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Time To Chose Your Weapon: Elite Or Master

Jun 10, 2009  - Craig Lord

UPDATE: Correspondence received by SwimNews suggests that some doubt that the story below carries official weight and is somehow made up, just as some suggested that when the director of FINA said that the "cancer" would be cut out of the pool SwimNews somehow misquoted him. Let's make it clear: I have the reference to cancer on a tape in three places (yes, three), the quote was reported by three national news organisations present on the day. As for masters and suits, here is the first line of an e-mail response from FINA:

"Your question is very easy to answer: the rules do not apply to Masters."

If anyone could tell me how that could possibly have been misunderstood, I'd love to hear from them.

The original article from June 9:

FINA has given suit makers a green light to press ahead with every technological experiment in the world of masters swimming. The conclusion is clear: in such a playground, the doping suit will be developed and the cost of swimming in masters for those who wish to remain competitive will soar.

There is another problem: inconsistency and the application of two sets of rules for the same group of swimmers. It is an issue that FINA should address with urgency. 

SwimNews does not cover masters swimming. It is the equivalent of the fun marathon, in which level playing fields are very relative indeed.  The purpose is fun, fitness, health and skills for life. Most approach it in that spirit. A minority take it very seriously indeed and vanity, disposable income and time-on-their-hands all play a part. It is to those people in particular that a playground of fast suits (and keep an eye on that price range aimed at the grey market in the US) may appeal. A great market for all those elite swimmers who will soon have no further use for all those poly and neo numbers. Get on to e-bay straight away.

Meanwhile, FINA has washed its hands of caring about fairness and other factors in masters swimming. That much is clear from the following response to the clarification sought by SwimNews: "The rules do not apply to Masters. The procedure for approval of WR in Masters and Elite is very different and there is a detail that changes it all: in Masters, there are no Doping control tests to validate a WR, so these can never be considered as Elite WR."

In fact, there is no provision in the FINA rulebook to differentiate rules on apparel in the worlds of masters and elite swimming. Moreover, at the February meeting in Lausanne between FINA, suit makers and coaches, all parties were told that any new suit regime would apply to all divisions of the swimming world, according to two sources in the room on the day. The minute shows that there was never an understanding, until now, that masters would be treated as a free-for-all.

FINA, appears to be making it up as it goes along, under pressure from a vocal and wealthy sector of the masters movement in the US, where the governing body for masters is sponsored by the maker of suits that may no longer be used in the elite pool, and under pressure from those who refuse to give up hope that fast suits will remain a lucrative market for them. 

There are those in the masters movement who are appalled at this turn of events. One European reader writes: "German LC Masters champs (In Magdeburg) have been given the freedom from Fina and the DSV to swim in any suit you want to in any official masters championships! My question is: are masters swimmers swimmers 2nd class? What happens if [swimmer X] swims a world record in a Jaked at a masters competition ? Hypothetically speaking of course! Have the top people lost their minds? Or is this a sop to B70 and Jaked ala get rid of your stuff with the oldies! Why can't FINA either stop it all now! Or let it continue till 2010 but have by Rome the new rules in place for 2010: that would be clear for all and it would allow the manufacturers to sell of the balance of their stock-remember the sport needs them too as sponsors! The mess continues!"

The clarification sought by SwimNews was this: is it ok for Dara Torres or any other swimmer from the elite pool over 25 to race in masters competitions and set records while wearing apparel that may not be worn in the elite race pool? 

The answer is: yes, they can race in masters in fast suits but their records will not count. The response needs greater consideration. In the world of elite swimming we are already likely to see situations in which a national record is faster than the world record. While the doping explanation may work for FINA it does not work for the wider world of swimming that FINA governs. If chaos and anarchy on the clock and the record books and the world rankings is what FINA want, it will have it without trying very hard at all. If that lesson has not been learned from the events of the past 12 months, it is time it was.

If the world of masters wishes to become a playground for the experiments of suit makers, some of whom are in direct contact with people who know how to create suits that interact directly with the central nervous system, so be it. If masters want to take a journey that may lead to the complex world of litigation following the death of a swimmer who suffered from blood-pressure problems that may have made it unwise for that swimmer to don a compression body-sock, so be it. If masters want a market place in which they are committed to spending upwards of $500 a shot for "competitive" suits, so be it. If masters are happy to see suits that help to reduce heart rate and improve lung function in their "fun" race pool (and such suits already exist) so be it.

But those conditions should never be allowed for any swimmer registered as an elite competitor subject to the rules of anti-doping and suits. The solution is simple: those who are registered to race in the elite pool, no matter what age they may be, may not race in masters competitions. Time to chose your pool; time to chose your weapon.

The potential for causing mischief in the elite race pool is significant. FINA needs to show more wisdom as it comes to setting the framework for the future of one of the sports it purports to govern.