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  1. How Do I know if my Swimwear is Legal?

    by , March 4th, 2018 at 12:41 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Article 102.12 covers the rules for swimwear in USMS competition. This article contains several provisions, so this month's blog post breaks down each provision, including type of suit, coverage, and other things that can or cannot be worn in competition. Note that article 303.7 covers the rules for long distance and open water which are very similar to pool competition, but contain a couple of key differences.

    102.12.1A says that the swimsuits worn for competition shall be nontransparent and conform to the current concept of the appropriate. The referee shall have authority to bar offenders from competition until they comply with this rule.

    Well, this one should be self-explanatory - no see-through suits!

    102.12.1B says that swimwear shall include only a swimsuit, no more than two caps, and goggles (a nose clip and ear plugs are allowed). Armbands or legbands shall not be regarded as parts of the swimsuit and are not allowed.

    A common question from swimmers is "can I wear something to help with an injury?" Typical questions include things like elastic bandages, knee braces, therapeutic bands, etc. The answer is generally "no" since these are considered an advantage in competition and not permitted under this rule.

    Article 102.12.1C has several rules:

    In swimming competitions, the competitor must wear only one swimsuit in one or two pieces. Does this mean that women can wear two-piece suits? Yes, but see below for some restrictions on coverage and fasteners.

    The rule also says that 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 knees. (See below for the difference that applies to open water competitions.)

    All swimsuits must be made from textile materials. How would I know if my suit has a material that is not permitted? Well, we also say in 102.12.1D that only swimwear complying with FINA specifications may be worn in any USMS sanctioned or recognized competition. FINA evaluates and maintains a list of approved swimwear. If you purchase a suit that has been approved by FINA, it will have a sticker on it that says "FINA Approved Swimwear". All of these suits are approved for use in USMS competition and a complete searchable list is maintained by FINA here:

    http://www.fina.org/content/fina-approved-swimwear

    USMS policy is to also accept "legacy" suits that comply with FINA specifications even if they do not appear on the FINA approved list. Generally, suits that are made out of materials such as lycra, nylon, polyester, or other traditional materials are acceptable. Suits made from neoprene or other buoyant materials are not acceptable because they violate 102.12.1E regarding the use of devices or substances that enhance speed, pace, buoyancy, or endurance. Any type of surface treatment that closes the mesh structure of the material (suach as a coating) is subject to scrutiny, so it is the technical suits that we need to look at. A pair of "board shorts" or a beach suit for women made out of traditional materials will generally comply with the rule.

    General tip: If a suit is marketed specifically for triathletes or strictly for training, you may want to check the specifications further. Triathlons don’t follow the same rules and we have found some suits marketed to improve buoyancy that would not comply with the rule. Anything marketed with a thermal insulation material (e.g., a wetsuit) is likely not permitted.

    FINA also has a prohibition against zippers or any other fastening system, including ties. A waist tie is the only exception. For women, this means that a two-piece suit with a top piece that ties in the back is not permitted.

    The FINA approval process will also look at the thickness and permeability of the material used in the swimwear construction. If you really want to understand all of the technical specifications, you can find them here:

    https://www.fina.org/sites/default/files/frsa.pdf

    Now we go to article 102.12.1E which says that no swimmer is permitted to wear or use any device or substance to enhance speed, pace, buoyancy, or endurance during a race (such as webbed gloves, fins, power bands, adhesive substances, snorkels, neoprene caps, etc.).

    All of these great training devices that we use in workouts to help us train more effectively either by improving stroke technique, dealing with injuries, or making it easier to train are not meant for competition.

    What about watches? The interpretation on watches is that watches could be considered pacing devices, but only if they are used for this purpose. It is not necessarily illegal to wear a watch in competition, but if an official observes a swimmer using a watch during a race, the swimmer is subject to disqualification.

    Rule 102.12.1E also explicitly says that medical identification items may be worn. If you wear a medical alert bracelet, for example, you are not required to remove it for competition. Doing so could compromise safety and the ability to respond to a medical emergency.

