Rio 2016: Beach Volleyball – Forget the Itsy Bitsies – Focus on the Sport

Beach volleyball is usually synonymous with one thing and one thing only – at least for those, including journalists, who only see it every four years at the Olympics or possibly on holiday: Bikinis.

But Egyptian Doaa Elghobashy and her partner Neda Meawad cut an altogether different figure on Rio’s Copacabana beach during their match against a German duo on Tuesday.

In stark contrast to their bikini-clad opponents, they performed in long sleeves and trousers – Elghobashy also wore a hijab.

Elghobashy was proud to represent her country at the games for the first time wearing clothes she feels most comfortable in. “I have worn the hijab for 10 years. It doesn’t keep me away from doing the things I love to do, and beach volleyball is one of them,” she told a reporter.

Beach volleyball is often the subject of media scrutiny – and usually for all the wrong reasons, with headlines highlighting the size of the athletes’ two-pieces (and bodies) instead of their sporting merit – something that has long irked female players.

In 2012 the International Volleyball Federation [FIVB] loosened its uniform regulations in response to athletes’ calls for greater cultural and religious sensitivity. As a result, players can now wear shorts, sleeved tops and body suits in cold weather.

The move was made to “open up the game culturally,” says FIVB spokesman Richard Baker.

The bikini debate seems to split player – and public – opinion alike. Despite its sexualised image, many female competitors say that wearing a bikini is the only viable option for playing in the heat without being dragged down by extra weight.

Walsh Jennings of the US reacted to the debut of a hijab wearing player by stressing the bikini is designed for peak performance: “It’s not about being ‘flashy’ or ‘sexy,”
she told the Huffington Post.

Let’s hope that at the 2020 games, skills will attract more attention than bikinis or hijabs on the volleyball court.

Words by Georgina Barnard