What Credit Unions Can Learn from the Norwegian Women’s Beach Handball Team

While the Olympics are over, the stories of international sporting lessons are not.  These sometimes transcend individual athletic feats and tell of hard-fought life challenges.  One of these stories is about the Norwegian Women’s Beach handball team.

The team was fined $1,500 euros for wearing “improper clothing” in the sport’s Euro 2021 tournament.

The European Handball Association’s Disciplinary Commission fined the players for their protest in refusing to wear the regulation bikini-bottom to go with midriff-baring tops.  The rules require the bottoms be “a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg” and a maximum side width of 4 inches, according to International Handball Federation regulations.

Male players are allowed to play in tank tops and shorts no longer than 4 inches above the knee.

“It’s not [appropriate clothing for] the activity when they are playing in the sand,” stated Norwegian Handball Federation President Kåre Geir Lio.

Norway’s Ministry of Culture upon hearing of the fine said: “This is completely ridiculous! How many attitude changes are needed in the old-fashioned international patriarchy of sports?”

Old-fashioned Patriarchy

The belief that those in authority have the exclusive right to set the rules is not limited to sport.

Scholar, teacher Dr. Beatrice Bruteau (1930-2014) wrote about this human failing as follows:  The theme that explains many of our political shortcomings is domination. We see it in the way decisions are made in our families; in the way orders are given at work; in the way social life is structured in our city by gender, race, and wealth; in the way our industry or profession relates to its competitors or its market or its clientele; in the way governmental agencies function. . .

Domination is a relation that does not work the same in both directions. One commands, the other obeys. One shows respect, the other accepts it but does not return it. One gains privileges from which the other is excluded. 

Positions of power, whether elected, appointed or even earned, can distort an occupant’s assertive self-assurance.  Once in office it is easy to presume wisdom inherent with the responsibility.  The next step is exercising authority without consulting or even acknowledging the various constituencies most affected by the leader’s decisions.

Think no further than NCUA Chairman’s Harper’s recent requests for changes to the legal structure of the NCUSIF, expanded legislative authority for the CLF, or a new complex three-part capital structure for credit unions.  All were proposals drafted without consultation or even demonstrated need by those most affected.

One only hopes that the courage and spirit of the Norwegian women beach handball resides somewhere in credit union land. Otherwise, credit unions may all end up wearing the same  “close fit, cut at an upward angle, with a maximum width of 4 inches” uniform rules justified by nothing more than “old fashioned patriarchy.”


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