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London 2012 Olympics: Does beach volleyball need the bikini?

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Yet some tensions remain between sports' traditions and their desire to expand women's participation.

Velcro headscarves

Before the London Games even began, the International Judo Federation banned head scarves, saying they were too dangerous in a sport where athletes grapple by grabbing each other's clothes and can win by means of a choke hold. The problem was that one of Saudi Arabia's two woman athletes – their first two woman athletes in Olympic history – was a judoka.

Eventually, a compromise was struck and the Saudi judoka was allowed to wear a modified head scarf. The international body governing soccer recently allowed players to wear a similar head scarf that has velcro fastenings and can tear away if pulled inadvertently. Taekwondo, fencing, and rugby also allow such head scarves. 

The problems with beach volleyball, however, went far beyond head scarves. Before a March rule change, women had to wear a bikini, though they could wear a body suit beneath it when the weather was cold (which is what the Brazilians did Tuesday). Now, they can wear shorts, as well as the sleeved tops that Americans April Ross and Jen Kessy wore Tuesday.

At the 2006 Asian Games, only one Muslim country fielded a women's beach volleyball team, and they were two Christians from Iraq

Bikini ads

The old rule was the cause of much criticism from outside groups, which called it a blatant attempt to trade on the sexuality of the players. A British pair did nothing to dispel that notion last year when they sold advertising space on their bikini bottoms – putting a QR code there that, when photographed by a smartphone, led to a betting website.  

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