    Rule 102.12.1E also addresses the use of tape. The rule says that any kind of tape on the body is not permitted unless approved by the referee. We get many questions regarding the application of the rule and an official interpretation, consistent with FINA and USA Swimming, was issued in 2016.

    The use of tape in competition is limited to situations involving verified medical conditions. The application of tape is intended to be for situations such as wound closure, taping of fingers or toes (no more than two), taping to secure medical devices, or other limited uses that would not provide any competitive advantage. The use of any kind of tape that purports to provide muscle compression; muscle, joint, or ligament stabilization; or other physical benefits, including therapeutic elastic tape or similar products, is never permitted in USMS competition.

    Finally, we have the following provision in article 102.12.1C(1): Exemptions to the foregoing restrictions may be granted to a swimmer, on a case-by-case basis, by the chair of the Rules Committee or designee. Exemptions will be granted for conflicts due to the swimmer’s verified religious beliefs, verified medical conditions, or other reasons as deemed appropriate by the chair of the Rules Committee.

    Medical exemptions are generally intended for permanent medical conditions that would preclude someone from complying with the swimwear rules and being able to participate in competition altogether. If you feel that you have a medical condition, a religious belief, or other circumstance that would merit an exemption, please contact the USMS Rules Committee Chair at: rules@usms.org.

    Article 102.12 describes the rules for pool competition, but the same rules generally apply for "category I swimwear in open water competition (i.e., not wetsuits) as described in article 303.7. The coverage rules for open water competition are different - both men and women are permitted to wear a suit that does not extend past the shoulder or past the ankles. For medical exceptions that cover open water competition, swimmers should contact the chair of the USMS Long Distance Committee at: LongDistance@usms.org.
  2. Use of Equipment in USMS Meets

    by , April 30th, 2017 at 01:16 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Occasionally, we will get a question that asks "Can I use a piece of equipment in a USMS sanctioned meet?" Usually for medical or disability reasons, a swimmer asks if it is permissible to use hand paddles, a pull buoy, a snorkel, fins, or some other type of equipment.

    In 102.13.9, we say that "No swimmers are permitted to wear or use any device or substance to enhance speed, pace, buoyancy, or endurance during a race (such as webbed gloves, fins, power bands, adhesive substances, snorkels, neoprene cps, etc.)" That rule is pretty clear in saying all types of equipment are prohibited in USMS meets.

    What about medical exceptions to the swimwear rules? In 102.12.1C(1), we say that exceptions may be granted by the chair of the rules committee for verified religious beliefs, verified medical conditions, or other reasons as deemed appropriate by the chair of the Rules Committee. So, while we can consider some exceptions to the rules regarding swimwear coverage or design, we still cannot grant exceptions that would provide a competitive advantage. (We say that explicitly in 102.12.1C(3)). The same language in 102.13.9 is repeated in 102.12.1E.

    It is also very important to remember that medical exceptions are intended to be for permanent conditions (or chronic enough conditions that they might be considered permanent), not temporary illnesses or injuries. As aging athletes, we all have to deal with illnesses, injuries, medical procedures, and the like from time to time. That can be frustrating when it disrupts our swimming or other aspects of our fitness routine. And, it can be frustrating to miss a competition for these reasons, especially if an injury happens leading up to the meet and it is not possible to fully recover in time. Frustrating as it might be, this type of situation is not grounds for seeking a medical exception to the swimwear rules.

    What about as a disability accommodation? Article 107 covers guidelines for officiating swimmers with disabilities and is intended to give the officials some latitude in granting accommodations. In Article 107, we define disabilities as permanent, life-altering, physical or cognitive conditions. So, again, conditions like injuries or illnesses do not fall into this category. While we can make many types of accommodations to facilitate participation by swimmers with disabilities, 107.1.2B(3) specifically says that "Aids to buoyancy or speed are not allowed (see 102.12.1E and 102.13.9)". So, the same restrictions apply even in disability questions.

    All of this means that we cannot permit the use of any type of equipment that would aid the swimmer or provide an competitive advantage. This includes items such as pull buoys, paddles, fins, snorkels, or other types of training equipment.

