At the recent World Swimming Championships, officials announced that competitors would soon be banned from using the new record-smashing, limit-testing buoyant high-tech polyurethane bodysuits. I’m sure Michael Phelps and his friends are bummed out. As a former record-setting competitive swimmer who used to shop for tight racing suits in the “infant” apparel section to score an advantage, I can attest to the desire to push the limit with one’s aquatic apparel. So can Muslims, apparently. Bans on their traditional burqas are sweeping Europe, so now they’re making them into “burqinis”, and arguing that since they have an aquatic spin, the attire should be exempt from the rules. A burqini is an outfit now worn by Muslim women in pools, most closely resembling a full tracksuit, with an added head covering or veil.
Italy banned the Islamic headscarf in July 2005, as part of its anti-terrorism package. The penalty for breach was set at 2 years in jail and a $3,200 fine. This week, a northern Italian town of Varallo Sesia banned the burqini from public pools, complete with a $700 fine for violation.
In 2004, France banned the headscarf in state schools, and the country is currently debating a widespread burqa ban in parliamentary committee. The French have seen the burqa take to the water in self-defence, as well. A French convert to Islam was booted from a French swimming pool earlier this month for wearing the jogging suit and veil outfit.
While working as a lifeguard to pay for university, I encountered my fair share of people who believed the pool was a “rules and judgment free zone” in much the same way that thugs in a boxing ring figure it’s impossible to be charged with anything short of murder. There was an Indian man who had to be thrown out of the pool for doing cannonballs off the high board in a giant white diaper contraption with a kirpan (religious sword worn by baptized Sikhs) shoved through its hip. It isn’t always a religious issue: A man with a giant tattoo of his naked wife across his back was offered a complimentary t-shirt to wear in the pool, in response to complaints from horrified mothers. He flipped out and refused to cover up, so he was thrown out.