I finally made it to beach volleyball. Many of my male journalist friends had been studiously covering the sport in Beijing. One of these colleagues even caught a cold from his assiduous following of the rainy women's final between the red bikinis a.k.a. China and the white bikinis a.k.a. the U.S. (The lighter-hued bikinis prevailed.) Friday was gloriously sunny, so I figured it would be a good time to check out the vibe at the men's gold-medal match between Brazil and the U.S. Sure enough, the radio reporter in front of me was broadcasting shirtless. (In case you're wondering, the reporter was male.) The air in Beijing's Chaoyang Park smelled like sunscreen, and the cheerleaders shook their groove thangs. Things were looking fine. But here's my question: How come the male beach volleyball players were wearing shirts?
Look, the spikes and blocks on display were certainly nifty. The U.S.' Philip Dalhausser was a veritable one-man Great Wall of China during the third set, blocking practically everything the Brazilians tossed his way, helping he and his partner Todd Rogers (they're also the 2007 world champs) to claim gold by a tense final score of 23-21, 17-21, 15-4.
But many fans come to beach volleyball for the Carnival-like atmosphere. And at Carnival, clothing tends to be an optional accoutrement. Beach volleyball's female athletes oblige by wearing as little as the cheerleaders. Yes, that means sand particularly on a rainy day like the Aug. 21 women's final can sneak its way into uncomfortable places. But the dress code of the athletes helps define the overall ambience. At the table tennis, for instance, the athletes tend to wear shapeless shirts with shorts of a distressingly outdated fashion. Is it any surprise that table-tennis is not a sport at which the fans swing their hips to an internal salsa beat?
I must admit, my interest in sartorial skimpiness is not nearly as acute as those of many of my male colleagues, who diligently snapped photos of the cheerleaders during the breaks in the men's game. But in the interest of equality, I think that if the women are dressed like they're about to sun-bathe during Olympic competition, the men should be, too. At the very least, uniform parity would mean that the athletes' sun-block bills would be more equitable. And given that one of the places where beach volleyball first gained popularity in the 1920s was a French nudist colony (Franconville, a northwestern suburb of Paris, in case you're wondering) a briefer male costume would also have historical resonance.
The decision that female beach volleyball players should don abbreviated swimwear, while the men can wear mid-thigh trunks and a loose tank top, comes from the sport's international governing body, the FIVB. In fact, the regulations specify the maximum amount of a female athlete's rear end that can be covered by her swimsuit. But male sand-spikers decked out like they're about to take on Kobe and LeBron in a little two-on-two? That's completely fine. Maybe I should have stayed away from beach volleyball altogether. I'm still stumped by the sartorial rules of the game.