Beach volleyball has been accused of being sexist, of objectifying women, and of being little more than a parade of eye candy. As far back as 1999, when the International Volleyball Federation standardized uniforms and mandated beachwear for players - including bikinis for women - there have been accusations that the FIVB is more focused on looks than players’ athletic results.
But thanks to the power of modern civility, and some ill-timed weather at the 2012 London Olympics, the FIVB uniform rules have been altered so significantly that any player can now basically wear anything they want, as long as it looks professional, clean, and standardized to the event’s uniform code.
So why will most of the women at the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto still be wearing that same bikini uniform? Because they want to.
Melissa Humana-Paredes will be representing Canada in Beach Volleyball. She told the CBC that she knows what the players wear sometimes causes a double-take, but it’s not all about looks.
“We do have a controversial uniform, and we are kind of on display,” she said.
“It is hard to kind of dodge those stereotypes; you can tell that they might be judging you because of the uniforms and how we’re kind of showing off our bodies.”
So why do the women keep donning the bikinis?
“It is for practical reasons,” she said.
“Playing in shorts and a t-shirt when it’s 40c out isn’t very efficient.”
The Pan Am Games will play under the standard FIVB 2015 sport regulations, which have codified uniform changes that first came into effect a few months before the London Olympics. At the time, accomodations were made for athletes from countries whose culture demanded more modest uniform attire.
But as much as those changes helped, the weather at the 2012 London Olympics played its part as well. With beach volleyball events held well inland at the Horse Guard’s Parade venue, temperatures sometimes dropped below 13c - not appropriate weather for a bikini. Teams like the Australians donned shirts under their tops and tights, but the whole outfit looked a bit haphazard.
Now, the FIVB uniform guide allows for a wide array of clothing. In addition to the standard uniforms (bikini bottom and crop top for women; tank top and beach shorts for men), there are many other options allowable for women for tournament play: long, short and sleeveless tops, and pants and shorts.
So with all those options, why do women continue to dress in bikini attire? It’s not all about looks. Volleyball Canada officials told Yahoo Canada that many women prefer bikinis because they more comfortable, and the players don’t have to worry about getting sand trapped in their uniforms.
American Jen Kessy, who competed in the 2012 London Olympics, said sand is definitely a consideration.
“This is the most comfortable thing for us to wear,” Kessy said. “We can style our bikinis however we want. They can be bigger or smaller.
“If it is cold, we will put clothes on. But we won’t be playing in shorts. For us, that’s not comfortable. You get sand everywhere in the pockets. But for others, it’s now their choice.’’
That’s also what convinced Angela Bensend, a former collegiate indoor volleyball player who transitioned to beach volleyball in 2013.
After all, her old Lady Tigers uniform would collect too much sand as she dived around the courts this week at Coconut Beach.
Still, Bensend said her wardrobe transition took some time during the summer of 2013.
“It was definitely a little weird at first because I always played in spandex, the biker shorts, and tank tops,” Bensend said. “You had to get comfortable. But it’s actually easy to do.”
The women's beach volleyball preliminary rounds get started on July 13. The weather prediction is 28c - and rain.