Recently, after the Pakistan Women Football Team beat the Maldives team with a 7-0 score, a question was raised over their attire. This not only derailed their noteworthy achievement around their historic win but also disrespected the team’s sporting ability. Time and again, people including journalists, authorities and even viewers have questioned the sporting attires of female sportspersons owing to sheer sexism.
The Pak Women Football team, faced a ridiculous question by a reporter covering the SAFF tournament recently. At a press conference held after their last match at the Championship, a Pakistani journalist raised concern over the shorts the team members wore during their match. While the team registered their first win in after eight years at the SAFF, the journalist chose to completely ignore the achievement and instead questioned the team’s coaching staff, “Since we belong to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which is an Islamic country, I want to know why are these girls wearing shorts and not leggings.”
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Why are we still obsessed with sportspersons’ clothes instead of their sporting achievements?
After the Pakistan Women’s Football Team registered their biggest victory at the SAFF, little did they know that instead of being applauded for their sporting achievement, they’ll be reduced to just their dressing. Again, it was unfortunate but not surprising. While Adeel Rizki, the national team coach, firmly answered the reporter’s question saying that we need to start thinking progressively when it comes to sports, the entire staff seemed visually miffed at the question. The coach further added how they do not believe in dictating the team players for choosing their style of uniform, and that playing sport is the primary factor they keep in mind when they step out on the field.
The video sparked a huge debate on social media as several social media users lashed out at the reporter’s regressive thinking. “I’m very curious to know if this journalist has ever questioned male sportsmen/celebrities of Pakistan for wearing shorts as that’s un-Islamic too or is all this religious moral policing only reserved for the women of Pakistan,” a user wrote.
History of sanctioning female athletes over their attires
Women athletes, across the world, have in the past – sadly in the present too – faced ridicule over their sporting attires. And the latest incident involving Pak footballers only accelerated it. Dictating sportswomen over their choice of clothes happens in more ways than one. In February earlier this year, five female skiers have disqualified from the Olympics main event because their clothes seemed too baggy. The ruling left the five athletes in shock because they had already cleared previous rounds in the same attires, and rules changing overnight as per the authorities’ convenience seemed sexist and harsh to the athletes.
In 1985, the American tennis player Anne White was issued a notice by Wimbledon mentioning how she should wear something appropriate after she turned up for a match wearing a long-sleeved white spandex bodysuit. Repeating the story of what Indian tennis player Sania Mirza faced during the onset of her career and several years following is downright unfortunate given how the nation collectively let down an athlete who paved the way for Indian female tennis players in the international arena. At the 2018 US Open, French athlete Alize Cornet faced a code violation in the name of “unsportsmanlike behaviour” because she changed her top behind the court baseline and it revealed her sports bra. In 2019, the French Tennis Federation objected to Serena William’s catsuit on the court. In July 2021, British paralympic athlete Olivia Breen was told by an official that the sprint briefs she sported were short and inappropriate. In 2021, the Norway Women’s Beach Volleyball team paid a heavy fine for wearing athletic shorts instead of bikini bottoms after the officials termed the shorts as improper clothing.
Years of questions and no definite answers. Why are gender issues in sports still pertaining? Why are rules for women and men different even today? Also, why are only women offending religious sentiments, what’s with that? Why don’t people take a moment to realise that when women athletes showcase their skills globally and they are instead ridiculed for their choice of clothes, it not only takes away their moment of glory but also demoralises them to no extent? In 2012, when the World Badminton Federation issued a notice to female players to wear skirts on the court to look “more feminine and presentable”, they Federation failed massively. They had to because athletes wouldn’t have it. They may have been used to unexpected, unreasonable expectations, but they won’t have it now, and of course, they shouldn’t. Women athletes being judged for their attires and on-court perception over their athletic ability is a larger problem than we can fathom, and it’s about time we change that.
It’s so ironic that moral policing now works at the mercy and convenience of those who believe they are entitled to set rules for women. Too short, too baggy, too revealing, too covered. Well, what exactly should athletes do to keep the whole world happy? Definitely, not give a care in the world, because anything they wear will upset or offend some organisation, some group, some person, and it’s definitely not worth our athletes’ time – they have records to break, countries to represent, and their athletic ability to build on, they’re not going to change their shorts for you.
The views expressed are the author’s own.