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Gymnastics New Zealand Overhauls Competition Attire Rules

Competitive gymnasts in all codes in New Zealand can now wear shorts over their leotards and will no longer face penalties for issues like having a visible bra strap following an overhaul of the sport’s attire regulations.

The changes are about making athletes – the majority of whom are young females – feel comfortable and safe and ensuring the sport is fully inclusive, Gymnastics New Zealand Chief Executive Andrea Nelson said.

These changes are timely as they align with a research report just released by Massey University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition which details national sport organisation (NSO) perspectives, decision-making processes, and directives pertaining to female athlete uniform designs.

The Massey University study, along with athlete consultation conducted by Gymnastics NZ, confirmed that body image was considered the greatest issue for New Zealand gymnasts, when it came to sport uniform design.

“We surveyed our competitors across all of the gymnastic disciplines and what we found was that most of the girls actually love wearing a leotard,” Nelson said.

“But there are some gymnasts who just don’t feel comfortable in that attire. Gymnastics aspires to be a foundational sport for all New Zealanders, so it was a pretty simple change to allow competitors to wear shorts to ensure no one feels uncomfortable or excluded,” she said.

Lead researcher for the Massey University study, Dr Rachel Batty said “It’s fantastic to see that national sport organisations like Gymnastics NZ are taking the lead with regard to female athlete attire, and that they have surveyed their athletes in the process.

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“Our study found that 37.8 per cent of sports felt decisions about female sport uniform designs should predominantly lie with the athletes. That’s exactly what Gymnastics NZ has done with their survey of close to 300 gymnasts.”

The change to allow shorts in many gymnastics codes came into effect soon before the wide-ranging review of the sport in 2020 – however it had not been consistent, leading to misunderstandings among some clubs and competitors, Nelson said.

“We’ve overhauled the attire regulations across all five competitive disciplines to make it very clear – if you want to wear shorts you can!

“We’ve also clarified the regulations to ensure competitors aren’t disadvantaged by things like having a bra strap showing. We found the regulations around underwear were unclear and unevenly applied and, to be honest, a little archaic.

“The changes we’ve made are around comfort and safety. Gymnastics is a tough enough sport without having to stress about incurring a deduction because a judge can see your bra strap.

“We had parents of young gymnasts come to us worried that they couldn’t find a bra for their daughter that would provide adequate support that didn’t have a visible strap. That sort of thing shouldn’t be happening – so we’ve now made that very clear in the updated regulations.

“Obviously we’ve also addressed a gender equity issue – male gymnasts have been able to wear shorts or trousers, but until recently females haven’t.”

Changes and clarifications have been made to all five gymnastic codes for competitions in New Zealand. They do not apply to international competitions, which are governed by FIG regulations.

International governing authority rules, regulations and stances were highlighted in the Massey University research report as an ongoing limitation for female uniform design change on the international stage.

Body image issues, visibility of menstrual blood, and visibility of underwear were all issues that could contribute to increased female player anxiety cited by the NSOs which contributed to Massey study.

However, just five per cent of sports bodies felt their current uniform design could impact players’ mental wellbeing.

The study also found that a number of NSO representatives were unsure if their uniform designs were affecting their female athletes in any way.

In acknowledging the contribution of wider New Zealand sports sector to the study, Dr Batty noted that there was an opportunity for NSOs to work together on the issue, through round table discussions and comparing approaches.

“Gymnastics NZ could be used as a successful case study in this regard,” Dr Batty said.

Such an initiative had the potential to “boost awareness of the issue across the sector and aid in supporting those sports and organisations who may recognize the issues relating to female athlete unform design, but are unsure if it applies to them”.

Ms Nelson believed the changes to Gymnastics NZ’s attire regulations would be widely accepted by the sport.

“The reality is we are simply providing a choice – no one who doesn’t want to change what they have been wearing has to change. But now athletes who might have felt uncomfortable with the way the regulations have previously been interpreted and enforced have options to ease that discomfort.

“The goal is to break down an acknowledged barrier to participation to ensure gymnastics is accessible for everyone.”

Gymnastics NZ’s updated attire regulations for competitive gymnastics can be found at

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