Skirts vs shorts in sports

Image Credit: Getty

Image Credit: Getty

When I first met her last year, the daughter of a friend of mine vehemently informed me that "girls don't wear trousers, only skirts". Happily this somewhat rigid outlook on female fashion has changed since she took on the climbing wall as part of our SisuGirlsClimb program and rapidly realised that skirts were perhaps not the most favourable attire for all activities...

But it got me thinking, why do we wear skirts for sport at all? I remember racing round the school hockey field on cold mornings, head down, bum up, and nothing but a short skirt covering my delightful 'gym knickers'. The same for tennis, netball, rounders. Did it give me an athletic advantage? Were my legs 'freer' for running? Or was it just an archaic remnant of our Victorian ancestors' modesty? 

Now, I have to confess to being the complete opposite of my friend's daughter; it is a rare occasion to see me in anything other than a pair of trousers - even on my runs in Singapore's relentless heat. Skirts, as far as I can tell, only really serve a practical purpose when you're on a long bus ride across the Tibetan plateau and the bus stops in the middle of the plain for a bathroom break - without bathrooms... The Tibetan ladies with their long skirts definitely won out against my friend and me amid the stares from our fellow passengers... 

But I digress. The debate over females, sports and skirts is real. After a lengthy process to get female boxing accepted as an Olympic sport, there was then a formal review over whether the athletes would be required to wear skirts to participate in the London 2012 Olympics. Across the world, girls are still required by school regulations to wear skirts for school sports, even in co-ed schools where their male classmates run around in shorts alongside them.

I find it astonishing that this is even a matter for debate. Surely in this day and age it is simply a matter of choice? 

If you are like my friend's daughter and want to wear a skirt, go for it. I salute you. But if you're like me, and prefer to be active in leggings or shorts, isn't that just as acceptable? Isn't it time that our institutions - from primary schools through to the Olympics - haul themselves into the 21st century and empower girls to make such a simple the decision for themselves?

Melissa Tai