Alaska school district sides with athlete over swimsuit

AP, ANCHORAGE, Alaska

Thu, Sep 12, 2019 - Page 16

The Anchorage School District said that it would not tolerate discrimination — including that based on body shape — after a high-school swimmer was disqualified for wearing a team-issued swimsuit that exposed too much of her buttocks.

The district said in a written statement that the decision to single out the 17-year-old girl for a uniform violation was “heavy-handed and unnecessary,” the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The girl was targeted based solely on how a standard school-issued uniform happened to fit the shape of her body, the district said.

The disqualification blocked the 17-year-old Dimond High School swimmer from a heat victory at a meet on Friday last week.

The school district said that it would ask the Alaska School Activities Association on behalf of the swimmer’s team to reverse the disqualification and decertify the official who disqualified the girl.

KTUU-TV cited a competing coach, Lauren Langford of West High School, as saying that the girl was the only swimmer disqualified, even though her teammates wore similar suits.

The district said that it acted after interviewing multiple people who witnessed the incident.

The district said that it would also suspend its use of the National Federation of State High School Associations’ swimsuit coverage rule, “as it is ambiguous and allows the potential for bias to influence officials’ decisions.”

The district intends to revise the rule, the statement said.

The federation last month notified high-school coaches of a rule change that allows for disqualification of an athlete if a uniform is not within guidelines.

“There is a growing trend in high-school swimming and diving of athletes wearing training and competitive suits in a manner that contradicts with the intention of their original design and manufacture,” federation executive director Karissa Niehoff wrote in a memo.

“Specifically, suits are being worn in such a way as to expose the athlete’s buttocks. This issue is not gender-specific and is occurring in various states across the country,” she added.

Langford over the weekend published an online account of the disqualification.

The Dimond student was punished for her athletic physique, a combination of genetics and years of training to gain strength and speed, she said.

“The rest of her team was wearing the same uniform and she was the only one disqualified,” Langford said. “It is my opinion that she has been targeted and singled out over the course of the last year.”

The cut of most competitive suits is not in compliance with the rule, Langford said, noting a V-shape angle on the backside of women’s competitive suits sold by most manufacturers.

“Before these suits even get on an athlete’s body, the cut of them isn’t in compliance with the modesty rule,” Langford said.

Calls and e-mails to the referee who made the disqualification were not returned.

The goal is not to have officials focus on the backsides of male or female swimmers, but to provide guidance for compliance, federation director of sports Sandy Searcy said.

Langford said that the renewed emphasis on modesty is well-intended, but has gotten out of hand, especially when the rule is vague.

“It does not state that that coverage of the buttocks needs to be full coverage,” Langford said. “That’s something that we have gotten carried away with. If we are going to police this rule and if it’s not a thong or a G-string, then it is in compliance.”