The following is an open letter from Forbes Carlile, M.B.E, concerning the continuing debate over performance enhancing swimsuits.

Dear Friend of Swimming,

I am writing to a large number of Australia’s swimming clubs on a matter that is of great concern to me, and, I believe, should be of great concern to all clubs, parents and swimmers. These concerns relate to the future integrity of swimming, and the unnecessary expenditure by parents and swimmers on swimwear. I ask that this letter be brought to the attention of your club’s committee; and perhaps be emailed to your members and other interested parties, and displayed at your pool.

You would all be aware of the turmoil that has existed in the swimming world over the last two years due to the introduction of performance-enhancing suits. These suits resulted in an unprecedented number of devalued world, continental and national records being set, and had a disastrous impact on the image and credibility of our sport; which had always been seen as purely technique and training-based.

Swimming’s governing body, FINA, through the Congress of its member federations, was finally forced to act on this during the World Championships in Rome in July 2009. The Congress voted overwhelmingly to include swimsuits in an existing rule (SW10.7) that prohibited swimmers using devices that “may aid speed, buoyancy or endurance”. The result is that any suit that has a reasonable possibility of aiding performance is illegal, as it should be.

In addition, FINA set parameters for the material (e.g. type, thickness, porosity, buoyancy) and body coverage of suits and stipulated that the new FINA Swimwear Approval Commission must assess all suits.

It may appear that the problem has been effectively dealt with, but the reality is a very different story.

Knee-Length Suits
Despite the fact that many in the swimming community were in favour of a return to brief suits for men and suits to the hips for women, a compromise of knee-length suits was put to the Congress. It was likely this was done to appease the swimsuit manufacturers, who for obvious reasons lobbied hard for no change.

Coverage of the arms, lower leg and back was prohibited for the obvious reason that the greater the coverage, the greater the likelihood that a suit may aid performance. Logically then, any suit should only cover what modesty requires, which makes knee-length suits completely unnecessary.

Far more importantly, the potential for knee-length suits to enhance performance demands their prohibition.

It has only been since the performance-enhancing suits appeared that the degree to which the extensive thigh area is an attractive target for performance enhancement has been fully appreciated. This area plays a vital role in contributing to the angle of buoyancy and therefore the reduction of resistance. The thigh muscles are the body’s largest and hence provide the best opportunity for the benefits that compression may provide.

Without thigh coverage the swimsuit manufacturers will be far less motivated to find loopholes by investigating new material technology that appears to be within the current rules but subsequently proves to be performance enhancing.

Indisputably, brief suits for men and suits to the hips for women would greatly reduce the likelihood of performance enhancement, and simplify the approval and monitoring process.

FINA deserves no credit for its response to the suit debacle. Action should have been taken much sooner, and was only taken when elite-level swimming had become a laughing-stock.

One only has to know that FINA has commercial relationships with swimsuit manufacturers to conclude that conflicts of interest may well be affecting its views and actions, with seemingly scant regard for what is best for the well-being of the sport.

In addition there is no transparency regarding the approval and monitoring process, resulting in great confusion as to how suits are approved and how compliance is being checked.

Swimsuit Manufacturers
With their exorbitant price tags and limited life span, the performance-enhancing suits of the last two years were no doubt a good investment for the manufacturers, especially from a promotional perspective. For the same reasons, it is in their interests that suits are now permitted as much coverage and as many technological advances as possible.

Even before 2008 swimsuit manufacturers claimed that knee-length suits aided performance, and current promotional material for a number of manufacturers’ FINA-approved 2010 swimsuit ranges claim what is clearly performance enhancement. Either this is false advertising or it renders these suits illegal.

Understandably, possible performance enhancement would seem to be the only reason why a swimmer or parent would buy a suit that covers more than modesty requires, and pay significantly more to do so.

It is causing great frustration amongst swimmers and parents that it is currently difficult to purchase men’s brief suits and women’s suits to the hips for competition, thereby forcing parents and swimmers to pay significantly more for knee-length suits.

How This Affects Your Swimmers and Parents
Below is a summary of why you should be concerned about this situation:
  • Knee-length suits clearly may aid performance, making them illegal under FINA rules.
  • The lack of transparency and widespread confusion about the approval and monitoring process has justifiably resulted in a lack of confidence that performance-enhancing suits have been eliminated and will not reappear.
  • FINA cannot be relied upon to control this situation due to a gross lack of resolve that is likely to be motivated by conflicts of interest.
  • The suit manufacturers are selling knee-length suits accompanied by claims that are either completely untrue or render their products illegal. In addition there is limited availability of cheaper men’s brief suits and women’s suits to the hips, forcing competitive swimmers to buy the more expensive knee-length suits.
What Can You and Your Members Do?
It seems the only way that change can be brought about is for there to be a groundswell of pressure from the ‘grass roots’ up such that FINA feels it has no alternative other than to act, as was the case with the decision in Rome. You can help return integrity to our sport by doing any or all of the following:
  • Given that it is the National Federations that have most influence with FINA, the most powerful thing you can do is contact Swimming Australia and let them know your views.
  • Contact your State association, make your feelings known, and suggest that the association makes representations to Swimming Australia.
  • Raise the matter at district level, make your feelings known, and suggest that your district makes representations to your State association and/or Swimming Australia.
  • Let your coach know your views and suggest that he/she raises it through the Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association.
  • Email this to others in the swimming community and/or discuss this matter with them to alert them to the situation.
  • Contact the suit manufacturers and/or your local distributor and query them about promotional material that advertises performance enhancement, and the availability of brief competition suits.
  • Contact FINA ( and make your feelings known.
It could greatly assist the sport of swimming if you act as suggested, as I firmly believe that unless knee-length suits are prohibited and unless there is complete transparency and certainty in the approval and monitoring process, swimming could once again head down the disastrous path it took over the last two years.

Yours sincerely,

Forbes Carlile, M.B.E

Co-Principal Carlile Swimming
Life Member Swimming Australia
Life Member Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association

See Also
  • Swimsuit Update

  • SwimNews - Whither The Racing Brief?

  • SwimNews - Stop The Runaway Train

  • SwimNews - Suit Wars: Issues Of Science And Progress II
  • Speedo LZR Racer
The now banned Speedo LZR Racer Body Suit. Despite the banning of suits that enhance performance, swimsuit prices are still high and standard cut brief suits using the same technology as 2010 knee length suits are still unavailable, forcing swimmers to purchase more expensive knee length suits.
    Speedo LZR Racer
    The now banned Speedo LZR Racer Body Suit. Despite the banning of suits that enhance performance, swimsuit prices are still high and standard cut brief suits using the same technology as 2010 knee length suits are still unavailable, forcing swimmers to purchase more expensive knee length suits.