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In-Depth: why female athletes are tired of the ‘sexualisation’ of sports

When it comes to the uniforms of female athletes, things are always either too revealing or not revealing enough. It only took a century but things seem to finally be curving in their favour.

American gymnast Simone Biles, who was touted to be this year’s headliner, withdrew from the women's team final at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Her decision to prioritise her mental health triggered a toxic debate as well as an outpour of support from many, including fellow athletes.

SEE MORE Simone Biles to not defend gymnastics title, withdraws from all-around competition

While mental well-being is not a gender-exclusive matter, you can’t ignore the sheer sexism, negativity and double standards that female athletes have to face on top of all the regular hardships that make up the life of any sportsperson.

And the continued sexualisation of women’s bodies, both on and off the field, is clearly a major contributor to this problem.

When women were first allowed to compete at the Olympic Games in 1900, the 22 women were dubbed a ‘distraction’ and so they were asked to wear high-necked ankle-length dresses with long sleeves.

As time passed, things stretched to the other extreme. From 1996 to 2012, women volleyball players were required to wear bikinis. There was no place for modest dressing, and the Iran women's team were banned from playing in the 2011 Games due to their hijabs.

While some progress has been made, non-male athletes still have to navigate a complicated code of dressing rules.

Just recently, Norway's beach handball team was fined for wearing bike shorts instead of bikini bottoms at a European tournament. The European Handball Federation called it ‘a case of improper clothing’ even though the men’s team has always been allowed to wear shorts. Meanwhile, Paralympian Olivia Breen said an England Athletics official told her that her sprint briefs were ‘too revealing.’

Fed up of the lose-lose situation, sportswomen are now taking matters into their own hands. The German women’s gymnastics team made an important statement at the 2020 Olympics by wearing full-body unitards at the competition. It was a move to promote freedom of choice and encourage women to wear what makes them feel comfortable.

SEE MORE Nike releases new 'Pro Hijab' to meet growing demands

Iran's Soraya Aghaei Hajiagha, and her coach, wore a dress, leggings and a hijab for the badminton match. In fact, out of the 30 badminton players at the 2020 Olympics, including our very own P.V. Sindhu, two-thirds wore shorts, while the rest chose from skorts, dresses and skirts.

These moves pave the way for future athletes, across all genders, to play wearing what they want and not what the world would like to see them in.

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