The Badminton World Federation (BWF) has a new dress code requiring female badminton players to wear skirts. Specifically Rule 19.2 states all women must now wear skirts or dresses for Level 1 to 3 tournaments.
It probably comes as no surprise that not all players are happy about the directive. Some of the sport's stars have complained that the rule hampers their movement. Others worry that the dress code is an attempt to sex up the sport.
Scottish doubles player Imogen Bankier has been an outspoken critic of the BWF decision. She is vehemently against "silly and unnecessary" new rules forcing female players to wear skirts or dresses.
Female badminton player Image credit: Zeng Yi/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com
Defending the BWF decision, deputy president Paisan Rangsikitpho doesn't believe forcing women to wear skirts to help market the sport is sexist :
“It has never been the intention of the BWF to portray women as sexual objects, and nor is that what we are doing." According to Rangsikitpho, the “aesthetic and stylish presentation” of players is an important factor in the organization's attempt to increase the popularity of the sport.
The basic issue for most of the female players is not necessarily about sexualization, but about choice. Why should the BWF be able to tell them what to wear when the male players are free to wear whatever they want? Each athlete knows his or her comfort level, and most believe the federation should not make the decision about what is best for them. While many athletes do play in skirts, many more prefer to play in shorts or trousers
According to The Independent,
The federation is seeking to make badminton more "attractive" and "marketable" in response to a report by sports consultants Octagon, which found that the competitors' attire was considered boring and unfashionable by potential television viewers.
Two-time Olympian Anna Rice responded to the new rule in a statement to CAAWS:
“As an athlete, whether I chose to wear a skirt or not, the ability to confidently walk on the court and succeed, is directly related to choice. I choose to wear a skirt – I also choose to wear shorts – the basic principle is that I have a choice. That choice is directly linked to my success on the court. In a sport where we’ve come so far in creating a strong and vibrant environment of gender equity, it is disappointing to see attempts by the Badminton World Federation to portray female sport not by the character, strength and athletic accomplishments of our extraordinary female athletes, but by a skirt.”
Indian doubles specialist and glamour girl Jwala Gutta, who always plays in skirts, said the new dress code might help to raise interest but players should not be forced to conform. She welcomed attempts to boost badminton's global profile but she was concerned that "some of the countries are pretty conservative and have different cultures, so some players might not like the idea". A collection of comments from other female players can be found at Women in Sport.International.
Implementation of the new code, which was first announced two years ago in a bid to boost the sport's profile, was supposed to come into force last week. Instead it has been delayed until the Singapore Open on June 14th, 2011. In the meantime, the BWF will engage in a conversation with the players about the new guidelines.
Some Chinese and Indonesian female players have expressed opposition to compulsory skirts. In response, the federation has said they will accommodate various religious and cultural beliefs by allowing anyone to wear tights, track bottoms or shorts underneath the required skirt. Despite the allowance, a Pakistani sport official lashed out against the skirt rule.
In an article titled Female athletes in skirts: Let the panting begin, Toronto Star staff writer Heather Mallick wrote:
The Badminton World Federation has said women can wear shorts, if they insist, but only under a skirt. It’s hard to be a respected athlete at the peak of your game worldwide when you’re told to dress like a cocktail waitress at a restaurant headed straight for a human rights complaint.
And that about sums it up. Anyone else want to weigh in?
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