Voyeuristic beach volleyball tournament: big event and skimpy bikinis

Hamburg hosts the finals of the Beach Volleyball World Tour. Part of the marketing is to put the players’ bodies in the limelight

Laura Ludwig (center) signals to her partner Kira Walkenhorst (not pictured) at the Beach Volleyball Grand Slam in Hamburg 2016 Photo: Bodo Marks/dpa

Hamburg will host a top international event in beach volleyball in August. The world’s best top athletes will compete in the finals of the World Tour. The Senate Department for Sport and the Interior and the HSV play the organization of the tournament in the cards. Both want to establish Hamburg as a German beach volleyball stronghold. But with all the anticipation, people tend to forget: The sport still markets itself through players in skimpy bikinis. "Sex sells," says Sandra Gunter, a sports scientist at the University of Hanover.

Hamburg’s sports world has been on cloud nine with regard to beach volleyball for several months now. Only in December was the city named a federal base, and now the finals of the Beach Volleyball World Tour are to follow. The Senate hopes that the event will make the sport even more popular among Hamburg residents.

In August, spectators will watch the twelve best male and female beach volleyball duos dig, serve and block. But that’s not all: the sport also includes media staging, and that relies on the bodies of the female players.

Starting in 2000, the body cult surrounding the female beach volleyball players was prescribed by the world federation in the form of a mandatory bikini. In 2012, the dress code was lifted again. The world federation had been accused that female players from certain cultures were excluded from the sport by the dress code. In 2016, the Egyptian duo became the first team in Olympic history to compete with headscarves and long clothing. Most female beach volleyball players, however, continue to play in bikinis – despite a free choice of dress.

"The media portrayal of the bodies of female beach volleyball players is particularly strong," says Sandra Gunter, a professor of sports science and gender studies at Leibniz University in Hanover. Putting the female body in the spotlight is a strategy to make the sport more popular – for the audience as well as for sponsors, she says. Marketing plays a very important role in beach volleyball, just as it does in other sports.

In this context, the skimpy sportswear can be a downright hindrance to a real recognition of femininity in sports. "The potential for emancipation that is actually inherent in sport cannot always be seized as a result," says Gunter. In this context, sports could help women also fight for more spaces.

"I think that neither sports like athletics or swimming nor beach volleyball are watched because of skimpy clothing," says Andreas Scheuerpflug, manager of Olympic champions and HSV players Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst, on the other hand. "You can also see that in the fact that after the Olympic victory we only received feedback on our performance and not on our bikinis."