Women beach volleyball players can now opt for more modest playing attire rather than have to sport a bikini, the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) has confirmed.

The ruling means that players from countries with cultures and traditions requiring women to dress 'modestly' are able to do so – with shorts, long-sleeved tops and headgear all options.

Shorts, however, must be worn at least an inch above the knee during competition.

"Some countries for religious and cultural reasons required more flexibility," FIVB spokesman Richard Baker said.

"This option has now been implemented for all FIVB tournaments...the decision just gives them (the athletes) a greater choice."

Baker said the African federation had requested the change, and the new rule has been in place for five tournaments so far.

Confirmation that it will also apply to the London 2012 Olympic Games is good news for players from countries such as Morocco, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Algeria, all in contention for medals this summer should they come through their regional qualifiers.

Bikinis have been synonymous with beach volleyball since the sport made its Olympic debut at Atlanta in 1996.

The issue has become more pressing in the build-up to London 2012 as continental qualifying competitions have assumed a greater role in determining which nations make it to the Olympics.

Similar changes are being planned in football in which, following a campaign, a ban on women wearing headscarves is set to be lifted, pending healthy and safety checks.

Not everyone will be ditching the traditional uniform this summer, however.

One is Australia's Natalie Cook (pictured below), who insisted it was more practical than other types of kit to wear.

''The announcement was actually a shock," she told the Brisbane Times.

"The beach volleyball world has been in bikinis for 20 years.

''Some of the Muslim communities, such as Iran and India, have probably shied away from playing beach volleyball because of the uniform... you can now wear something that covers your shoulders and stomach like a singlet or T-shirt.

''But I think [the bikini] looks much better for our sport and it's much more functional, diving around the sand, to be in a bikini."

Cook played in the very first Olympic beach volleyball tournament in Atlanta 16 years ago, winning a bronze.

But the peak of her career came four years later in Sydney when she claimed gold.

Cook remains a "traditionalist".

"So," she added, "you will see me in a bikini in London.''

The beach volleyball tournament at London 2012 will run from July 28 to August 12 and takes place at Horse Guards Parade in central London.

-David Gold

Source: www.insidethegames.biz