Are Qualifying Time Standards Necessary for International Meets?

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Daniela Navarrete, Swimming World College Intern.

Almost every major international swimming event―the Olympic Games, World Championships, Pan-American Games, Commonwealth Games and European Swimming Championships―has qualifying time standards swimmers must achieve to be eligible to compete.

In some cases, more competitive countries must make their qualifying standards more difficult than others, as multiple individuals would have been able to qualify. Local swimming authorities have the freedom to decide how their country will be represented at the respective meet, and the more competitive countries typically choose only the top two swimmers per individual event. On the contrary, some others choose seemingly unreachable standards. Fortunately, the universality rule at global meets allows these teams to take one swimmer per gender to participate in a single individual event.

Other international meets have a different selection process, such as the South American Games hosted in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2018. Swimmers at the Games are not required to meet a specific time. Instead, each country makes its own decision on how to select the national swimming team.

Photo Courtesy: Melissa Murua

The History of the Games

The South American Games is an event organized by the South American Sports Organization (ODESUR) and acknowledged by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). With a total of 14 countries across South America competing every four years, the Games include 35 different sports, of which swimming has been a highlight since the inaugural year in 1978.

Each National Olympic Committee oversees the registration of its national team as a whole. However, the sport of swimming specifically is also governed by the International Swimming Federation (FINA) and the South American Swimming Confederation (CONSANAT) rules.


Photo Courtesy: Melissa Murua

Qualifying Criteria for the South American Games

According to the competition guidebook, women and men can participate as long as their National Olympic Committees are affiliated with ODESUR and their respective countries are FINA and CONSANAT members. Each country could bring a maximum of two swimmers per gender and individual event, with a total of 14 swimmers per gender―no time standards needed to qualify for the meet.


Photo Courtesy: South American Sports Organization

Effects of Not Having Time Standards

Since no general qualifying time standards are required, each country decides on its own criteria to select national swim team members. Countries have three different options: create their own qualifying cuts for the South American Games, select the two best swimmers of the country per gender based on FINA points, or abide by the FINA universality rule.

A benefit of no qualification times is that it helps create a more welcoming swimming community. In countries where swimming is not as popular, swimmers have more opportunities to live the experience of international competition. Any swimmer affiliated with his or her respective federation would be able to attend in accordance to the above stated qualifying criteria.

On the other hand, the overall level of competition can be irregular because some national federations have chosen to create their own time standards. In an effort to present itself as a strong competitor and Games host, Bolivia instated cuts that represent national records, not necessarily representing their true abilities.

Bolivia as the Host

The Bolivian Swimming Federation (FEBONA) created its own time standards to select the swimmers who would represent the country at the Games, yet half of the times are faster than absolute national Bolivian records.

Bolivian Qualifying times for Cochabamba

Photo Courtesy: Betty Rojas Rodriguez

National Bolivian Records

Photo Courtesy: Bolivian Swimming Federation (FEBONA)

Bold represents the qualifying cuts for the Games that are faster than national Bolivian records.

Despite some Bolivian swimmers admitting that such fast time standards will help them seek meet finals and even a place on the podium, several National coaches have voiced their discontent. They have stated that these cuts are out of context, since the country doesn’t have the optimal swimming level to make up a full 28-swimmer roster that could represent Bolivia at the South American Games.

Other Qualifying Standards

Countries such as Panama select their national teams by choosing the two best swimmers in the country per gender based on FINA points. Panama was only able to take a total of four athletes, while the Colombian team took 16 male and female athletes total.

Panama Team for South American Games

Photo Courtesy: Panamanian Olympic Committee

Missing female swimmer Melissa Murua in the picture.

The Panamanian swimmers would be competing against other teams who qualified on the basis of a time standard, while they were chosen from an arguably more selective group. The Argentinian National Team is made up of swimmers who qualified by obtaining specific cuts; however, these times did not surpass national records (as was the case for the Bolivian team).

While Brazil is well recognized for its elite level of swimming, they used an uncommon method to select their representatives: swimmers were chosen based on the results of the 2017 Brazilian Junior Nationals, in which only swimmers born in 1998, 1999 or 2000 could participate. Again, no need of qualifying time standards.

Requiring all countries to subscribe to an objective time standard would seem to universalize the meet entrance requirements; however, not all countries have the same resources and competitive opportunities.

Is this Beneficial?

Most people might assume that all international competitions require athletes to achieve specific times; however, the South American Games is an exception. To widen the popularity of swimming in a specific region, the lack of qualifying times can give athletes international exposure and motivation to work harder to improve their performance. However, as previously discussed, it can also lead to disparities in the overall competition level. Do you think allowing each country to develop its own selection criteria is more beneficial?

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

Associated Links

  • Confederación Sudamericana de Natación
  • FINA


    1. avatar
      Melissa Murua

      AMAZING! ❤️

    2. avatar

      Awesome Dani.