LONDON — More than a century after women were first allowed to compete in the Olympics, the run-up to the 2012 London Games has been fraught with controversy over what, exactly, female athletes should wear.
Beach volleyball players will be able to wear more clothes, rather than less, for the first time in Olympic competition — free to swap their bikinis for more modest shorts and sleeved tops. The change, announced in spring, was designed to accommodate countries’ cultural beliefs but, in the process, has devastated legions of male fans who cheer the sport’s skimpy attire as much as its athleticism.
Meantime, female boxers, who’ll make their Olympic debut in London, helped deal a knockout blow to an attempt to make them wear skirts in the ring rather than trunks. The idea, proposed by the Amateur International Boxing Association, was intended to help TV viewers distinguish women from men.
“I really didn’t understand that,” said Claressa Shields of Flint, Mich, 17, the youngest member of the U.S. boxing team, following a workout in east London on Thursday. “It was to help separate the men from the women. But we got different names! Women got breasts! We got butts! Can’t you tell which one is who?”
Gloria Peek, 62, a member of the U.S. boxing team’s coaching staff, was dumbfounded when the idea was proposed.
“This is a pugilistic sport, a combative sport. And you want to put sex into it? For what reason?” Peek asked. “The skirt equates to sex; it equates to nothing else. How are you going to take that and put it into a gladiator sport? And what does that have to do with it?”
Under the compromise that resulted, female boxers can wear skirts if they like but it won’t be mandatory. That suits Shields just fine.
“If you want to wear skirts, go ahead,” said Shields, a 165-pound middleweight. “But if you don’t, just let us be normal. I’m not gonna wear a skirt!”
And those aren’t the only Olympic sports with their proverbial knickers in a twist over the issue of women’s garb.
Much like boxing, badminton’s international governing body was forced to retreat from a new dress code that would have required female Olympians to wear skirts rather than shorts. The stated goal: to attract more fans through “a stylish presentation of the players.”
Following howls of protests, skirts were made optional.
In one sense, the angst over female athletes’ attire in a handful of Olympic disciplines is a mere footnote to a 17-day global competition that celebrates the best in sporting achievement and sportsmanship.
But in another sense, it offers a window on the complex and competing interests involved in staging the $18 billion Games: issues of marketing, gender politics and cultural diversity. And on the eve of the 2012 Olympics, they have collided on the peculiar playing field of women’s closets.
That’s familiar terrain to dress historian Patricia Campbell Warner, considered the leading authority on women’s clothing in sports and author of “When the Girls Came Out to Play: The Birth of American Sportswear.”
I like my buttocks on tv