This is an interesting question to research. Your question goes to the
very meaning of equality in sporting competitions. First, I think we
must consider whether the person was born with this webbing, or had it
artificially created or added later, and the intention behind that
If they are born with it, then I can see no reason why they can cannot
partake in a swimming race. Otherwise, for instance, very tall people
would be banned from Olympic basketball.
If the webbing was added later, then this would be subject to a
decision by FINA (Federation Internationale de Natation), the
international swimming federation and the sport?s governing body for
international and Olympic competitions, under their rules and
This particular problem has not yet been encountered in swimming ?
only time will tell - so, some of this answer is my own opinion,
based on the current rules and regulations and a recent case.
The nearest relevant rules I can find are:
"FINA Swimming Rules 2002-2005
SW 10.7 No swimmer shall be permitted to use or wear any device that
may aid his speed, buoyancy or endurance during a competition (such as
webbed gloves, flippers, fins, etc.). Goggles may be worn."
The operative words here are 'permitted to use' and 'wear any device'.
The Federation would have to approve use of the device before the
race. Is a substance or object placed inside the body ?a device?? That
is a matter of interpretation by FINA. I think the main thing to
consider is intent. Plastic surgery or an artificial substance added
to the body for no other reason than to aid the person to swim faster,
is, in my opinion, a breach of this rule. Much the same as taking a
drug. The onus would be on the swimmer to prove that the addition was
not for improving their swimming and that was merely a side-effect.
Slightly different is if the person is surgically, or as you say, by
self-mutilation, 'improved'. Such as by placing flaps of skin across
their hand creating webbing. Intent is clearly present. It may be
interpreted as a 'device'. If it is not, then I suspect FINA would
resort to Article 2 of their Bylaws which is a catch-all disciplinary
(c) cheating including but not limited to doping, falsification or
alteration of birth certificates, documents of identification or any
other document indicating false age, false nationality or any other
false information with the purpose of obtaining unfair advantage for
an official, an athlete or a team.
Of course, placing a substance or material in your body to enhance
your performance is the definition of drug taking or doping. FINA has
extensive rules on this, but I do not think they were intended for the
topic of your question.
"Anti-Doping Rule Violations
DC 2 ANTI-DOPING RULE VIOLATIONS"
Swimmers partaking in FINA?s competitions are subject to an annual
Any change in their body would be noted and no doubt referred to the Federation.
New rules 2002-2005
MED 2.1 The annual examination may include:
MED 2.1.1 A complete history including the family history of the
competitor, the competitor's past and present medical history, the
competitor's athletic history and the menstrual history of female
MED 2.1.2 A physical examination including height and weight.
MED 2.1.3 Laboratory studies including haemogram, urinalysis, ECG, and
special studies for specific sports such as necessary.
MED 2.2 Contra-indications to training and competition include
orthopedic, neurological, dermatological, otorhinolaryngeal,
ophthalmic, psychiatric, and other medical or surgical
Before a swimmer reaches the dizzy heights of Olympic competition,
they would have no doubt started as members of local swimming clubs
which would be members of the relevant national representative of
FINA. If they had been born with the webbing, then those attributes
would have been noted in their very earliest organised swimming
contests under the FINA?s rules. Probably when they were in their
You may be interested in a debate which occurred in 1999 which FINA
had to resolve: whether ?bodysuits? were a swimming costume or a
device which aided the swimmer. Their conclusion resulted in a new
GR 6.4 Before any swimsuit of new design, construction or material is
used in competition, the manufacturer of such swimsuit must submit the
swimsuit to FINA and obtain approval of FINA.
These pages linked below set out the arguments involved in the case.
They are useful as they show the type of arguments which would be used
in this case.
"On the occasion of the FINA Bureau meeting of October 8, 1999, it
decided that 'the use of these swimsuits does not constitute a
violation of the FINA rules'."
Swimming Science Journal
As one critic argues:
"The floodgates are open. It would seem logical that anything that is
a contiguous extension of these suits would be legal. So webbed hands
of the same material as that of the arms, and foot socks (that might
resemble concealed flippers) are quite feasible."
I hope this answers your question. If it does not, or the answer is
unclear, then please ask for clarification of this research before
rating the answer. I shall respond to the clarification request as
soon as I receive it.
Variations of "swimming" webbed webbing FINA "plastic surgery"
Clarification of Answer by
06 May 2004 09:22 PDT
Almost. Try this,
There is no rule specifically covering this situation, so a ruling
would have to be made depending on the situation. However since any
"surgery" clearly would have the intentions to gain an edge in
competition, it is likely that FINA (the ruling body for swimming
competitions) would refer to Article 2 part c, which prohibits
"cheating including but not limited to [some specific examples] with
the purpose of obtaining unfair advantage for an official, an athlete
or a team."
Or, the surgery would be treated as using a device, and therefore contrary to
FINA Swimming Rule SW 10.7 "No swimmer shall be permitted to use or
wear any device that may aid his speed, buoyancy or endurance during a
competition (such as webbed gloves, flippers, fins, etc.). Goggles may
We won't know the answer until someone does have surgery and FINA has
to make a decision. It will be interesting - judging by the storm over
the bodysuit costumes. You may also wish to consider how long it took
the International Sporting Community to agree on doping.
Can't you declare it a draw?