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Bravo! FINA Congress Backs Textile In 2010

Jul 24, 2009  - Craig Lord

File updated.

FINA Congress in Rome - 168 nations for and 7 against - has backed the USA proposals to return to textile suits in 2010 and to cut back on the profile of suits that will lead to a ban on the bodysuit. Swimming is to be revived, provided that the new  FINA Bureau now gets the detail right in the days and weeks ahead. 

Back to a 1996 cut but forward to a future in which swimming is swimming. Many of those swimmers now competing at the highest level will race in shorts (men) and above knee to shoulder strap (women) for the first time.  They'll get used to it, just as swimmers always do get used to change and go with the flow delivered to them, as has been the case with bodysuits.

Those swimmers will have learned in the past year what it feels like to get your angle of buoyancy right, learned where best to sit in the water. The transition to textile and a cut back in profile of suit will require some now to learn how to achieve what the suit delivered through core strength work and application of expert knowledge in hydrodynamics and stroke technique. That work is also fundamental to coaches and swimmers learning ways to train that are not destined to lead to injury and longer-term harm. There are many positives in a return to common sense.

Definition of textile is important, profile specification is important, having no zipper is important. Work to be done. Great work has been done: prepare for the last big world event at which all shiny suits from LZR to the wetsuit lookalikes through to the Jaked01 will be allowed. Records will tumble but they will be seen in context, the medal winners honoured not for the time on the clock but for the win as a world championships that will go down in swimming history as a regrettable aberration. Their passing will help to ensure that swimming lives and breathes once more and the technology based impostor that robbed swimmers and coaches of the right to have their achievements recognised will be locked back in the Pandora's Box it emerged from in February 2008.

Only seven nations voted against the proposals. More than 180 nations were present. 168 voted in favour of swimmers and swimming. Bravo! Swim legend Vladimir Salnikov stood in support of the USA and the proposal read out by head coach Mark Schubert, mentor to some of his old enemies in the pool during Soviet days of Cold War.

The new suit rules will shifted to the status of by-laws, allowing them to be amended by the FINA Bureau at any time in response to events. That is a good thing if used responsibly, a bad thing if power is abused. Transparency if required - and doubtless Congress will wish to keep the Bureau on its toes throughout all developments ahead.The vast body of the swimming world has spoken: they have taken an axe to performance-enhancement in suits. No compromise.

Cornel Marculescu, the executive director of FINA who has been living a suits nightmare since the Speedo suit flew past the federation into the fast lane in February 2008, noted that there were fine details to sort out to ensure the USA-backed rule was clear and unarguable. David Sparkes, the bureaucratic head of British swimming who proposed that details be left to the Bureau, stated that the reference to the ruling 22-person Bureau was there so that FINA could respond quickly to challenges that came up in future in a world constantly trying to find news ways to get down a pool faster.

An emotional Julio Maglione, of Uruguay, took up the presidency of FINA, by referring to the start of "a new era", one in which he promises to make integrity a watchword for the international federation. No backroom deals with suit makers. No forcing an agenda that clearly, as we now know, did not have the support of the worldwide swimming community.

I was standing near Denis Pursley as the news came through. The American head coach to Britain told SwimNews with joy: "It's a happy day. I feel like this is a huge step in the right direction and will return integrity to the sport. It will make it all worthwhile once more." He agreed that, if FINA gets the details right - textile definition and profile of suit - then swimming will have been "returned to swimmers". 

He added: "Coaches will be thrilled. And so will the majority of athletes. There are a few who want to keep these suits because they know that they provide significant help. But the majority want what is right. It's great news."

Britain's performance director, Michael Scott, said: "If what I have been told is spot on, it's a return to textiles. It's the only way to go. It's fantastic news. The sport will have retained its credibility. If we are returning to textile then today is the day that we start to move forward in the sport."

Records would have to be looked at. Scott agreed with the suggestions of Mark Schubert and Forbes Carlile: asterisks on all February 2008 to Jan 1 2010 records. FINA will need to consider such proposals. And while they are cleaning up the shop, they might consider an asterisk against all those known to have been aided by doping and all those were banned for doping, and another asterisk on that silver pin given to Dr Lothar Kipke, a convicted criminal who played an instrumental part in making victims of winners and losers in the days of the GDR. More later.