Over the weekend, the Norwegian women’s handball team decided to compete in its usual training uniforms. Now, each player has been fined $177 by the European Handball Association for violating international handball uniform requirements, reported The New York Times.

The violation? The women wore mid-thigh elastic shorts — shorts that would have been acceptable for male handball players. Not for female handball players, reported NBC News.

For female handball players, bikini bottoms are the required uniform.

This requirement has drawn strong criticism from Norway and strong backlash from many others online. The International Handball Federation — which sets uniform requirements — has not been able to provide an explanation, reported The New York Times.

What are the handball uniform regulations?

The International Handball Federation requires women to wear bikini bottoms “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg,” per The New York Times. The sides of the bikini bottoms must be no more than four inches wide.

However, men can wear shorts as long as four inches above the knee so long as the shorts are “not too baggy,” per The New York Times.

Why did Norway’s women’s handball team refuse to wear bikini bottoms?

Since 2006, the Norwegian Handball Federation has been campaigning to change the uniform requirements, but “nothing has happened” said the head of the federation, Kare Geir Lio, per The New York Times.

  • “Women should have the right to have a uniform they think is suitable for performing in their sport,” Lio said.

More recently, the Norwegian team had been pushing to play in shorts for the Euro 2021 tournament. Their appeals had been met with threats of fines or disqualification, reported NBC News.

  • “I don’t see why we can’t play in shorts,” Martine Welfler, one of the Norwegian players said per The New York Times.
  • “With so much body shaming and stuff like that these days, you should be able to wear a little bit more when you play,” Welfler said.

“It was very spontaneous,” said another player, Katinka Haltvik per NBC News. “We thought, ‘Let’s just do it now, and then see what happens.’”

According to Lio, “I got a message 10 minutes before the match that they would wear the clothing that they were satisfied with. And they got our full support,” he said per NBC News.

Why is this controversy significant?

Handball is not the only sport that requires women to wear more revealing uniforms than their male counterparts. Track and field, beach volleyball and tennis all require more revealing outfits for women, per The New York Times.

  • “The uniform choice is important not only because it reflects the personal preference of the players,” wrote Kim Elsesser in Forbes, “but because research indicates there may be a link between revealing clothing and mental and physical performance.”
  • “The self-consciousness that stems from wearing revealing clothing can impact performance (particularly for women),” said Elsesser.

The International Handball Federation has not announced if it is considering changing the uniform requirements. It has simply said that it is looking into the current requirements, reported The New York Times.