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Use of Equipment in USMS Meets

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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.

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