Nudity in sport? That could never be allowed.

Some of you may have seen a news article recently in the Irish Mirror about how a triathlete was disqualified for having her breasts on show whilst changing.

“Mary Curran, 49, was disqualified from the swim, cycle and run last weekend as she changed from her wetsuit to her running gear.  When she got out of her gear, she had nothing underneath, bearing her breasts to the other athletes who were changing.”

The rules of the competition allowed participants to be disqualified for nudity or indecent exposure.  This brings up two major issues.  The first is the double standards regarding the chest.  This was a rapid change, during a competitive event.  The more a person had to try to hide of themselves, the longer it would take to get changed.  This can be seen to be unfair for the women.  Men’s chests can be on show, but women’s cannot.  This is something which women have been fighting over for years.  I’m certain that Mary Curran’s case will become a point which the ‘top free’ campaigners will be speaking out against in their campaigning.  I think the top freedom angle is one which will receive a lot of attention and is something that I will  talk about in a later blog.

If you are interested in the campaign for women to be allowed to be topless, in order to have equality with men, this is a good place to start.

The thing I want to discuss at this point is the idea of nudity in sport.


The first athletic games were held naked.  Athletes did not want to be hampered by ill fitting clothes or to get their clothes covered in grime and sweat.  They also realised that clothes hindered their performance.  The word ‘gymnasium’ comes from the Greek word ‘gymnos‘ meaning naked and meant ‘a place to be naked’.  the European sporting tradition has nudity firmly based in its origins.  Why then is it unacceptable now?

When the Olympics were started up again as an international sporting competition swimmers had to wear short sleeved body suits, covering their torso.  Women did not compete.  In 1912, when women were allowed to swim, they had to wear costumes which completely covered their torso and legs, a sort of unitard.  In the 1910s Annette Kellerman bared her legs in films and postcards, asserting women’s rights to wear safe and efficient swimwear. The maillot becomes socially acceptable on European beaches by the 1920s.  at this point women and men were wearing very similar swimwear.  It was not until 1937 that men were allowed to swim topless in the Olympics.  It was often said that the best way for swimmers to optimise their performance was to swim naked.

Men’s swimwear then became smaller and smaller, to try to improve performance, until the development of high tech polyurethane body suits, such as the X-glide.  These suits aided the performance of the swimmers, giving a clear technological advantage to the users.  This has led to concerns about performance enhancing swimwear.  Since the FINA regulations now prevent any swimwear which enhances the athlete’s performance there may perhaps be a move towards allowing atheletes to swim without swimwear.  it is something which has been said quite often, in an offhand, joking way.  However, why shouldn’t they?  Perhaps it is just wishful thinking, but it would certainly prevent swimwear from influencing the result of competitions.

About Colin H

Ancient historian specialising in Greco-Roman siegecraft who also does 11th century reenactment. I am also a keen dancer and a nudist.
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One Response to Nudity in sport? That could never be allowed.

  1. Darrell Turner says:

    It’s worth pointing out that in Ancient Greece, there was, at least for part of the classical era, a double-standard regarding male and female nudity. Only men competed in those games: women were not only forbidden from competing, they were not allowed anywhere near the venue: the penalty for any infraction was death. Similarly, women had a very low status in Ancient Greek society. This double-standard has carried down through the centuries. I guess if sporting events could be held naked, it would help audience viewing figures. I’m surprised SKY shareholders haven’t lobbied for this 😉

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