A Serious Threat to the Very Nature of Competitive Swimming – or Not?


A Serious Threat To The Very Nature of Competitive Swimming or Not?

By Brent Rushall, Ph.D., R.Psybr>[Revised December 19, 1999]

Swimming across the world is at an important crossroad. The sport could be irreparably changed. Now could be the time to either stand up for preserving the activity as a pure sport, or let outside commercial interests dictate its development largely for a profit motive.

Swimsuit manufacturers have developed very expensive suits that are reported to be performance-enhancing. They are supposed to significantly alter performance and, if so, they should no longer be classed as costumes but rather as equipment. Once swimming races were decided by the abilities of swimmers alone. Now races could be decided by swimming abilities and equipment. Coaches should be alarmed at this possibility because the coach-swimmer relationship will no longer be the sole determinant of competitive success. It is possible that gold medals could go to the swimmer with the best performance-enhancing suit rather than the best ability and training.

What the Manufacturers Claim

From a Speedo advertisement in Australian Swimming and Fitness (May/June, 1999, p. 53) “If you want to have the same competitive edge as the champions by wearing the revolutionary new racing swimwear.

August 31, 1999 – Adidas Announces Release Of The Body Suit

Today Adidas made a global release of its new swimming body suit – the answer to the opposition companies’ products. Unlike other manufacturers’ products seen recently, the Adidas contribution is a FULL body suit — from neck to ankle and neck to wrists – only the feet and face are uncovered, the head being covered by a latex cap.

Robert Mills, Adidas Marketing Manager Australia, said in announcing the release of the suit that FINA had already approved of its and other companies’ suits.

The navy stretch lycra suit with bold lime green striped sleeves has passed the modesty and floatation criteria set by FINA. The design aims to cut down resistance between suit and skin and external drag. There is no floatation advantage.

When asked what the cost of the suits would be Mills replied.- “That decision has not yet been made, but my expectation is that it will be in the range of A UD300 to 400.”

From the Swimming Times (September, 1999) – Adidas claimed in its advertisement “Adidas revolutionizes swimming.”

The suit is called the EQUIPMENtbodySUIT a recognition that it is not a costume but equipment that falls into the same category as fins, paddles; etc.

“A series of tests conducted by Dr. David Smith Ph.D. (University of Calgary) showed that athletes’ stroke rate was lower when wearing the Bodysuit compared to a conventional swimsuit.”

“This is how it (the Equipment Bodysuit) works:

  • Increased speed and endurance through the compression effect of Lycra Power which reduces muscle and skin vibration, cutting turbulence and fatigue, increases stroke accuracy, allowing more efficient performance.
  • Reduced drag through the ‘second skin’ fit as the Equipment bodysuit remains static through extreme movement, preventing water from penetrating at the neck, wrists and ankles;the Teflon-coated silhouette gives a hydrodynamic profile and prevents water retention.
  • Maximum flexibility and comfort from a perfect fit which avoids any rubbing.”

Finally, Adidas stated:

“In tests, the Adidas Equipment Bodysuit has been scientifically proven to enhance athletic performance, allowing swimmers to be faster and more efficient through the water.”

Both Adidas and Speedo advertise their “long-john” suits as customized performance-enhancers that give a swimmer a competitive edge. There are some of us who have been involved with the sport for a very many years who say “THAT IS WRONG.” No costume should give one swimmer a competitive advantage over another. If that is allowed to occur, it will not be long before races are won by the swimmer who has sufficient money to buy the most enhancing suit available.

The world governing body of FINA has passed this point completely in allowing such equipment to be used. But that is nothing new about the current leadership and FINA Bureau. Under their watch, they have allowed drugs to infiltrate the sport to an alarming degree (the number of positive drug tests increases each year) and to be perpetuated (China still records the highest number of positive drug tests each year and was as bad in 1998 as it has ever been). One has to conclude that the FINA bureau is so out of touch with what swimming is supposed to be, that the sport’s decline has been its responsibility. It is unable to solve problems that threaten swimming’s long-term existence.

Is There a Problem?
Is there really a problem with these suits/costumes? It comes down to a relatively simple question: Do they or don’t they enhance performance?

