London. At an Olympics in which women have overcome many cultural barriers and even appeared in traditionally-male disciplines, there remains one sport with no room for men: Synchronized swimming.
In its eighth Olympic appearance, the sport remains exclusively for women. While participants still have mixed views about opening it up to the opposite sex, the few men who practice synchronized swimming are demanding a place at the Games.
“It would transform the sport, because men have more strength but less agility,” said Germany’s Niklas Stoepel.
Stoepel, one of the rare male synchronized swimmers, complained weeks ago about discrimination at the Olympics.
“I think there is discrimination, quite honestly,” agreed Spain’s Andrea Fuentes, who won a silver medal Tuesday in the duets alongside Ona Carbonell. “I encourage all men to take it up. The more there are, the greater the competition,” Synchronized swimming has been an Olympic sport since Los Angeles 1984, and it has since then been exclusively for women.
“I always saw it as something completely feminine,” said Mexico’s Isabel Delgado. “The truth is I can’t imagine men performing figures.
But, well, this is like ballet in the water, and just as there are male dancers, there could be male water dancers.” Her duet partner, Nuria Diosdado, thinks allowing men in would be good.
“Many people do not accept it yet, but I have seen many men swim and they deserve to be here more than many girls who are taking part,” she said.
London 2012 marked an opening to women within the world of sport.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei for the first time allowed women to take part in the Games, while women made their Olympic debut in boxing, which was male-only for more than a century at the global event.
Synchronized swimming, however, continues to keep men at bay, and many do not like that.
“I think it’s incredibly ironic that the Olympics are all about equality, yet we don’t have a chance to compete, and other men’s teams don’t have a chance to participate,” said Britain’s team captain Stephen Adshead.
Adshead and his team-mates addressed a letter to the International Olympic Committee and to swimming’s governing body FINA, to demand the right to participate.
However, not all female synchronized swimmers are ready to welcome men. Some think the move could affect the sport’s aesthetic focus.
“Men don’t have to come in,” said Argentina’s Sofia Sanchez.
“This is a wholly feminine thing and a man, in the water and opening his legs 180 degrees, would not look good. Least of all with sequins on his slip, they would look quite unrefined.” “It’s such a feminine sport that men would look more coarse and look bad in the water. This is pure aesthetics, and no, I don’t see men fitting in,” said Sanchez.
The team event in London 2012 is set to start Thursday. It remains to be seen whether the current Olympics will be the last in which only women get to dance in the pool.