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"Dubai Charter", A First Step In Suits Crackdown?

Mar 14, 2009  - Craig Lord

It remains to be seen whether any current suit has to be modified if it is to be used at the world championships in Rome this July but today the FINA Bureau agreed what is being referred to as a Dubai Charter On Suits, a document that will take the approvals process for what swimmers wear into a new professional era.

Details of the Charter, so described by a source who heard a whisper on the breeze flowing out of Dubai, are yet to be revealed but SwimNews understands that all the issues dealt with on February 20 in Lausanne, are included - along with a one-suit rule - while a start is to be made on the issue of tackling permeability of fabrics and tagging of tested suits in the days before racing in Rome is likely to be part of a swimmer's world.

Talk is of some form of system under which ALL suits to be worn in racing must be handed in to FINA's independent testers in the week before the championships. An ID tag/chip will be inserted, the suit handed back. A ready room within the ready room, so to speak, will serve as a customs and excise control on suits. If your chip is missing or throws up a false code, you either change your suit for the correct one, or you're out. That's the theory. In practice? The details are yet to be honed but discussion stemmed from events in Rijeka, where it became obvious that no judge or official could be expected to know what he or she was looking at faced with a wave of wetsuit lookalikes and other black suits of undeterminable nature.

The debate on permeability has, apparently, come down to something like a 50% limit on material that does not meet a definition of permeable. The 50% should be distributed evenly through the suit, it has been suggested Correct interpretation of what that means is not yet clear. For instance, does it mean that a suit may have 50% of non-permeable material or does it mean that all material must have a permeability of 50%?

I think it is the former. And if so, best get those panelled bodysocks out and start counting the thread. The question of what may and may not survive in the water for Rome 2009, beyond March 31 tests that ALL current suits must undergo (not good timing for those lining up for domestic trials in the next week or two knowing that things may change at least a little sometime from April onwards) remains open. FINA's "Dubai Charter" will take us closer to understanding whether swimming will go further down the stream of performance-enhancement or whether the suit will go back to playing a more modest, subtle roll in future. 

No rules and tests will do the trick if the assault on standards in the pool continues at 2008 pace. For then we shall know that a trick has been missed. The course of history does not change pace at random. There has always been a reason. In 2008, the hard and smart work continued, the science and support may have got better, etc etc but it was the suit that made it a year like no other.  

FINA meets today to discuss recommendations for the actual rule book, as opposed to the guidelines that will govern what is in and what is not under independent scrutiny. The Bureau's recommendations will then make their way on to the agenda for Congress in Rome for approval or rejection. Much is still in the air. 

One important issue over the weeks ahead will be the question of what suits are to be tested for, how will they be tested for whatever that is and how will "limits" and lines then be drawn. A starting point seems obvious, given that the statistical case for certain 2008 suit models having dramatically improved standards in the pool (from world record down through the ranks of the best 100 ever - so nothing to do, on the whole, with certain programmes or nations finding something special and leading the way on the inevitable conveyor belt of progress on the clock, but rather to do with the fact that it is almost impossible to find a nation that did not see its record books ripped to shreds - Germany in an adidas suit that will probably pass muster this summer and maybe beyond being an obvious exception).  

One source said to me: "Take Suit X, know that it did Y in 2008 (and that Y is not hard to determine) and then find Z, the thing that caused Y to happen. There you have an entity and a level that is quantifiable and therefore able to be ruled in or ruled out." So, Rule in Suit X, with its ability to confine historical rates of progress to the rubbish bin and FINA will have accepted that the sport of swimming pre-2007 is extinct. Game up. Roll the credits and the consequences (and mark my words, the ripples we have seen so far will be as mole hills to mountains).

Step-by-step, FINA is edging towards a solution on suits. We will soon see if the "Dubai Charter" is one small FINA step that promises a giant leap back to the principle of fair play for all in the sport of swimming.