If the costumes enhance performance, they are in violation of the FINA equipment rule. Adidas has openly recognized the suits as equipment. That rule prevents a swimmer from wearing flippers or webbed gloves because of the unfair advantage, performance enhancement, they offer. Both manufacturers, Adidas and Speedo, claim their neck-to-knee suits enhance performance. So FINA, by letting them be used in competitions, violates its own rule and one of the most lasting concepts of fair swimming.

On the other hand, if the suits do not enhance performance, then the manufacturers are guilty of false advertising and FINA is right. But if they are not performance enhancing why would one pay over $400.00 for a costume? It would be saner to purchase a much cheaper “normal” costume.

So it comes down to this:

If the suits are performance enhancing, FINA is in the wrong. All those swimmers who do not enjoy the unfair advantage of these suits should gather together and file a class action lawsuit against FINA for misrepresenting the sport by not applying its rules in a fair manner. Since money is involved in this, this is a valid and winnable tort.

If the suits are not performance enhancing, then the manufacturers are at fault. They are engaging in false advertising. Those swimmers who have purchased or intend to purchase such a suit should gather together and file a class action lawsuit against the manufacturers for false advertising. The weight of regulatory agencies that monitor this sort of thing would also support such an action.

If there are “legal eagles” out there who are interested in this sort of thing, and its predicted consequences, this could be a fertile area of correcting a sporting ailment that could grow to destructive proportions.

Technological Advancements

Several individuals and organizations (FINA is one) have pleaded that these suits are purely “technological advancements” and therefore, should be allowed. There are several types of technological advancements, all being different.

Items such as lane lines, swimming rules, and pool constructions affect all competitors equally and therefore, do not favor any individual. Any universally fair advancement such as these keep the playing field” level with performances alone still determining who is the best swimmer. The one drawback of these advancements is that better times are now produced than those that were possible in the past. When 1500-m races were swum with lane lines that consisted of a wire/nylon cord with a cork every three feet, constant swimmer-generated waves and turbulence was a problem that slowed performances. Now with the triple-stack large-baffle lane lines, that form of resistance is removed. So much of modern day improvements in swimming can be attributed in part to technological advances, but at least all today’s performers enjoy those advancements. On the other hand, if only a few swimmers are privileged to wear performance-enhancing suits, then swimming races will not be competitively fair. To analogize universal technical and rule changes with these new restricted-availability suits is invalid. Allowing them to be used by a few is competitively unfair.

A second type of advancement is equipment improvements. Often, an analogy to cycling or rowing is proposed. However, those are “conveyance” sports where the final performance result depends on the mechanical transformation of human energy into forward movement in or on a device. Without their machines, those sports would not exist. Swimming does not need machines (equipment) to be conducted successfully. Proposing that equipment items, disguised by the label of costumes, are acceptable as technological advancements like those that occur in “machine conveyance sports” is spurious logic. It would seem to be a false analogy to compare swimming with, for instance, cycling, to support the cause of the “swimwear” manufacturers.

The third type of advancement is that which has occurred with goggles. Some propose that the new swimsuit changes are analogous to the advancement produced by the introduction of goggles. This is also a spurious comparison. Goggles were introduced to alleviate the various forms of eye discomfort and maladies. They have changed little over the years and above all are not performance-enhancing. A better analogy is to equate the new swimsuits with flippers and hand paddles, equipment devices that enhance performance. The only difference is that those pieces of equipment have been banned from competition. The incongruity of allowing the Speedo and Adidas suits, with their Teflon-coated special-fabric surfaces designed to reduce drag, muscular compression to enhance physiological function, and rubber projections specific areas to stream water flow, while not allow paddles and flippers, is nothing short of ridiculous. These suits are performance-enhancing equipment and are in the same class as paddles and flippers. They are not neutral innovations like goggles.

Adidas has claimed its suits offer muscle compression, which enhances muscular function. This physiological benefit is commonly recognized in sports medicine. The future development of these suits will be such that compression will be tailored into a suit’s structure to maximize physiological benefits, particularly where large muscle groups are involved. The wearing of apparel/equipment designed to unnaturally alter physiological function to the benefit of the athlete is competitively unfair.

