According to this article from today's New York Times, the Badminton World Federation will require women in elite-level competitions to wear skits or dresses. The reason?
“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.”
Apparently, many badminton players wear shorts or track pants to play. And the shorts, I guess, are not short enough. The badminton folks must have figured that if bikinis made beach volleyball popular, skirts will do the same for badminton.
What arena is next? The classroom? Hey lady law profs! Teaching evaluations down this year? Show a little more skin next semester! Get a little more "marketing value" for yourself! If you have a "nice presentation," you'll be more popular, right?!
Marketing in the legal professional world is less important than in the sports world. To be sure, image, dress, presentation, etc. are relevant to lawyers, law professors and law students. But my tongue-in-cheek suggestion aside, noone can or will decree that all female law professors must wear skirts in the classroom. Personal preference, local culture and whether the laundry or dry cleaning is done tend to be the governing factors.
With that background, it does seem absurd to require women look more "feminine" with a "nice presentation" by wearing skirts. An athlete should be judged on the basis of her or his performance, not appearance.
In reality, though, elite-level athletes are not judged solely on their performance. This is especially true for women. Remember the first time Martina Navratilova appeared at Wimbleton in ribbons? I don't think I ever saw Lisa Leslie play without lipstick. Women who are not conventionally attractive are rarely media darlings (and inevitably suffer rumors about their sexuality).
It's unrealistic to think that society will ever evolve to a place where appearance is irrelevant. (Query, also, whether an appearance-blind society would be desirable, either.) I just wish that showing skin were not an official marketing strategy of an international sports organization.
As for me, I don't even like toes showing at the office, so I won't be breaking out the swimwear in the classroom any time soon. (Shudder the thought!) Heck, I'd like the Snuggie to be standard academic attire. Or at least a Hogwarts robe.
Update 6/3/11: The World Badminton Federation has withdrawn the skirts-only rule. See here.