Team USA Coach Backs Norway Women's Beach Handball Team Over Uniform Protest

The head coach of Team USA's women's beach handball team has backed Norway's players after they wore shorts in a recent game to protest a bikini bottom mandate.

Norway's women's beach handball team wore shorts at the European Beach Handball Championships in Bulgaria during a match against Spain—contrary to the International Handball Federation's regulations which stipulate bikini bottoms must be worn.

A fine of 150 euros per player, a total of 1,500 euros—equivalent to around $1,767—was issued, the European Handball Federation (EHF) said in a statement last week.

A widely shared social media post had said the team made the decision due to feeling "unnecessarily sexualized and uncomfortable" when wearing bikinis.

Norway's team received an outpouring of support on social media, including from singer Pink. She criticized the EHF and offered to pay the fines, in a post shared on Twitter.

Speaking to Newsweek, the USA's women's beach handball team's head coach, Lisa Dunn, commended the Norway team's actions and backed a change to the rules.

"The strict rule on women's uniforms has been a well-known issue in the beach handball community for years and many teams have voiced their discomfort and upset about these outdated regulations the IHF set for female athlete's uniforms," Dunn said.

"It takes an act of courage and willingness (and ability) to accept the fines that come with the action Norway has taken, along with the support of their federation."

"Due to their willingness to accept consequences, this story has gained traction and worldwide attention from the media and public which hopefully will be a confirmation to the IHF that the uniform restrictions have to change in order for the sport to grow.

"The National Teams want and need to attract the very best athletes and this can only happen when there is no barrier to entry (uniform or otherwise). The game and world have simply outgrown the original beach handball uniform regulations and are deserving of the updates that are undoubtedly coming."

Dunn said that as a former player herself, she understood the discomfort felt by following the current regulations.

"As a former USA Beach Handball athlete that has competed under these regulations, I can attest to the discomfort and sexual exploitation one feels being forced to wear such revealing uniforms and has definitely impacted how the women teams warm up and potentially play because it would put us in an even more exposing position," Dunn said.

"The regulation also doesn't stop at size but also temperature. There is cold gear allowed to be worn (long spandex pants and long sleeve spandex shirt) however a team can only wear this if it's below a certain temperature, which usually is dictated by officials and not by the athletes feeling cold.

"I do believe that Norway has taken a really important step towards advocating for basic human rights and gender equality for women in athletics.

"Team USA Beach Handball is in full support of giving women the right to choose their uniforms in which to represent their country."

The fine issued was paid by Norway's handball federation—which has offered its support to the team over the protest—and the EHF has since detailed that it donated the money to "a major international sports foundation which supports equality for women and girls in sports."

"The EHF acknowledges the position of the players involved and further steps towards change, in close coordination with the International Handball Federation, have been and are in motion," EHF President Michael Wiederer said in a statement.

"We are very much aware of the attention the topic has received over the past days, and while changes cannot happen overnight, we are fully committed that something good comes out of this situation right now which is why the EHF has donated the fine for a good cause promoting equality in sports."

Norway's women's beach handball team welcomed this, writing in an Instagram post: "Babysteps. It feels so good to know that we have EHFs support, and we believe that a change is in motion. We can not wait."

The team also thanked those who had offered support, writing in a separate post: "Thank you so much for all the support. We really appreciate all the love we have received. You're the best."

The IHF and the EHF released a joint statement on the matter last week, which detailed previous discussions on the issue and said that further debate would be forthcoming.

"The matter was already discussed at the EHF Congress in April 2021 upon a motion of the Norwegian Handball Federation," the statement said.

"The 50 EHF Member Federations including the Norwegian Handball Federation, and in the presence of the President of the International Handball Federation, decided that the newly elected Beach Handball Commission at their first meeting in August will deal with the topic and will table suggestions which subsequently can be presented to the International Handball Federation.

"As the IHF is the competent body for the worldwide valid regulations, it has to be stated that such a motion has to be addressed to the IHF Council due to formal reasons."

IHF's current rules state: "Female athletes must wear bikini bottoms that are in accordance with the enclosed graph, with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg. The side width must be of a maximum of 10 centimetres."

Thomas Schöneich, director of media and communications for the EHF, told Newsweek: "I would like to underline that the European Handball Federation acknowledges the players' standpoint and is fully committed to change.

"This process for change has been started already at the EHF Congress in April this year and we will present suggestions following the first meeting of the EHF Beach Handball Commission at the end of August. Nevertheless, I have no issue to admit that we are late in this matter.

"At the same time, Lisa rightfully points out that the change must happen on the level of the International Handball Federation. From an EHF point [of view], we will present suggestions and we will do our utmost that a change of regulations is implemented as early as possible."

In regard to temperature-related regulations, Schöneich added that "to all my knowledge and all the European events I have attended, the teams'/players' perception was always taken into account."

Newsweek has contacted the IHF and the Norway women's beach handball team for further comment.

norway women's beach handball team
Norway team line up during 2018 Women's Beach Handball World Cup final against Greece on July 29, 2018 in Kazan, Russia. The current team wore shorts in a recent game in protest over bikini regulations. Ilnar Tukhbatov/Epsilon/Getty Images

Update 07/27/2021, 9:10 a.m. EDT: This article was updated to include further comment from Thomas Schöneich, director of media and communications for the EHF.