Another factor is these are exclusive advancements and are not universally available to all competitive swimmers. It has been reported that there are only eight Speedo suits constructed to date. These suits need to be specially tailored for each individual. It is reasonable to anticipate a “special suit” clad swimmer winning a gold medal in Sydney by the smallest of margins over a conventionally clad swimmer – meaning that the best swimmer did not win the event. Once that occurs, the meaningfulness of swimming competitions and performances will no longer be “pure.”

Performance-enhancing equipment should not be allowed in traditional swimming competitions.

The use of performance-enhancing equipment is contrary to the rules of most member Federations. To understand why FINA has allowed the entry of performance-enhancing equipment, one only needs to “FOLLOW THE MONEY.”

It is not likely that many coaches who are “advisory” (read paid) by Adidas and Speedo will speak out about this change in the sport’s direction. But the mass of world-wide coaches, swimmers, and officials should immediately and noticeably express their resentment of the corrupting intrusion of Speedo and Adidas in the sport. Anyone who has invested in the sport with their own time or effort should protest. Protests can take many forms, some being: passing resolutions and then communicating them to parent organizations, directly faxing FINA officials;

Mustapha Larfaoui (President FINA) – 213-2-740-096,

Carol Zeleski (Chair, Technical Swimming Committee) 1-412-963-9242,

Cornel Marculescu (Director, FINA Office) 41-21-312-6610;

or simply boycotting the purchase of Speedo and Adidas products.

Clearly, the manufacturers of these pieces of equipment have violated an implied ethic about the sport. They have intruded upon the honorable and traditional concept of competitive swimming as being human ability against human ability. For their own greed and profit, this has been altered by their development of supposedly performance- enhancing equipment. There is some parallel equality between performance-enhancing drugs and performance-enhancing equipment as both alter the intrinsic and natural abilities to perform. FINA has endorsed this situation.

The basic question remains, should swimming races be contests between persons or the best-equipped persons? If one opts for the latter, then no longer can anyone claim to be the world’s best swimmer. It will have to be the world’s best swimmer wearing “brand X” performance- enhancing swimsuit. The implication of this is that a world-champion might not be the world’s best swimmer.

A new classification of records might be justified. Add to long- and short-course records those that are “equipment-assisted.”

The simple FINA rules for costumes only cover moral aspects of propriety and modesty. However, the new performance- enhancing swimsuits are mislabeled. They are equipment designed to reduce drag and to assist a swimmer. They are not costumes.

Leaving the determination of the qualities of these equipment items to the manufacturers themselves, the response of FINA is a perilous and naive decision. Independent research to assess the effects of this form of equipment needs to be conducted independently. The research protocol is simple. Replicate the investigations that assessed the effects of shaving on performance. Professor David Costill’s laboratory at Ball State is an appropriate place to start doing these investigations. It has the protocol, the expertise, the ethical objectivity, and the equipment and setting to do this work. There are other laboratories that could do similar work. Whether these suits produce flotation effects (underwater weighing while being worn seems the logical test for it would also assess the amount of trapped air) and physiological advantages, either by improving muscle performance or reducing energy expenditure, are obvious research questions.

Emerging Knowledge and Concerns About the Use of These Suits
It is possible that these suits are an advertising hoax, and really do not enhance performance. Below are some observations.

  1. Michael Klim of Australia has been frequently seen wearing the Speedo neck-to-knee suit, most recently at the Pan Pacific Championships, and the US Open in San Antonio. While recording the world’s fastest times for the 100-m butterfly, his world-record remained. However, at a mid-December meet at the Australian Institute of Sport, Michael Klim did not wear the suit, opting for the waist-to-ankle Speedo suit. Twice within three days he smashed his world record to become the first sub-52 seconds 100-m butterflier.
  2. One of the world’s outstanding swimmers who has endorsed the Adidas suit, does not wear it in competitions because “it restricts his movements.” He does not feel that it improves his performance at all. While endorsements are offered, it should be remembered that they are not ‘proof’ that the endorsed suit is better than some other swimsuit or piece of equipment.
  3. Investigations of the manufacturers’ claims about the suits are beginning. Adidas’ claims are quite extraordinary. That so much could be revealed about the effectiveness of the Equipment Bodysuit from Dr. Smith’s work is truly amazing. Many in the scientific world anxiously await the publication of the research design, protocols, and techniques that have been used, for they truly will be “ground-breaking.”
  4. Several non-engineering concerns about these pieces of equipment have emerged. The suits remove direct proprioception and sensing of water. The cues for movement control that result from skin sensations about the effectiveness of movements in water are reduced with these suits. That could cause imprecise movements, something that contradicts Adidas’ claims. That loss of sensation could be sufficient to reduce maximum performances rather than enhance them (as claimed). At submaximal speeds/efforts, that reduction most probably would not occur.
  5. Another concern also revolves around the claims of enhanced performance through muscle compression. There is little to no published research to show that muscle compression actually improves total body performance. The benefits of muscle compression are mostly hypothetical and revolve around increased fiber recruitment in the compressed muscles. However, that leads to a problem: If some muscles are compressed and enhanced, and others are not, the total body movement pattern would be disrupted leading to performance slowing through a loss of movement efficiency. Such an effect would likely be more evident, the higher the standard of the swimmer.
  6. There is a very basic flaw in the design of the Adidas suits. That flaw works against performance improvement.

