Badminton’s New Dress Code Is Being Criticized as Sexist

By Jeré Longman
Christophe Ena/Associated Press- The Badminton World Federation says women playing at the elite level must wear dresses or skirts to create a more “attractive presentation.”

In an attempt to revive flagging interest in women’s badminton as the 2012 London Olympics approach, officials governing the sport have decided that its female athletes need to appear more, how to put it, womanly.

To create a more “attractive presentation,” the Badminton World Federation has decreed that women must wear skirts or dresses to play at the elite level, beginning Wednesday. Many now compete in shorts or tracksuit pants. The dress code would make female players appear more feminine and appealing to fans and corporate sponsors, officials said.
The rule has been roundly criticized as sexist, a hindrance to performance and offensive to Muslim women who play the sport in large numbers in Asian countries. Implementation has already been delayed by a month. Athletes’ representatives said they would seek to have the dress code scrapped, possibly as early as Saturday at a meeting of the world’s badminton-playing nations in Qingdao, China.
“This is a blatant attempt to sexualize women,” said Janice Forsyth, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario. “It is amazing. You’d think at some point, somebody would have said: ‘Wait a minute. What are we doing?’ ”
Women will still be allowed to wear shorts or long pants for cultural and religious reasons. But these garments must be worn beneath a dress or skirt, which could be cumbersome.
“You sweat a lot doing badminton at a really high level,” Forsyth said. “Sometimes clothing sticks to you. Adding another layer does not enhance performance. It detracts. It counters the basic argument that they’re trying to generate more interest in women.”
Women wear more revealing outfits than men in a number of Olympic sports like gymnastics, track and field, volleyball and beach volleyball. Even the bikinis in beach volleyball can be somewhat justified on grounds of functionality (it is easier to clear sand from a two-piece outfit than a one-piece).
Yet the badminton rule seems to have been devised strictly for reasons of appearance. It was formulated in consultation with Octagon, an international marketing firm, which did not respond to requests for comment.
“When you dictate apparel for reasons of sexuality, it should be offensive,” said Donna Lopiano, a former chief executive of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Badminton’s world governing body now finds itself on the defensive, accused of trying to sell a sport by showing more leg and skin. Male players are required only to dress in “proper attire,” officials said.
Manan Vatsyayana/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images- The new badminton rule was formulated in consultation with Octagon, an international marketing firm.
“We’re not trying to use sex to promote the sport,” said Paisan Rangsikitpho, an American who is deputy president of the Badminton World Federation, which is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “We just want them to look feminine and have a nice presentation so women will be more popular.”
Interest is declining, Rangsikitpho said, adding that some women compete in oversize shorts and long pants and appear “baggy, almost like men.”
“Hardly anybody is watching,” he said. “TV ratings are down. We want to build them up to where they should be. They play quite well. We want them to look nicer on the court and have more marketing value for themselves. I’m surprised we got a lot of criticism.”
Some women have embraced the dress rule. Nora Perry, a former world doubles champion from England who is on the council of the world governing body, said in a statement, “We need to be able to differentiate the women’s game to create the attention the game deserves.”
Cee Ketpura, 17, a rising American star, said she always wore skirts in competition because “I think they look more professional.”
Yet many others have said that while they supported attempts to popularize women’s badminton, like offering equal prize money, they considered it an affront to be told to wear a dress or a skirt.
Mesinee Mangkalakiri, 28, who competed for the United States in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is known as May, said that she preferred shorts. Skirts made her feel self-conscious earlier in her career, she said.
“It doesn’t matter what Kobe Bryant wears,” Mangkalakiri said, referring to the N.B.A. star. “People like his skills on the court. You’d hope they come to watch you because you are their favorite player and you have ability and style, not because you’re wearing someone’s favorite skirt.”

Kaveh Mehrabi, an Iranian who is president of the Badminton Players Federation, which gives voice to the concerns of athletes, said his group would seek to have the rule abolished.
“I believe the intention is good to raise the profile of the sport, but it takes freedom of choice away from female athletes,” Mehrabi said. “I think we should work on promoting personalities. When people watch tennis, they like the stories around the rivalries and personal lives. Whether you wear a dress or not doesn’t make much difference.”
Pakistan’s badminton federation said in April that its female players would not adhere to the new rule because “our religious beliefs and norms do not allow our lady players to wear skirts.” Presumably, Pakistani women would be permitted to wear skirts over long pants.
Some players have said the size of the skirts obstructed movement, while others have said that badminton fashion lags behind tennis apparel. Others find it unfair to have different rules for women and men.
“It is sexist to demand the women wear skirts while the men can wear short shorts, baggy shorts, whatever they want,” said Imogen Bankier, 23, a Scottish doubles player.
Writing in The Hindu, an English-language newspaper in India, the columnist Kalpana Sharma noted that while badminton took its cue from the glamour of tennis, female tennis players have greater input in the way their sport is operated.
“Thus what women wear is decided by women players and not imposed by a male club,” Sharma wrote. “If women tennis players choose to be seen as fashion statements, it is their choice.”
Others are struck by how outdated the dress rule seems. Hugh Robertson, the British sports minister, told The Evening Standard of London, “This is not a very 21st-century approach.”
Yet the badminton federation, like many international sports governing bodies, continues to be run largely by men. Of the 25 members of the federation’s council and executive board, only two are women.
Female athletes have long faced obstacles to competition. They were barred from some sports for decades; restricted from certain events because they supposedly lacked stamina or would become masculinized; subjected to gender testing; and had their athleticism suppressed in attempts to feminize them.
As recently as 2004, Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, suggested that women wear tighter shorts to promote “a more female aesthetic.” Only last month, women’s ski jumping was added to the Winter Olympics after concerns that female athletes lacked the strength to compete safely.
“As soon as women got involved in the Olympic Games, the focus for many decades was on beauty and femininity, and then athleticism,” Forsyth said. “What you are seeing in badminton is a modern, hyped-up version of that.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/27/sports/badminton-dress-code-for-women-criticized-as-sexist.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1