Synchronized swimming is women only, insists Russian star

Varvara Subbotina said it is more pleasant to see women’s legs emerge from the water than men’s

Russian world champion synchronized swimmer Varvara Subbotina has suggested her sport should purely be the preserve of women, despite increasing male participation. 

Subbotina, 21, boasts two world titles to her name but was forced to miss out on the Olympics in Tokyo last summer after undergoing a nose operation. 

Her sport – now officially known as artistic swimming – has welcomed back men in recent years, and male competitors have been allowed to appear again internationally since the 2015 World Aquatics Championships in the Russian city of Kazan. 

Events featuring male artistic swimmers are still not part of the Olympic program, although governing body FINA has left the door open to this changing in future, potentially at the 2028 Los Angeles Games. 

In Russia, male swimmer Aleksandr Maltsev has been a particular trailblazer, winning four world titles and six European crowns in mixed events.

Maltsev is a successful male star in his sport. © Eric Alonso / Getty Images

Despite that trend, Subbotina said she still viewed her sport as female-only. 

“For me, synchronized swimming is only a female sport. Full stop. I have always said so and will continue to say so,” said the 21-year-old in an interview with Sport-Express

“Previously, there were strange prohibitions [in some sports] for women, I agree. 

“Why can’t girls be allowed to do ski jumping? If they train, if they prepare. This is probably excessive conservatism, here I cannot fully understand the desire for ‘security’,” added the Moscow-born star.  

“But if we return to synchronized swimming, it is much more aesthetic to see how women’s legs come out of the water, and not men’s. At least because of this, it is worth leaving our sport exclusively for women.”

© Instagram @varechka_subbotina21

Subbotina added that her position does not mean she cannot support the likes of compatriot Maltsev as he breaks stereotypes. 

“I communicate well with our [mixed] duet, I communicate with Sasha [Maltsev]. I wish them good luck always. 

“But our relations with the guys do not affect my position for limiting the number of disciplines, just like vice versa, relations with the guys do not deteriorate because of my position. I hope so,” said Subbotina.

© Instagram @varechka_subbotina21

The swimmer admitted that male participation would add more interest to the sport, and that she understood efforts from Russian and FINA officials for male inclusion. 

“There will now be a male solo, according to the new rules, men can perform in a group. So there will be interest,” said the three-time European champion.  

“I don’t like everything, but since they made such a decision, then so be it. If we talk specifically about interest, then it will definitely be there. 

“Men in synchronized swimming have always been of particular interest,” conceded Subbotina. 

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Synchronized swimmer Varvara Subbotina spoke about her career and social media. © Instagram @varechka_subbotina21
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Subbotina herself was recently in action at the Friendship Games in Kazan, which welcomed foreign swimmers from the likes of Belarus and Serbia.

The event served as an alternative for Russians who are banned from FINA tournaments as a result of the conflict in Ukraine. That meant Subbotina and others missed the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest in June and July. 

Questions have been raised about Russian and Belarusian participation at the 2024 Paris Olympics, although artistic swimming icon Svetlana Romashina – the most decorated Olympian ever in her sport – recently expressed optimism that they will be clear to appear in the French capital.