As time progresses, this controversy will continue, but its issues and answers will become clearer. The Swimming Science Journal will attempt to keep readers aware of developments.


From Dr. Brian Browne of San Francisco (October 14, 1999), former Australian Surfbelt Champion and 50-year member of Coogee Surf Life-saving Club:

  • We know the suits make one go faster.
  • It changes the speed equation significantly.
  • We were not born with these suits.
  • They are not intended for modesty.
  • They are in the same category as fins or pull buoys.
  • They increase buoyancy.
  • They reduce drag.

From Forbes Carlile (October 13, 1999), swimming legend, activist, and benefactor: “The idea of future swimmers being dressed in various ‘swim suit equipment’ designed to aid physiologically by ‘compressing the muscles’ (as stated officially by Adidas), grossly changing the interface between the skin and water;the reason for rubber projection on the backside of Speedo suits, and improving swimmers’ speeds by these means must surely appall coaches.”

I urge consideration of this matter by attending to Brent Rushall’s suggested FINA legislation that follows. It would ensure an “even playing field.” Hopefully, it will be examined closely by those WSCA [World Swimming Coaches Association] Directors at Valley Forge this weekend.

I suggest that WSCA, despite the commercial attachments to the swim suit companies of some swimmers, coaches, and federations, resolve to signify to FINA and the media their abhorrence at the recent FINA decision to allow neck to knee (and beyond) swimming equipment for purposes other than “modesty.” Such suits will be used throughout the sport, down to young school swimmers unless a stand is taken NOW.

From Charles Yourd (October 15, 1999), Bloomington, Illinois:

As a WSCA, ASCA, and USAS member I wholeheartedly endorse Forbes Carlile’s recommendation that swim coaches take an immediate and strong stand against the attempt by FINA, and any other governing body, to change the fundamental nature of our sport by allowing long suits in competition. I firmly believe it is imperative that all long suits be banned. Any suit beyond the size which has been the standard for over had a century has no place in the sport.

There are a number of disturbing issues related to the use of these suits in competition. Informally they are referred to by many as “cheater-suits” as this succinctly sums up the problem. The issues are:

  • the suits are artificial aids to performance,
  • USA Swimming already has a rule prohibiting use of such aids, and
  • as we enter the new commercial era of swimming, governing bodies must act with courage and leadership to maintain the traditional ethics of the sport despite commercial ties.

All Long Suits are Artificial Aids to Performance (“Cheater-suits”)

As one who can speak from the experience of having raced in a Speedo “device,” I can tell you that the sensation is very similar to swimming in salt water, one of higher flotation or buoyancy. Additionally, one can feel the water flowing down the body along the aquablade fabric stripes. Last but not least is the noticeable “girdle” sensation of compression of the skin. These all occur when wearing the neck- to- knee Aquablade currently available. Additionally, I had the opportunity to be one of the few swimmers to race in the Speedo prototype with protruding rubber or hard plastic Vs affixed to the fabric. This occurred at the August 1996 USMS nationals during my 400m FS.

There is no doubt that every long suit, beginning with the long shorts for men, is a “device” and is equipment, not a uniform or costume. To allow any of these suits means the device barrier has been breached. Next are wrist to ankle suits worn with a cap that covers the neck and goggles and has a raised fin. (We are already there.) Soon to come will be feet covers. And then the hands with webbed mittens, not gloves – until the entire body is covered. Being a slow kicker, I would want extra large ‘footies’ so I could wear my Zoomers inside my “costume” [“equipment”].

