LONDON — In March, when the International Volleyball Federation relaxed its rules on women’s beach uniforms “to respect the custom and/or religious beliefs” of all countries it hoped to include in its Olympic qualifying events, the change caused quite a stir. Would London’s Games be deprived of the once-required bikinis or swimsuits, now that shorts, sleeves and full body suits were allowed? The answer, as we’ve seen in the first four days of competition, is no. As long as the weather is reasonable, every female duo still prefers to wear bikinis. Although the sport’s governing body opened the door for Muslim women to at least consider playing beach volleyball, none of them are at the Olympics — nor have they made appearances in international competition.
With that reality in mind — as well as the way the Brits have viewed the goings-on at Horse Guards Parade through a hyper-sexualized lens, with even London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, writing about women beach volleyballers “glistening like wet otters” — one scene on the sand Tuesday was particularly striking. By late afternoon the beer-swilling crowd was partying in full force, bass-heavy anthems were booming through the speakers, and 13 dance-troupe members in retro swimsuits lined one side of the court for the emcee’s introduction of the Netherlands’ Madelein Meppelink and Sophie Van Gestel, wearing orange bikinis, and Australia’s Becchara Palmer and Louise Bawden, wearing green bikinis. In the head referee’s stand at center court, presiding over this global exhibition of skin, was a woman wearing her FIVB ref’s hat over a hijab.