UDEN, Netherlands (Reuters Life!) - An amateur Dutch women's soccer team is bending the rules of the game because they prefer to play in skirts.
While their opponents stick to the mandatory shirts and shorts combination seen in the men's game, the ladies from FC de Rakt show their skills on the pitch in fitted shirts and short skirts that cover a pair of hot pants.
"We think they are far more elegant than the traditional shorts and furthermore they are more comfortable because the shorts are made for men," said 21-year-old captain Rinske Temming.
The clothing initially faced official opposition due to strict equipment rules but upon closer inspection Dutch football association KNVB said it was acceptable as the women were still playing in shorts, but with a skirt over them.
While female soccer often struggles to attract public interest, the De Rakt girls in their short skirts have raised the hits on the club's website to hundreds of thousands per week and drawn camera crews from all around the country.
Club chairman Jan van den Elzen said it was not a publicity stunt, but something the team had requested for themselves.
"The girls asked us if they could make a team and asked specifically to play in skirts. We said we'd try but we didn't expect to get permission for that," Van den Elzen told Reuters.
"We've seen reactions from Belgium and Germany already saying this could be something for them. Many girls would like to play in skirts but didn't think it was possible."
The president of international football federation FIFA Sepp Blatter caused uproar in 2004 when he suggested that female soccer players should wear sexier attire to attract more television viewers.
His critics said the comments were belittling and the focus should be on skills and tactical ability rather than how people look. But some sportswomen have also resorted to posing naked in magazines and calendars to attract attention.
FC de Rakt's team captain Temming said this was more about girls asserting their femininity than trying to turn on viewers.
"It's more about being elegant, not sexy," she said at half-time during a home match on Sunday in the southeastern town of Uden in which the team scored their first goal of the season but eventually lost 8-1 to rivals from Venhorst.
"Female football is not so popular at the moment. In the Netherlands there's an image that it's more for men, but we hope that can change," she said, adding that she thought the use of skirts would encourage more girls to join in.
Women wear skirts in several other competitive sports, including tennis and hockey. Tom Evers of Evimpex, who produce FC de Rakt's skirts, said he came up with the idea after seeing the importance of trends and appearance in other games.
"I got the idea that people want something fashionable...we've made skirts for a lot of sports: korfball, and for hockey," said Evers.
"This is the first time we see them being used for football."
A spokeswoman for FIFA, the international governing body of the sport, said according to the laws of the game, the basic compulsory equipment includes shorts, and skirts are not an option.
But it said decisions on the matter could be made at the national level and it would not comment on the Dutch skirts unless it had an official request to look into the issue.
Reporting by Catherine Hornby, editing by Paul Casciato