Women’s beach volleyball gets a lot of attention, the majority of which is unfortunately spent on what the athletes are wearing and not on their physical prowess.
The women’s bikini uniforms and whether or not they’re appropriate is hotly debated. Some people often wonder why the women wear the bikinis at all while the men are all allowed to wear tank tops and shorts.
INSIDER looked into the matter and found that the answer is really simple: Women beach volleyball players wear the bikinis because they want to, not because it’s required.
“The athletes are allowed to wear long sleeves, they’re allowed to wear shorts, tank tops,” Corinne Calabro, the communications director for USA Volleyball, told USA Today’s For The Win. “But we’ve gotten a lot of athletes on record saying they prefer to wear a two-piece because there are less places for sand to hide. They don’t view it as swim wear or anything like a fashion statement. For them, that’s their uniform.”
This wasn’t always the case. When beach volleyball became an Olympic medal event in Atlanta Games in 1996, the women’s uniform was a bikini with the option to wear a body suit underneath in cold weather or for modesty purposes. The International Volleyball Exertion (FIVB) updated the rule in 2012 to allow players to wear shorts as well as sleeved tops in an effort to be more inclusive and respectful of the different cultural beliefs around the world.
“Many of these countries have religious and cultural requirements, so the uniform needed to be more flexible,” FIVB spokesman Richard Baker told The Associated Press in 2012.
But many women will continue to wear the bikinis since it allows them to compete in the extreme heat and it’s what they’re used to wearing.
“When it comes to beach volleyball, we’re playing in 100-degree-plus weather,” Team USA player Kerri Walsh Jennings told The Huffington Post. “I think we’ve just gotta educate the public, take it with a grain of salt and make sure that we’re working hard and not playing up the sex appeal because it’s inherent anyway.”
Walsh Jennings as well as her team partner April Ross, even worked to design the Team USA uniforms themselves with Japanese sportswear company Mizuno. The athletes have proudly displayed their design throughout the Rio Olympics, and even threw on cold weather shirts underneath their bikinis when temperatures in Rio de Janeiro dropped into the 60s.
“We get a lot of flak about our bathing suits,” Walsh Jennings told the AP. “But we work really hard to make sure that they fit and they’re sport-appropriate and performance-enhancing.”
Ultimately, the 2016 FIVB uniform guide actually offers more options for women than it does for men, who are stuck with a tank top and shorts as their only style choice.
The women, on the other hand, can choose from bikinis, one pieces, long-sleeved options, short-sleeved options, as well as tank tops and shorts. Whatever option they choose, the only requirement is that both athletes on each team must wear identical uniforms.
Walsh Jennings and Ross will be competing in the beach volleyball quarterfinals in Rio on Sunday, August 14.