OPINION: Artistic Swimming’s Reluctance to Embrace Change and Male Participation Risks Its Relevance

“Do you think that men are still excluded in artistic swimming?”

A few days ago, I was interviewed by a fellow journalist working on an article about men in artistic swimming. If she had asked me that question 24 hours earlier, my answer would have been immediate.

“No, they aren’t. Now, we will have men in the Olympic Games, men’s solos have been added to World and European competitions, and the number of young boys joining the sport is growing worldwide.”

But I couldn’t answer so easily, not anymore. Honestly, I was rattled by the question. Only two hours before, it was announced that Giorgio Minisini was not going to the Olympic Games.

Giorgio Minisini, reigning World Champion, who has won nearly 60% of Italy’s medals at the World Championships, including four golds. Giorgio Minisini, a pioneer for artistic swimming in Italy and in the world, who has been competing at the elite level since 2015, who is a role model and an inspiration to many, will not be in Paris.

Perhaps, this specific case was a symptom of a lack of inclusion that was more deeply rooted than I initially thought, revealing a form of discrimination that was actually much more prevalent than it might seem.

“On what grounds was he not selected?” The journalist continued, admittedly just as confused about that decision.

I don’t know. It’s impossible to blame the rules. Men are allowed at the Olympic Games for the first time. It’s impossible to claim he isn’t good enough or unprepared for the new system. Last year, he was in all three team routines for Italy (so much for that “Inclusion of Men”-themed routine, by the way). He’s a World and European Champion, under these new rules too. It’s also impossible to argue he didn’t make the cut after national team trials. There were none, actually. So, what is it? Ego? Cowardice? A deep-rooted omerta allowing such appalling decisions to be made?

No matter what, it was a sad day for artistic swimming. As shocking and heartbreaking this decision is, it is also alarming. If Giorgio Minisini, and all that he represents, cannot go to the Olympics, who can? Will we even have any men competing in Paris?


With everything that this decision implied, it surely did beg the question: aren’t men still excluded in artistic swimming?

Obviously, not as much as before. The progress is undeniable. The rules have changed multiple times to allow them in more events. In the lower age groups, younger boys are starting to be included in team routines.

But right now, considering the Olympic Games are our biggest platform, knowing all eyes will be on us this summer, we, as a sport, are behaving like fools.

For decades, we begged for inclusion, wrote letters, signed petitions, rallied behind the men in our sport for them to be included in the Olympic Games. World Aquatics went into the battle with us, figuring out solutions and options to present to the IOC.

Because, let’s also face it, adding mixed duets at the Olympic Games is all but an impossible task. The IOC will not increase our quota, nor does it want to add any medal event without cutting another one elsewhere. So a compromise was found: to allow men in teams at the Olympics. Finally, it seemed, all the barriers were broken.

Until now, when time has come for countries to actually put their money where their mouth was. Now, it appears very few are willing to take the risk to actually include men in their teams. Aren’t we even a little bit ashamed?


“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”

Anything great that has ever been attempted is a result of people choosing courage over comfort. Too few still dare to lead in artistic swimming. Right now, comfort prevails, the easy way out, even though this cowardice and unwillingness to take this leap of faith puts us at risk as a whole.

These Paris Games are bigger than any other Olympics for artistic swimming. Well, they should be. They should be historic, symbolic, indescribable, the most memorable of all. Finally, after 40 years of being a women-only sport at the Olympics, men can participate. After all, the Olympic Games stand as a beacon of inclusivity, inspiring generations to come. These Games should be all about making history for our sport, not about inconsequential rankings nobody will remember in five years.

And yet here we are. It seems that perhaps only one country will be in Paris with a man in the team. That’s not even guaranteed, and pending proper national team trials. Besides, it shouldn’t be up to only one coach and nation to carry this weight.

No one wants the responsibility, yet it is everyone’s, for the good of the sport and its future.

What happens if nobody shows up with a mixed team? How can we justify that four World Champions, all crowned under the new rules by the way, will likely sit at home this summer? How can we justify any of this, after campaigning for male inclusion at the Olympics for years?


Of course, I don’t know what’s going on inside every team. I don’t know everyone’s injury history, every selection procedure, and most of the whys and wherefores because our sport still desperately lacks transparency. But from the outside, I do know that it’s bad optics, that we still didn’t try hard enough nor helped the men enough.

It is way too easy to hide behind common, shaky excuses: “They aren’t good enough” (they are World Champions).  “Swimming and winning medals in solos and mixed duets is different than with a team” (some of them have been swimming in team routines since childhood). “It’s too early for them” (it’s been 40 years).“ They are a liability because of basemarks” (isn’t everyone?). “There are only 8 spots so it’s a really difficult decision.” “They have to swim all three routines and it’s very hard with the new rules.”

Sure, it is. Nobody said it would be easy. But have you truly put in the effort to help the men and to lift them up? Have you, from the moment the news was announced in 2022, integrated them fully with the rest of your team so they could actually stand a chance? Have you afforded them every equal opportunity to make it? Have you held proper trials to include, or exclude, them? Have you been fair to them?

Most importantly, have you understood the ramifications of your decisions? Have you looked outside, at what it would mean to the sport as a whole to include a man in your Olympic team? And to not include him?


Show it to grow it. If we want artistic swimming to stay relevant in the midst of many upcoming, new and popular sports, we must improve its media coverage.

Since 2016, I’ve covered numerous European and World Championships. One thing has been consistent throughout the years: the media always comes for the men. The number of journalists present for mixed duet, or more recently mixed team, doubles or even triples the moment that men are involved. Our sport gets media attention because of men, because we are working towards inclusivity and parity, because they bring something different.

The Olympic Games are incomparable to our aquatics-only competitions in terms of media coverage. Theoretically, these 2024 Olympics should bring extensive publicity and positive media coverage to each nation bringing a man there, especially from massive media organizations that cover artistic swimming once every four years.

It could be beyond anything we’ve ever known. It could be a unique opportunity to break the stereotypes and preconceived ideas around our sport. To represent bravery, foresight, excellence, and inclusivity as every sport should wish to be on this biggest stage. To inspire the younger generations of male athletes to believe that they too can be at the Olympics.

Maybe the general public would also talk about artistic swimmers in a positive way, instead of making fun ot it and creating memes out of the walk-ons. Artistic swimming doesn’t get regular coverage — as we often complain about — and when the time comes, it turns into a missed opportunity.

Yet again, it seems, artistic swimming stands in its own way. By not being willing to take the risk, by not being willing to embrace change for the greater good of the sport. Even if it means getting basemarks, even if it means potentially losing on a medal. We must do better, and do so with integrity and courage.

In general, change is always hard. Sometimes, positive discrimination is necessary to keep moving forward. Gender parity is still a work in progress in modern society, but it is a necessity. But it starts when a handful of people are brave, stand up for the greater good, and stop resisting change.

How do we want to be remembered?

What will we answer when people ask why there are still so few men in Paris, if any? We can’t say that it’s because they aren’t allowed anymore. We can’t say that there just aren’t any. That’s a lie. They exist, they are legitimate, they are excellent, they are deserving.

Will this affect our future as a whole in the Olympic programme?

If we continue to behave like it’s all a bunch of hooey, surely. A sport that takes everything for granted, that is still so unwilling to challenge its own culture and status quo for its greater good, surely is headed straight into the wall.


Cover photo: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia

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