    The final question that we commonly get is "Can I do it anyway and accept a disqualification?" or "Can I swim exhibition?" We do not have an "exhibition" or similar type of "unofficial" category in USMS competition. There is no option to allow a swimmer to compete, do something that is not in compliance with the rules, and have it be "unofficial". The rules of competition are established and approved by the USMS membership and we have an obligation to apply those in a "fair and equitable" manner. Therefore, it is not our practice to encourage actions that are intentionally in violation of the rules.

    It is permissible to offer "non conforming" events in a meet. 102.5.3 says that "nonconforming events may be offered in accordance with the provisions of article 202.1.1G(3)". This article says that nonconforming events, which are defined as events not listed in the rule book or that would typically result in the disqualification of participants, may be offered as long as they are conducted in a safe manner. If a meet wanted to offer a nonconforming distance freestyle event, for example, and permit the use of equipment, that would be permitted. The event could be identified as nonconforming and swimmers would not be eligible for official forms of recognition (such as records or top ten). However, per the provisions in 102.5, nonconforming events must be offered to all age groups and both genders. In other words, the event is open to anyone, not just swimmers requesting an exception or a deviation. The events must be published in the meet announcement prior to the meet.

    While we make every effort to encourage and facilitate participation in competition by as many swimmers as possible, we also want to ensure that all competitions are conducted in accordance with the rules. Unfortunately, that means that we have to say "no" to requests at times. The good news is that even swimmers who are unable to compete in the manner that they would like, everyone can still enjoy the health, fitness, and social benefits of training. And, while it might be frustrating to miss a competition due to injury, there is always the option to come cheer on your teammates or volunteer to assist with the operation of the meet.
  3. Therapeutic Elastic Tape in Competition

    by , June 5th, 2016 at 02:16 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Modern medical technology has created some fantastic products for adult athletes to use in dealing with injuries and the natural issues associated with aging bodies. However, with the growing use of these technologies, we have to consider questions about their use in competition. As always, our goal is to have a fair and equitable application of the rules that facilitate participation in competition. The rules are written to limit the use of items that provide for a competitive advantage.



    We have received many questions regarding the use of therapeutic elastic tape. While the use of the products may prove to be of great use for some swimmers recovering from injuries or in training, the use of many of these products creates a competitive advantage and are therefore not permitted in USMS competition.

    The current swimsuit rules date to 2009 and the premise of the rules are that substances which provide additional muscle compression; or anything that enhances speed, pace, or buoyancy are not permitted.

    USMS rule 102.12.1-E (governing pool events) says that “Any kind of tape worn on the body is not permitted unless approved by the referee”. USMS rule 303.7.3-C (governing long distance and open water event) also says that "Any kind of tape worn on the body is not permitted unless approved by the referee”



    Per USMS Article 507.1.13, the Rules Committee issues interpretations of Part One rules. Per USMS Article 507.1.7, the USMS Long Distance Committee oversees the rules and administration of long distance and open water events (Part Three).

    Therefore, to provide clearer guidance for officials, the following interpretation is issued jointly by the USMS Rules Committee and USMS Long Distance Committee.

    “The use of tape in competition is limited to situations involving verified medical conditions. The application of tape is intended to be for situations such as wound closure, taping of fingers or toes, taping to secure medical devices, or other limited uses that would not provide any competitive advantage. The use of any kind of tape that purports to provide muscle compression; muscle, joint, or ligament stabilization; or other physical benefits, including therapeutic elastic tape or similar products, is never permitted in USMS competition.”


    Examples of such products include Kinesio® Tape, KT Tape, Kinesiology Tape, Cho-Pat® and Spider Tech. But, there may very well be additional products and brands.

    Even in the case of disability accommodations or medical exceptions to the swimwear rules, we would not grant an exception that creates a competitive advantage. While these are considered on a case-by-case basis, this interpretation will remain the guiding principle. USMS is consistent with USA-Swimming in our interpretation regarding the use of these products.

    If you have questions on the use of a specific product, please direct those questions to the Meet or Race Referee, the Rules Committee Chair (rules@usms.org) for pool events, and the Open Water Committee Chair (openwater@usms.org) for open water events.

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee Chair