Swimmers reflect on new NFHS regulations

Mimi Herrick, Feature Facilitator

Swimmers can be disqualified for their events for numerous reasons: doing an extra kick, staying underwater for more than 15 meters, and now “improper” suit coverage. 

On Friday Sept. 6, a swimmer in Alaska was disqualified for “inappropriate” suit coverage due to a new rule the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has passed, angering swimmers across the country.

“I think [the new rule] is extremely unnecessary. We can’t help [if a swimsuit shifts] during a race,” freshman swimmer Ellie Bollinger says.

Championship high school swimmer Breckynn Willis won her heat of the 100 yard freestyle, and immediately after was disqualified because an official ruled that her team suit shifted and was now too “inappropriate” and in violation of the new NFHS rules.

The NFHS is the association that writes the rules and regulations for most high school sports, and state associations adhere to these rules. The rule the NFHS passed states that athletes who are deemed to have inappropriate coverage they can then be disqualified.

“Swimsuit malfunctions have happened before in professional swimming and don’t result in disqualification, so why should it at our level?” freshman swimmer Christopher Vye says.

The IHSA has adopted this new rule for swimming. In a memorandum dated for Aug. 12, 2019. The IHSA swimming and diving administrator, Kraig Garber, detailed the reasons for the new guidelines: “The NFHS recently informed of us a growing trend in high school swimming and diving in which athletes are wearing training and competitive suits in a manner that contradicts the rules of the sport. Specifically, suits are being worn in such a way as to expose the athlete’s buttocks. This is not gender specific, and it is not just an Illinois issue as this message was sent to all state associations.”

The statement then goes on to explain how if an athlete is seen in violation of the rule, they will not be able to compete and will be asked to change at the discretion of an official. If the athlete is in the water, on the starting blocks, or on the diving board, they will be disqualified from that event or attempt and officials will attempt to “nullify their performance.” However, some swimmers have concerns about how different body types might affect perceptions around “suit coverage”. 

“Some people have suits that are open backed because that is what makes them feel the most comfortable,” junior swimmer Olamide Thomas says, “I feel like showing skin is not acceptable in the sport anymore, which is ridiculous because in swimming your whole body is on display.”

There were two versions of the ETHS girls swim and dive team suit that athletes could choose when purchasing a suit for the season. One option is called “the one” (as pictured), which was chosen by the captains from a catalogue of possible suits. The other is called “the flyback” (as pictured), which has the same logo but offers a little more coverage than “the one”. This suit was picked from the same catalogue by head coach Kevin Auger. These suits were approved by the school before season.  

“I do appreciate that Kevin [head coach] gave the option of more coverage or less coverage but I feel like it still doesn’t fit all swimmers,” senior diver Amelia Carlson says. 

The new rule says it applies to all athletes, but it seems to target female athletes over their male counterparts. Based on the photo provided by the NFHS, the red lines determine what is “inappropriate” for competition. The boys diagram shows red lines as to how low on the hips the suit can be but the diagram does not include any red lines based on buttocks coverage, while the girls does. 

“It’s never really been an issue of girls showing their butts on the team, because regardless you have to perform and swim, so showing your body was never really something you had to focus on,” Thomas says.

As a swimmer myself, this rule makes me extremely uncomfortable due to the fact that prior to this rule, I had never thought the officials or coaches were looking at us apart from our athletic performance. Especially after Willis was disqualified after winning, I am more concerned about the potential to be disqualified for a “uniform violation” that could occur during a personal best race.

“When I swim I like to goof off with my friends before a race, but now I’m just thinking about what the officials and coaches are thinking about my [suit coverage],” junior swimmer Claire Kennedy says.

In recent years, JOLYN, a new suit manufacturer, has advertised suits with higher cuts and brighter patterns, and their popularity has soared due to their mission of making suits that athletes want. Other companies like Speedo have similar competition and training suits, with designs that are now in conflict with the new rule. These suits are also approved for competition by Fina, an international federation for swimming, diving and water polo.

“The NFHS is starting to blame the swimmers because they seem to believe it’s the athletes’ fault that their suit doesn’t fit their standards,” Kennedy says, “It’s the big corporations and manufacturers that create these suits… we should start blaming these mega corporations, not the swimmers who wear [the suits].” 

Contributors: Mira Littman, Sophie Lammers