We have now entered an era of cutting corners and buying the record- breaking experience on the cheap, through yet another rule change allows the unconscionable use of devices that have a minor function as swim suits.

Baseball went into the laboratory to create a livelier ball. Presto, more home runs! And more ticket sales, more spectators, more interest. The sport doesn’t have to remain in Babe Ruth’s shadow. Swimming too must have it’s Progress.

The longer suits represent the decay of standards. They are purely “cheater-suits.”

At 1999 US long course Nationals I watched a swimmer in a preliminary heat of the 100m breaststroke wear the Adidas full body suit that extended to the wrists and ankles. During the glide portion of his underwater pull down off the dive, prior to surfacing, he gained nearly a half body length on the competition. He was still going fast when they had all slowed down. Besides flotation, the fabric and/or its design enhances water flow. This is one of the reasons it benefits those who have lost their teenage skin tone. Of course the breaststroker was 19, so even as a teenager, he apparently benefited.

USAS Rule 102. 10. 10 Prohibits Such Artificial Aids to Performance:
There is a USA Swimming technical rule, number 102.10.10, under the heading of Disqualifications which reads:

“No swimmer is permitted to wear or use any device or substance to help his/her speed or buoyancy during a race. Goggles may be worn, and rubdown oil applied if not considered excessive by the Referee.”

I ask you, if the purpose of the new swim suits in all their shapes and sizes is not “to help his/her speed or buoyancy during a race” then why would anyone spend the additional money for one?

My guess is the swim bureaucrats are annoyed that anyone would question the bigger swim suits and raise the question that they are “artificial aids and flotation devices.” They probably equate it to a mosquito that has mysteriously gotten into a comfortable, closed, air-conditioned room.

If pushed, they’ll likely defend the status quo by raising the progression of suit size, design and fabric over the years and try to call this just another natural, evolutionary step. No it’s not! The progression was to ever smaller suits and thinner fabrics, which is why the rules on suits only addressed the issue of modesty. The Aquablade fabric might fall within the historic progression, although the way its water flow properties are described in advertising, it sounds more like an artificial aid. Going in the reverse direction, to larger suits, changes the nature of the game, and is not consistent with historic evolution. Whether they are flotation devices, or compress the body to relax the muscles and reduce heart rate, or improve water flow beyond what natural skin tone allows .. any of these benefits put the larger suits squarely within the definition of “artificial aids.”

The quiet aquiescence by the governing bodies to the new suits represents a revolution in the sport. Now it is legal to compete with “artificial aids and flotation devices.” Or at least those manufactured and marketed by major sponsors and advertisers.

I cannot but wonder if Americans, who apparently consider themselves reliant on Speedo sponsorship (although they also have an oil company and an auto manufacturer), are reluctant to conceive that there might be something wrong with these suits? With the larger suits in possible violation of an existing USAS technical rule, hasn’t there emerged an obvious conflict of interest? Let’s remember how much more profitable the larger suits most likely are, so it’s not as though the decision to proceed with their manufacture and subsequently invest in their (now high profile) advertising was made solely from altruistic considerations for the good of the sport.

Perhaps we can be thankful no pharmaceutical company yet sponsors a national federation.

To address this suit issue doesn’t require elaborate policing, it doesn’t require testing, it doesn’t even require writing a new rule. The USAS rule is already in place. It just needs to he properly interpreted and enforced.

I see allowing the larger swim suits as a weakening of the sport’s standards by providing swimming performance enhancement to those who aren’t as fast as they would wish. To allow this regression of standards is simply not good stewardship.

I’m sure no one, whether manufacturer, federation, coach, or athlete had a devious design or intent regarding these equipment items, which on first sight are quaint and kind of fun. Yet now apparently a mistake has been made. One and all can easily admit it for the mistake it was, reverse the decisions, move along.



