The 2019 edition of the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics Championships being hosted this year in New York City for Stonewall 50 has announced that it will be the first IGLA event to include official sanctioning for Synchronized Swimming.

IGLA and other LGBTQI aquatics events in the past have never been able to officially sanction the Synchronized Swimming competition due to the inclusion of men within the sport. Traditionally, synchronized swimming is a sport reserved specifically for women, with little to no opportunities for competitive synchronized swimming for men. Synchronized swimming is seen as a hyper-feminized sport that emphasis beauty, poise, style and other qualities that can be considered “feminine” making it difficult for men to participate. In addition, for men who do participate it creates a social stigma that reinforce gender stereotypes and discourage participation. Currently, Synchronized Swimming is one of two Olympic Sports that have not achieved true gender parity, in which one gender is not allowed to compete; with the other sport being the equally as feminized Rhythmic Gymnastics.

The first male competitors in synchronized swimming were sanctioned to compete at the elite level at the 2015 World Championships in only mixed duet events. Bill May from the United States and Aleksandr Maltsev from Russia became the first men’s world champions in Synchronized Swimming in the mixed duet technical and free events respectively. The 2017 World Championships were also open to men in mixed duet events and are also expected to compete at this year’s World Championships in the summer.

The IGLA Championships and by extension the Gay Games have always advocated for men’s participation in Synchronized Swimming by allowing men to compete in all competitive categories at the event. In the past, this has meant that IGLA events were not sanctioned by an official National Governing Body. However, this has now changed as the IGLA 2019 Synchronized Swimming competition is officially sanctioned by USA Synchro, marking a significant development toward inclusion and gender parity in the sport.

This also means that other Synchronized Swimming events and governing bodies will be looking toward IGLA 2019 to set the model and standard for increasing men’s participation in synchronized swimming in other events, from the local, regional, national, international and potentially even the Olympic Games themselves.

The sanctioning is important for IGLA as well, it helps to build the status of the event as an inclusive and welcoming event, legitimizes the event and helps the event to grow. In addition, it also means that the athletes who compete will have an extra level of insurance and protection from their participation in the sport. The last couple years have marked a tremendous growth for synchronized swimming at IGLA which previously faced the risk of cancellation due to lack of participation. The IGLA 2019 Synchronized Swimming competition registration has officially closed early due to reaching the full capacity of participants. It is a testament to the growth, validity and popularity of synchronized swimming as a sport.

By Dirk Smith