.

Qatari authorities, however, swiftly dismissed the alleged snub as a "minor misunderstanding" due to the strict COVID-19 protocols in place.

"To limit the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus, there were strict protocols in place and everyone involved in the tournament was strongly advised to avoid physical contact," an official statement read.

"In this instance, the misunderstanding arose from the perception that three of the match officials did not want to conduct the customary 'fist bump' with His Excellency Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad Al Thani, which was of course their right.

"When seen in its entirety, it is clear from the footage that this was a simple misunderstanding and there was no intention to offend."

FIFA president Gianni Infantino denied suggestions that he had instructed the two female referees not to greet the Sheikh.

"I used the opportunity to congratulate them for the great job that they performed throughout the competition," he told Reuters.

"This was a landmark for FIFA. The first time that female officials were appointed to, and officiated at a men's senior FIFA competition.

"As everyone knows, I am a strong advocate of women's rights and equal treatment of every human being. Regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or physical ability."

Meanwhile, according to an investigation published on Tuesday by British newspaper The Guardian, over 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since the country secured the right to host the 2022 World Cup 10 years ago.