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Simone Biles drops out of individual floor competition

UniqueThis 10 Jul 31
Olivia Breen said this month she was left "speechless" when an official at the English Championships told her that her sprint briefs were "too short and inappropriate."
Olivia Breen said this month she was left "speechless" when an official at the English Championships told her that her sprint briefs were "too short and inappropriate." (Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are well underway after being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic — and while the Games are only a year behind, you might be forgiven for thinking professional sport is stuck in a far more severe time warp.

In the month building up to the world's most anticipated sporting event, female athletes have drawn attention to numerous incidents they say left them feeling shamed or sexualized.

Double Paralympic world champion Olivia Breen said this month she was left "speechless" when an official at the English Championships told her that her sprint briefs were "too short and inappropriate."

"It's just wrong -- we're not living in the 18th century, we're living in 2021," Breen said in an interview via video chat. "For me personally, I want to be as light as possible so I can jump out, run faster."

In a statement posted to Twitter, Breen questioned whether a male competitor would be similarly criticized. The female official's comment, "really shocks me and makes me really cross," Breen wrote. "I just thought, that needs to change."

Breen told CNN she planned to make an official complaint. The incident not only angered her, it was also concerning, she said, as behavior like that could put women and girls off sport.

"For a girl with low confidence or low self esteem, it may make them feel rubbish."

A confusing double standard: Experiences like Breen's are nothing new for female athletes, who regularly find themselves rebuked for wearing too little — or too much — clothing.

Just this month, Norway's women's beach handball team was fined 1,500 euros ($1,766) for "improper clothing" after players opted to wear shorts instead of bikini briefs during a European championship game in Bulgaria.

According to International Handball Federation (IHF) regulations, female athletes must wear bikini bottoms with a maximum side width of 10 centimeters (3.9 inches), a "close fit" and "cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg" — though the dress code allows male athletes to wear shorts that are "not too baggy" and 10 centimeters above the kneecap.

"We have no idea why those rules are as they are," said Julie Aspelund Berg, a defender with Norway's beach handball team, during a phone call. "Why can't we just wear shorts (when) we can manage the job just as good as in bikinis?"

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