FINA tighten up swimsuit regulations

March 15, 2009

Commercial, regulation



FINA (the World governing body for swimming) has met this weekend in Dubai to consider whether any changes need to be made to swimming regulations. The result was the Dubai Charter (this Charter can be downloaded from the FINA website:


The Charter opens by asserting that FINA wishes to recall that the main and core principle is that swimming is a sport essentially based on the physical performance of the athlete…. FINA brings together athletes from around the world to compete on equal conditions and thereby decides the winner by the athlete who is physically the best.”


Before going on to revise and clarify many of the technical specifications for swimsuits:

·        Swimsuits should not cover the neck and must not extend past the shoulders and ankles (USA Swimming had earlier petitioned FINA to make this not below the knee)

·        The material should follow the body shape and not contain air-trapping effects

·        Maximum thickness of 1mm

·        Buoyancy effect of not more than 1 Newton

·        No pain-reduction / electro-stimulus or chemical release

·        Swimmers can only wear 1 swimsuit

·        No modification or customisation is permitted for individual swimmers

·        (From 01/01/10), Restrictions placed on the permeability of swimsuits (max: 50% of non-permeable material)


Any suits wishing to be worn at the World Championships in July need to be submitted to FINA by the end of this month for approval.


The impetus for these changes stems primarily from the 2008 season, when 108 world records were broken, 79 of them by swimmers wearing the revolutionary Speedo LZR Racer (including 23/25 records set in Beijing). Many critics argued that this amounts to ‘technological doping’ and that athletes wearing the LZR gain a significant advantage of those who do not. Indeed, Murray Rose (Four-time Olympic champion) argues that records set by swimmers wearing the LZR suit should be asterisked to distinguish them from the other ‘pure’ records.


That said though, given that a  spokesman for Speedo (manufacturer of the LZR Racer) is quoted as saying that,  “At this stage we are of the opinion the LZR Racer will be fine,”  do the FINA changes go far enough? It is true that the new regulations are certainly more transparent (not necessarily a good thing in a swimsuit!) and should enable suit manufacturers to predict with greater certainty whether their suits will pass the scientific testing put in place by FINA, a complaint made previously by some manufacturers. The fact that the swimsuits will not be customizable by individual athletes is also important as potentially this opens up the market (the argument that all we need to do is figure out which swimsuit Michael Phelps is wearing, buy that and voila a gold medal).


There are however two problems that remain, the first is that FINA have placed no limitations on pricing.  Potentially, while anybody could wear a $3,000 swimsuit, it is only the richer athletes / nations that can afford it. Indeed, similar arguments were made in Formula One which ultimately led to restrictions on testing and research budgets in order to allow smaller teams to compete. Not only would athletes like Eric Moussambani (nicknamed Eddie the Eel, who competed for Equatorial Guineau in 2000) be handicapped for not having swum in a 50m pool, but they would be at a double disadvantage if they could not afford the most expensive and technologically advanced swimsuit too.





The second problem will not be resolved until the summer, and that is FINA reserve the right to change their mind. If athletes in Rome swim too fast using the suits, all bets may be off and the regulations tightened ahead of the November 1st deadline. Better wait a few months before you buy your suit for next year then……

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About Kris

Associate Professor in Sports Law, Staffordshire University; British Gymnastics Senior Coach

View all posts by Kris

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