The call, which was appealed by the Anchorage School Distract sparked a nationwide discussion regarding the policing and scrutinization of female bodies. In a statement, the school district expressed their thoughts on the matter…
“The disqualification appears to stem from a difference of opinion in the interpretation of the rules governing high school swim uniforms,” the statement said. “We intend to gather all the facts surrounding the disqualification so we can accurately address the matter with officials and take appropriate action to ensure fair, equitable competition and consistent application of the rules for this athlete and her peers.”
In addition, the athlete was one of the few, if not only non-white athletes present at the meet, which lead to allegations of racism in addition to sexism playing a role in the decision. Lauren Langford, a coach for another high school team who was present at the meet stated that she believed that there were racist and sexist intentions that influenced the referee’s decision.
“All of these girls are all wearing suits that are cut the same way,” Langford said. “And the only girl who gets disqualified is a mixed-race girl with rounder, curvier features.”
The athlete in question was wearing one of the school issued swim suits that all the female athletes on the team were wearing at the meet and throughout the swim season. Despite all of her teammates dressed the same, this particular athlete was the only one who received a disqualification.
In terms of the rulebook itself, the regulation cited is ambiguous at best and is open to interpretation by coaches and officials. High school swim coach, Cliff Murray, explains that at the beginning of the season, the coaches were told “that as far as the buttocks region goes, you should not be showing any part of the intergluteal cleft.”
Yet, there is no mention of the “intergluteal cleft” in the official rulebook. Murray continued;
“From my understanding it’s a case-by-case basis,” Murray said of enforcement, adding that some officials have “a harder problem with it than others.”
“If you’re in a situation where your suit creeps up, somebody comes over to a coach and says ‘hey, you’ve got an athlete who needs to adjust his or her suit,’ and they have that opportunity to fix it,” Murray said. “And if they don’t, there are ramifications.”
The news of the disqualification spread throughout the swimming community as people debated the situation. It was noted that the athlete in question “doesn’t look like the other swimmers” in that they are “mixed race and curvy.” This has led the allegations of racism and sexism playing a role in which why this specific athlete was targeted for violation of the specific rule. Lauren Langford, in an essay she wrote to express her thoughts on the matter shared,
“It was so targeted. It was so intentional, and so individual,” Langford said. “She’s one of three girls on the team who look like her. Everybody else is in same suit, sized to fit, and yet on a team of however many girls she was the only one that got singled out? I was filled with so much anguish over the way these young girls have been forced to suffer.”
She continued to explain that it’s not just about this one swimmer or incident, but it is another part of a greater abuse of power in which female athletes face an enormous pressure and unrealistic expectations to conform to an unrealistic standard of beauty.
”The obstacles these teens face has created a culture of tension and fear on pool decks all over the state. Girls of all shapes, sizes, and races are worrying about their suits like never before. How is anyone supposed to focus on swimming fast when they are confronted with the reality that a subjective rule may result in disqualification? And in a world where young girls are told at every turn that the skin they’re in is not good enough for a thousand reasons, the last thing we need to do in youth athletics is to add to that unhealthy dialogue around body image.“
The disqualification has since been overturned by the Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA).
By Dirk Smith