New Olympic sport: judging athletes in hijabs
The Egyptian women’s beach volleyball team changed the conversation about women’s dress and feminism.
By AHMED THARWAT
AUGUST 18, 2016 — 6:40PM
The contrasting images last week of the fully clothed Egyptian women’s beach volleyball team playing the skimpily clad German team swept across media coverage and the internet during the 2016 Rio Olympics. Sports uniforms, which are big business mainly dominated by corporate sponsorship, were suddenly transformed into a cultural hot button on the beach of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Watching women with oily bodies in bikinis playing beach volleyball has become a global spectacle, attracting millions of viewers. Sexism has always been a part of women sports. But only recently, in 2012 to be exact, the FIVB (International Volleyball Federation) announced that it would no longer enforce its bikini requirement on women’s beach volleyball players.
That decision was driven not by cultural or feminist pressure, but by the global appeal of volleyball in non-Western countries and by fear of losing the market and players in places where people have different ideas about how women should dress. FIVB spokesman Richard Baker said, “We don’t think we will see much change [in attire] on the world tour.”
However, the Egyptian team not only delivered change at the Rio Olympics, but changed the conversation about women’s dress and feminism. Muslim women, body and soul, were once again in the international forefront. The West has been fixated on Muslim women’s dress for a long time. France has banned hijab wearing in public schools and government facilities, and the “burqini” — the long swimwear that some Muslim women wear — has been banned at some beaches.
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