Brent S. Rushall, Ph.D., R.Psy.
Whereas swimming is a recreational and competitive activity that is to be enjoyed by individuals irrespective of nationality, gender, physical capacity, economic condition, or age;and

Whereas swimming contests are to be determined by inherent talents residing in legitimate competitors;and

Whereas swimming competitors are required to wear acceptable costumes (see Rules GR 6. 1, 6.2, and 6.3);and

Whereas there is the possibility that technical advancements in swimming costumes could add to the cost of competing in the sport, and thereby for some, place the sport at a prohibitive distance purely because of apparel costs involved;and

Whereas there is the possibility that technical advancements in swimming costumes could provide distinct performance advantages, and thereby place some competitors at a disadvantage because if extrinsic benefits enjoyed by others;

Be it resolved that:

It is FINA policy that the wearing of costumes will be such that any effects that could be construed as enhancing an individual’s performance beyond that which resides in native talents will be minimized and equalized across all competitors.

This policy leads to the following rules that shall govern sanctioned swimming competitions.

Rule GR 6.4 The materials or fabrics used for competitive swimming apparel shall be such that they do not provide any hydrodynamic assistance to a swimmer’s performance by enhancing or reducing factors that could govern a swimmer’s progress through water.

GR 6.4.1 No fabric that channels, streams, or alters the natural flow of water over its surface reducing resistance beyond a FINA designated level shall be allowed in a competition. Such fabrics will be of a consistent homogeneous content.

GR 6.4.2 No fabric that adds to the buoyancy of a swimmer shall be allowed in a competition.

GR 6.4.3 FINA approved fabrics must be available to all competitive swimmers and not restricted to any subset of competitors because of cost, construction complexity, or delivery.

Rule GR 6.5 The shapes and styles of swimming costumes shall conform to the dimensions listed below.

GR 6.5.1 For males, the leg length of swimming apparel shall reach no further than six centimeters below the os pubis (pubic bone) nor above the umbilicus (the navel).

GR 6.5.2 For females, the leg length of swimming apparel shall reach no further than six centimeters below the os pubis and shall employ one shoulder strap for each shoulder that will not exceed three centimeters in width nor cover the shoulder or armpit.

GR 6.5.3 The head can be covered continuously by a single FINA-approved fabric that does not cover the face below the nose bridge nor lower than a horizontal line drawn from the upper lip of the mouth when the head is in a normal standing posture.

GR 6.5.4 The eyes can be covered by FINA approved goggles that cover only the eyes and do not extend any further than two centimeters in any direction beyond the eyelids.

Rule GR 6.6 Costumes must have been freely available on worldwide markets for 12 months before Olympic Games and World Championships for them to be used in those competitions.

These rules are proposed to minimize technical developments that: i) could influence the outcome of competitive swimming races, and/or ii) could increase the cost of participation.

As much as possible, FINA approved apparel will be standardized so that competitions are fairly determined by performers’ talents alone and required costumes will be freely available to all those who might wish to enjoy the sport.

Questions and Answers
Question 1. Don’t these rules stifle technical development in swimming?

Answer 1.1 Technical development is restricted to limit the amount of intrusion that elements beyond the natural talents of swimmers can influence competitive outcomes. Swimming is a sport that relies on talent, training, dedication, and personal factors to determine its competitions. To have technologies determine a significant part of a competitive outcome is antithetical to the concept of “swimming as a pure sport.”

Answer 1.2 The history of sports has shown that technical “innovations” usually have elevated the costs of participation. Since swimming is an activity that can be enjoyed at any age, whether it is for competition or recreation, the cost of performing should be minimal so that it will remain universally attractive.

Answer 1.3 Competitive results in swimming are often determined by very small amounts. The introduction of any superior “swim suit” or form of covering that could provide even the slightest advantage to a performer could result in a distortion of rightful competitive outcomes. As much as possible, swimming races should be determined by human factors, not technological “innovations” that have the potential to bias results. It would be wrong for a swimmer to win a gold medal because he/she was wearing a superior suit.

Answer 1.4 Technically advanced swimming apparel that has limited production capabilities could lead to restricted availability. For fair competitions to be held;all possible forms of apparel have to be available to all competitors. It would be wrong to have a swimming contest where some performers unfairly benefited because of limited costume availability.

Question 2 Shouldn’t swimmers be able to enjoy any advantage they are able to procure?

Answer 2. 1 Yes, but only to the extent that those advantages are legal elements and only affect performance factors. Training, innovations in technique, and diet are some examples where an advantage might be gained. However, an extrinsic inert factor such as a swimming suit designed to alter natural fluid flow around the body is not an acceptable advantage.

