How the ISL Can Move Forward: Bring Back Tech Suits

Cali Condors win ISL 2020 (photo: Mike Lewis)

How the ISL Can Move Forward: Bring Back Tech Suits

Swimming as a world sport garners massive media attention and viewership during the Olympic Games. In some nations, such as Australia, swimming retains that level of popularity among its general public. This is a stark contrast to places like the United States. Once the Closing Ceremony finishes, sports fans move on and proceed to watch competitions that continue to deliver Olympic levels of enthusiasm and excitement. The International Swim League (ISL) was introduced as a way for the swimming community to enhance itself and capture a bigger audience, capitalizing on a new team format, points system and Skins to provide better entertainment value for fans.

These new elements of the sport were a vast change from the way FINA operates its meets. The new team format utilized a draft system in which fans could interact with and have an influence on the selection of members. The scoring system is more condensed than normal college or club meets. Only four teams swim per competition, providing a total of eight swimmers per individual event.

New Features

The ISL included the addition of jackpot points and time standards. These approaches contributed to placing an emphasis on the upper and lower bounds of times clocked. The fastest swimmers were given the chance to steal the points from those who were beaten by a certain margin. The time standard ensured those who didn’t swim fast enough didn’t earn points for their team, even if they scored. Both incorporated a sense of urgency in the outcome of every event and mandated thought and care in making team lineups. 

Knockouts, or the Skins race, highlight swimming’s top speed and extend beyond just one 50-meter lap. Three separate 50s are held, with the competition whittled in half after the completion of each one. All of these inclusions encourage strategy and high-end speed, creating high entertainment value among the fans. The ISL should not stop at just adding these new aspects, but continue to search for ways that enable the sport of swimming to grow. 

What’s Next?

Since the ISL is still in its formative years, it can change minor things in its system and produce massive results in funding and increased viewership. Its next step should be to reinstate the use of full-body tech suits, the ones that generated numerous world records throughout 2008 and 2009, before being banned by FINA. This would serve to aid the ISL by creating a faster swimming atmosphere, a new advertisement and investment method, and solidifying the ISL as a separate entity from FINA. 

Originally, FINA and the ISL were at odds during the ISL’s creation. FINA even went so far as to schedule events and competitions during the ISL season. Their working relationship has eased but it would be better for both organizations to represent completely different aspects of the sport. FINA should remain with the international championships and club events, organizing the Olympics and the World Championships. The ISL should continue to further its entertainment value, team play and speed.

By adding the full body tech suits back, the ISL would be going against the standards set by FINA, allowing them to branch off more and establish their own rules and regulations in regard to suits and records produced in the league. This doesn’t mean that the tension that existed before should return, as the goals of both organizations reflect different but equally important parts of our sports. If they lay out schedules that worked together, athletes could compete and cycle through FINA and the ISL throughout the entire year. This would mean constant improvement, more competitions, and continued viewership from one league to the next. 

The Next Stage

By readmitting the fully-body suits to the sport, the ISL has the unique opportunity to increase investment and advertising money by adopting a similar method as NASCAR. The full bodysuits provide enough surface area on the athletes to contain logos and brand names such as the driving suits and cars in NASCAR. Teams can add the brands that sponsor them as well as allow the individual swimmer to add the organizations they represent. 

This concept would funnel more interest in the sport from businesses that may only interact with the most elite athletes like Michael Phelps or Caeleb Dressel. It would also provide an opportunity for smaller companies that don’t have the ability to compete against the higher paying organizations. This setup would aid the professional swimmers, as those who aren’t constantly the most elite don’t make substantial amounts of money. 

The ISL has been a strong addition to the world of swimming, creating an atmosphere where entertainment and excitement can attract the audience that watches swimming once every four years. But without constant improvement or fresh ideas, the ISL could find itself in a plateau and still lagging behind.

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


  1. avatar

    Athletes as billboards.

  2. avatar

    This suggestion makes me sick

  3. avatar

    I disagree. So everyone goes faster initially. Then what. Nothing changes. It’s still all about competition. The competition and gimmicks that make it fun and strategic are the thing.

  4. avatar

    Please NO!!! This would only serve to show that those suits are faster, not the athletes. ISL is still a great product and provides a level field of comparison to racing around the world (other than the US still using yards).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.