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Dutch Take Action On Suits

Dec 3, 2008  - Craig Lord

Jacco Verhaeren, Technical Director of the Royal Dutch Swimming Federation (KNZB), is to enforce swim suit checks at the upcoming Swim Cup, an event that serves as a qualification meet for Rome 2009 for the Dutch and also marks the swansong of a man soon to pass into legend and lore, Pieter van den Hoogenband.

In a notice posted on the Dutch federation website, Verhaeren says that he intends to impose suit checks in order to protect athletes at a time when debate about technology rages and in the face of the proliferation of "fast suits" that would not necessarily be recognised by officials.  In the absence of any official list of approved suits for use by coaches and officials, the Dutch director's actions show the way forward for meets around the world at a time when FINA President Mustapha Larfaoui has presided over the biggest foul up of the decade.

Verhaeren, the man behind Hoogie's success and the resurgence of Dutch women as a winning world relay force, has added a "swimsuit
paragraph" to the meet conditions and swimmers have been informed that anyone who makes a time for Rome 2009 relays must submit themselves for suit inspection. A
photograph and a note will be made of the brand of suit used.

 “Because of the possibility that swimming in one or another swimming suit
can make a difference, it’s possible that the qualification can
be dishonest," says Verhaeren on the website of the
Royal Dutch Swimming Federation. "The standards which have been set would normally guarantee selection for [world-class meets]. Arriving at the start of a race with significantly faster material possibly undermines this quality guarantee. It can also have an impact on the ranking of athletes, which is important
in the procedure.”

His words add yet another world-class coach and leading federation to the chorus of complaint being send loud and clear to FINA: stop the tech war now boiling in the pool and get back to a place where the suit does not change the result - as it most certainly is doing right now.

Verhaeren indicates that he has no way of knowing the extent to which one suit has the edge on another or to what extent wearing multiple suits is affecting the performance of individuals. He indicates that he may well take action on the wearing of types and numbers of suits at a later stage in the season, saying: “I regret having to take this action but  it seems necessary for honest qualification at this moment. Judging by the international discussion and developments at this moment, it has not been ruled out that the measures we are taking will not have to be taken internationally at some stage in the future."

Bravo for Verhaeren and the Netherlands. What a mess for the sport of swimming. We trust that Mr Larfaoui is listening and preparing himself to take decisive action. We trust that he is sitting up late at night and contemplating the health and welfare of swimmers and the sport over which he supposedly governs. We trust that he is talking to a wide audience of people. We trust he is not simply waiting to hear what suit makers have to say (though some have some important things to tell him about ruined relationships and contracts that lie in tatters with strips of cloth on the factory floor). We trust that he is looking down from his VIP seat and resolving to end the crisis engulfing the sport of swimming. Anything short of that will surely make his position untenable by the time the Bureau meets in March.