USA Swimming’s House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly Saturday to ban full-body, non-textile suits Oct. 1, three months before the world swimming governing body (FINA) plans to enact its ban.
The measure was supported by a nearly unanimous voice vote of more than 400 delegates from swim clubs nationwide at the organization’s annual meeting in Chicago. Only a brief discussion preceded the vote, USA Swimming spokesperson Jamie Olsen said.
The support for the early date demonstrates USA Swimming’s determination to get rid of the technical suits that have been blamed for the deluge of records set at every level of the sport over the last two years. The move also suggests delegates put aside fears that FINA would backpedal in the coming months on its planned ban.
At the FINA Congress in Rome this summer members voted to allow only textile, waist-to-knee suits for men and textile, neck-to-knee suits for women beginning Jan. 1.
“Our folks just wanted to get on with it,” USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus said by cell phone from Chicago. “It just reinforces the sentiment expressed in Rome at the FINA Congress. We’re really not trying to send a message to the rest of the world; what our membership is saying is that actions taken by the FINA Congress, they’re totally behind — in fact, they want to start earlier.”
The vote represented good news for Potomac Valley Swimming’s board of directors, who had already voted to ban the suits for local meets Oct. 1 but found out in recent days that the ban might not stand up. PVS officials were told that the USA Swimming decision would have overridden the PVS ban had the delegates decided on the Jan. 1 date of implementation.
“We were getting a lot of grief about going early just because [people said] we would be putting our kids at a disadvantage — that was the only opposition,” PVS board chair Greg York said. “They were not going to allow us to do this” if the Oct. 1 date had not been accepted. “We’d then have to go back and say, ‘Just kidding, it’s Jan. 1.’”
The USA Swimming ban will effect virtually all meets in the United States, including most club meets.
Now that the ban is in place, USA Swimming officials will have to figure out how to apply and enforce it. FINA will not put out a list of allowable suits until close to Jan. 1, so USA Swimming will be trying to regulate a dress code without a specific governing document.
USA Swimming President Jim Wood said Saturday afternoon he would appoint a task force to hammer out some details of implementation. But, Wood acknowledged, “there may not be an awful lot of specifics to it.”
Wood speculated that USA Swimming might urge its meet officials to focus on the shape of the suits rather than the material from which they are made in the early months of the ban. It’s possible, he said, that no evaluations of materials would be undertaken until FINA’s list is published to try to avoid confusion and disputes about what is allowable and what is not.
“The focus will [probably] be on the profile of the suits,” Wood said. “We’ll try to make it as clear as we can … hopefully, within the next week or so, we’ll be more defined.”
The PVS competition season opens in two weeks with the Oct. 4 All-Freestyle Meet at Fairlands Aquatics Center.
“The only problem is officials have to figure out which suits are OK under the new rules,” York said. “We’ll try to make it clear for our officials.”
Other governing bodies are facing the same challenges. The National Federation of State High School Associations banned the suits but does not plan to release a list of allowable suits, so it is calling on coaches, officials and parents to communicate with governing officials and use common sense. The NCAA enacted a similar ban and is attempting to develop a non-scientific list of suits to act as a guideline for members
Earlier this week, Swimming Canada put the ban in place effective Sept. 1.
The ban adopted by USA Swimming and passed in July by FINA ‘s membership reads: “All swimsuits shall be made from textile materials. For men, the swimsuit shall not extend above the navel nor below the knees, and for women, shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulder, nor extend below the knee.”
Textile fabric, USA Swimming reports, is defined as “material consisting of natural and/or synthetic, individual and non-consolidated yarns used to constitute a fabric by weaving, knitting and/or braiding.”