Burkinis Now Allowed in Competition by British ASA

Britain’s Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) has announced a progressive new rule allowing women to compete wearing burkinis, a swimsuit style wore by women seeking full-body coverage, often for religious and sometimes to hide pre-existing medical conditions. The modification to the rule is essentially a relaxation of Regulation 411, which in the ASA stipulates the amount of coverage allowed by a competitive swimsuit.  Following the adoption of the nuance, the ASA regulation now reads:

  1. Suits shall be made of a textile material as per the current FINA Rules.
  2. There is no limit to how many pieces the suit is made up from (i.e. “Trousers/bottoms”, top and head covering).
  3. Suits which the referee believes would be capable of enhancing a swimmers performance will not be permitted.
  4. Swimmers wishing to swim in such a suit shall (either themselves or their representative) present the suit to the event referee for inspection prior to their swim.
  5. The referee’s decision shall be final.

Allowing swimmers to wear more conservative suits is not a means of walking back on the FINA regulations that banned the full-body polyurethane suits that caused such a commotion in 2009, since any additional coverage a burkini might provide must not enhance a swimmer’s performance and must be approved by a FINA official before competition.

The ASA is Britain’s national governing body for swimming, diving, water polo, open water swimming, and synchronized swimming. Founded in 1869, the ASA is the oldest governing body for the sport of swimming in the world.  In addition to organizing competitions for athletes of every skill level, the ASA also provides learn to swim programs for people of all ages.  The ASA aims to support all swimmers and aquatics enthusiasts in Britain by bringing every swimmer to a club team, and works with organizers representing participants from grass-roots up to national and elite levels.

Chris Bostock, Chairman of the ASA Sport Governing Board, said: “This is a very positive step forward for competitive swimming in England and one that we hope will encourage many more people to take part.”  Also, “We want everyone to be able to reach their potential. Representing your Club at a national swimming competition is very special.  By changing these rules we hope to encourage a new generation of swimmers.”

Inclusion is the primary purpose of the modification, which was requested by the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation (MWSF).  Rimla Akhtar of the MWSF voiced her support for the rule change, saying “Participation in sport amongst Muslim women is increasing at a rapid pace. It is imperative that governing bodies adapt and tailor their offerings to suit the changing landscape of sport, including those who access their sport.”

Akhtar continued: “The MWSF is glad to have requested a review of competition laws in relation to full body suits by the ASA and are extremely pleased at the outcome…. We thank the ASA for their leadership in this matter. We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure that this ruling is also adopted at the elite level both nationally and internationally.”

The rule is already in effect and applies to all levels of ASA licensed meets (1, 2, 3 and 4) and ASA National Events.  This means that British World Championship and Olympic Trials competitions could now feature female competitors dressed in full-body and multi-piece suits.  With a more varied pool of competitors, Britain’s international teams might also become more diverse as immigrants and refugees gain British citizenship between now and future competition.

Given the nature of swimming, particularly pool swimming, athletes wearing burkinis will nonetheless compete at a disadvantage as they will be swimming with considerably more drag.  Most likely, the most successful athletes that choose to wear a burkini will likely come in one of the other aquatic disciplines where drag is not as much of a hindrance.  Regardless, the ASA has taken a major step in opening swimming to athletes that otherwise might not be able to compete due to their religious and cultural beliefs, or self-consciousness because of a medical condition.

The rule change could also have broader implications, and if an athlete wearing such a suit is selected for an international competition, FINA itself might be forced to make a ruling on the matter, either approving, disapproving, or altering the ASA modifications.  However, given FINA’s permission to allow the ASA to support athletes that choose to compete in more conservative attire, it seems possible that FINA could draft a similar rule of its own.  Were FINA to do so, upcoming Olympic and World Championship competitions could include female swimmers from countries that previously never sent them, a move which would be highly conducive to the Olympic Movement.

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17 Comments on "Burkinis Now Allowed in Competition by British ASA"

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So we’re casting aside the post-2009 FINA standards for competition suits just to accommodate Muslims? Are there regulations for how tight and form-fitting a burkini can be? Will times swum by women wearing burkinis be accepted by FINA? The new ASA regulation gives referees a lot of power in determining whether or not a burkini is allowed for competition. It is clear that the ASA cannot clearly articulate the rules for their double-standard for burkini-wearers, so they let the opinions of individual referees have the final say. If the ASA is ignoring some FINA rules, can they ignore other rules? We must not change and ignore the rules of our sport and create loopholes for Muslims–it is the definition of… Read more »

I agree that the rule could use more precise wording and that there is an awful lot of trust placed in the officials, but I think that, overall, this is a good step toward making the sport more inclusive. If we suddenly start seeing several prominent British swimmers converting to Islam, the British ASA can tweak the rule as needed.

Indeed, the rules do need to be more specific. If the rules are going to be changed to be more accommodating of Muslims, we need to have the same standards for everyone–a double standard is discriminatory. It’s dangerous to have one set of rules for one group of people and another set for another group. The fact that the ASA is ignoring the international rules of swimming is a problem. Currently, the rules of our sport do not prevent Muslims from competing based on their religion. However, if a Muslim chooses to wear the traditional burka, then their self-established decision prevents them from competing–in other words, the Muslim makes a choice that prevents them from competing in accordance with the… Read more »

I agree – if your religion doesn’t allow you to conform to the rules, then don’t compete.
If it’s a discrimination thing, then can I be allowed to wear fins since I have stiff ankles? – I mean how far does one bend the rules.

Steve Nolan

Dude, the point’s basically to increase participation.

Also, your definition of “discrimination” is a bit off.

How would you like to define discrimination? I’d like to define a discriminatory policy in athletics like something along the lines of a rule or a set of rules that hold(s) a group of people defined by race, religion, or national origin to a different standard than other people. Athletics should be colorblind (or burka-blind).

Greta news for inclusivity

Aren’t Burkinis often a cause of drowning due to the large amount of fabric?

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About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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