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Call From Inside FINA Bureau: Stop The Suit Chaos

Dec 5, 2008  - Craig Lord

Dale Neuburger has become the first member of the FINA Bureau to call for action against the unwelcome advance of suit technology and its negative impact on swimming. The American delegate is urging the international federation to suspend all new suit approvals until after the Rome 2009 World Championships, to prevent further escalation of the chaos engulfing the sport, and to start a review of the entire swimwear approval protocol.


The USA federation has already submitted proposals that would effectively ban the bodysuit, impose a one-suit rule and introduce independent testing of suits. But Neuburger has also acted independently with an appeal to his Bureau colleagues to act decisively to prevent further harm to the sport.

In his letter to the four most senior officials in FINA - president Mustapha Larfaoui, hon sec Bartolo Consolo, hon treasurer Julio Maglione (who is standing against the incumbent in FINA's presidential election next year), and Cornel Marculsecu, the Executive Director who has been instrumental in many of the deals that have made it possible to hand on ever-bigger prizes to swimmers and provide much-needed support for federations - Neuburger writes:

"I am concerned about the potential future development of swimwear technology
that, while consistent with FINA protocol, may not be in the best interests of our sport,
particularly in providing equitable opportunities for all competitors. 

"Additionally, based upon the recent announcement by Nike that it will no longer participate in supporting athletes and National Federations in our sport, I am concerned that we may soon lose the involvement of other global sportswear companies that are vital to our continued success and worldwide image.

"Therefore, at the next meeting of the FINA Executive, I respectfully ask for your consideration of the following recommendations: 

  • Suspend approval of any new swimwear until a date no earlier than August 15,
2009; and,

  • Initiate a review of the FINA swimwear approval protocol, including the advice of
National Federation leaders, independent and respected research scientists,
swimming coaches of elite athletes, and swimwear manufacturers, thus ensuring that
the future standards for swimwear approval are absolutely consistent with the spirit
of equitable competition. 

 "In 2008, the advances in technology related to swimwear were extraordinary, and I believe that it is the appropriate time for FINA to suspend new approvals until the current procedures are reviewed and evaluated.

"Without question, the swimwear suppliers need sufficient clarity to provide motivation for continued active involvement and investment in our sport; at the same time, athletes need to compete in an environment that assures that athletic talent and hard work determine ultimate success, not technology."

Neuburger notes the good work that FINA has done, work that should not now be like the baby that gets thrown away with the bath water in the maelstrom of suit chaos.


"By every measure," he writes, "including global television audiences, print and electronic media attention, and capacity spectator attendance - swimming achieved unparalleled levels of success at the Beijing Olympic Games. I congratulate the FINA Executive for your dynamic role in the promotion of our sport, and I value your leadership and good judgment that has enabled our sport to flourish."

FINA had "created procedures and guidelines that encouraged innovation and
financial investment by some swimwear companies" and was to be complimented on that. But where there is light there is darkness and it was now the time to tackle the issues that threaten the well-being of swimming and FINA.


In November, Cornel Marculescu acknowledged that not all was well in the sport. He initiated the much-needed February meeting of suit makers and agreed to meet coaches and others in January and February.


Neuburger has now lent an official voice to the growing body of people who want to call a halt to the overblown influence of suit technology in swimming. His call for a review should not be interpreted as an invitation to start an open-ended process that goes down the same lines as the debate on accepting video evidence in disputes and race calls.

The suit debacle needs a decision in 2009 and the sooner the better. If FINA does not deliver a sensible solution, schism will swamp the sport as federations such as those of the USA, CAN, NED, AUS and others have already done in a departure from FINA rules.

FINA was born to standardise and harmonise not to divide and disunite. Nothing more than revenue (that would have been there anyway in one form or another), discord and a wave of world records that many know were far-too dependent on the suit being worn has come out of Supersuit Year in the pool.

We've all seen the pronouncements of federations seeking sponsorship and funding at home that boast of "25 national records in Beijing". Anyone with any sense will also have looked at where those national records sit in relation to the rest of the world and the current set of enhanced world records. Every year brings a change here and there in terms of the rise and fall in fortunes of individuals and individual nations but, overwhelming, the picture is one of "status quo" country to country.

Time for the leading federations to come to terms with the fact that nothing has been gained from trading with technology.

Time, also, for the President of FINA to break his silence, the sound of which is truly deafening.