Answer 2.2 Any advantage has to emanate from human factors. Aids, other than swimming locomotion that is generated by a swimmer, do not advance a sport such as swimming.

Question 3. Why limit swimming apparel to a neutral single fabric or comparable fabrics?

Answer 3.1 A single fabric or comparable fabrics means that any advantage that could come from layers of materials is prevented.

Answer 3.2 It is hoped that the requirement for a single neutral fabric will mean that swimming apparel can be mass produced in an inexpensive manner, making the sport even more attractive to individuals of limited means.

Question 4. How can these rules be implemented to govern the Sydney Olympic Games?

Answer 4.1 Since the rules are designed for fairness in competition their adoption should be implemented through fast-track decision making. The rules are designed to simplify and globalize the costuming of swimmers and therefore, are of more importance than a rule that only targets a few swimmers.

Question 5. Is there any precedent in sport for an international federation limiting technical advancements?

Answer 5.1 Yes. For example, in yachting, canoeing, and kayaking, rigorous dimensions of competitive vehicles were developed so that competitive outcomes would not be dependent upon technical superiority (craft) but by competitor competence. Standardized competitive vehicles neutralize any technical determinant involved in competitions.

Question 6. Equipment manufacturers have put a lot of money into the sport of swimming. Shouldn’t allowing them unrestricted development of products associated with sport reward them?

Answer 6.1 While FINA recognizes the contributions of costume manufacturers, it is FINA’s responsibility to conduct the sport so that its competitions are i) fair, that is, determined by performer superiority and not extrinsic technical factors such as flotational or streamlining suits, and ii) accessible, that is, acceptable costumes are freely available and not costly. Standardized competitive costumes will neutralize any technical determinant involved in competitions. FINA encourages equipment manufacturers to develop costumes that will be useful and accessible to all swimmers so that technology will be standardized. FINA does not support the possibility of a situation that could arise where one competitor will have a performance advantage over another because of an exclusive or costly costume. Competitive swimming should not be about technical swimming costumes.

Question 7. Equipment manufacturers have given some members of FINA committees presents. How should they vote on this matter?

Answer 7.1 Members who have received a favor or favors from an equipment manufacturer should recuse themselves from decision-making in this rule.


Brent S. Rushall, Ph.D., R.Psy.

In the 1970s in the sport of ski jumping, the advent of different forms of materials and shapes of jumping suits produced advantages for competitors depending upon the suit worn. The outcomes of competitions were decided largely by the suits/fabrics used by athletes. These “technological advances” overrode the natural capacities of athletes. The situation came to a head in the late 1970s when officials and athletes said “enough.” Rules were passed that required the materials of jumping suits to be of a certain permeability so that some air could pass through the weave. The rule reduced the “parachute” effect. Another rule was also created to restrict the shape so that an increased “flying surface” was not possible.

Since the Lake Placid Olympic Games in 1980, in all Nordic events that involve ski jumping, suits to be used in competitions are tested before the competition. A machine measures resistance to air being blown through the fabric. The permeability has to be more than a certain amount. The cut of the suit is also inspected so that no extra surface area will be gained for any athlete over that which is beyond their natural shape. When these inspections are passed, a suit is then certified for that competition by having a metal stud inserted in the left sleeve.

Those rules have taken the effects of the jumping suits out of the competition. Ski-jumping events are again determined by an athlete’s ability, not by any technical assistance. The effects of any suits are neutral, standardized, and equal across all competitors.

Swimming would do well to copy this precedent.

Swimming costumes could be made of fabrics that meet criteria for permeability and flotation and shapes that do not alter the natural function of the body. It is widely publicized that Arena has a suit that increases the efficiency of a swimmer’s muscular function above that of a natural state. If true, that intrusion would give one swimmer a distinct advantage over another and would therefore, bias results in an unfair manner.

Swimming races must be fair and decided on an athlete’s merits. It should never be said that one athlete was better because of the costume that was worn.

Respectfully submitted, Brent S. Rushall, Ph.D., R.Psy. Professor, Dept. of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences, San Diego St. U. San Diego, California 92182, USA. August 17, 1999.

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