At last. FINA has listened and done the right thing. January 1, 2010 will mark the end of shiny suits and unfairness and the start of a new era of textile-only suits (definition to follow by September 30) and shorts for men, traditional suits for women (see 2010 conditions in full at the foot of this article).
The key "traditional" suit makers - the long-term players in the sport - have told the international federation that they can supply the required new suits in time for a November 1 submission of apparel for approval by a commission of experts led by Prof Jan-Anders Manson of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
Good for the suit makers, who can now start to heal wounds and mend broken loyalties - and end any hint of threats against federations who supported the move to do the right thing and give swimming back to swimmers.
Further good news: the FINA swimming technical committee will consider the issue of drawing a line either side of all world records set in 2008 and 2009 under conditions that will no longer apply. No records will be removed or dishonoured. Swimmers set their marks in legal conditions. But from January 1, 2010, a line will be drawn and conditions will be radically different for most athletes.
Cornel Marculescu, director of FINA, said of the suggestion that a line be drawn in the record book: "I see no reason why not."
He confirmed that FINA wished to "create competition conditions that were equal for all athletes."
President of FINA Julio Maglione told SwimNews that this was a good day for swimmers, swimming and FINA. The sport would get back to a place where the human athletic body can be appreciated once more. Leading IOC lights had agreed with him, he said that the bodysuits had spoiled the image of the sport.
The newly elected president said that the suits crisis had damaged democracy in the sport. "Some got the suits when they got here. Others have had then for weeks, months, years. That is not right. We need a standardised sport and a fair place for our athletes. The sport is for the swimmers, for understanding between people. We do not stand for division." Bravo!
The whisper of the announcement about to drop reached SwimNews on the edge of a FINA press conference called to announce the news. The pain of suit makers and the need for them to have time to make plans might have delayed matters. But the pain of swimmers and coaches and programmes and parents and federations and the sport of swimming that FINA presides over proved to be paramount to the newly elected regime at the helm of the international federation.
The threat of a boycott by Michael Phelps, winner of eight Olympic gold medals, may or may not have persuaded FINA, the International federation to make a clean cut on suits from January 1, 2010. It matters little why and how. The deed is done and the sport can start afresh: the bodysuit will be banned and all suits must be made of textiles. Gone too will be the polyurethane and other non-textile fabrics that have helped to push time standards in the race pool through a timewarp in the past year.
On Tuesday this week, the ruling FINA executive announced that it would honour the wishes of the ruling Congress and the 168 nations that voted for a return to textile suits and a cut back in profile in 2010. However, executive director Cornel Marculescu said that a deadline of January 1 next year was unrealistic because of commercial pressures on suit makers.
The start of the new era would be "April or May at the latest", he said, because suit companies needed time to sell stock and to adapt production lines. Time ran out for FINA and suit makers later that same day, however, when Phelps lost the 200m freestyle title and world record to German Paul Biedermann and an arena X-Glide suit that the champion credited with "two seconds" of his 4sec improvement on the clock this year.
Bob Bowman, coach to Phelps in Baltimore, called on FINA not to delay enforcement of new suits rules beyond January 1, 2010, saying: "They can expect Michael not to swim until then, because I am done with this. They have to implement this immediately. This is a shambles. They better do something or they are going to lose the guy that fills all these seats. We have lost the history of the sport. That would be my recommendation for him not to swim internationally. This mess needs to be stopped right now. This can't go on any further." Phelps said simply that he would follow his coaches' instructions.
FINA responded this afternoon by agreeing that the damage being caused to the sport in a week in which 29 world records have fallen, with more to come over the next three days, had to be brought to a swift end. Newly elected president of FINA, Julio Maglione, of Uruguay, said that the theme of his time in the top office would be "integrity". As such, swimming would be given back to swimmers on January 1.
Denis Pursley, head coach to Britain and an American who has long been opposed to the use of high-tech suits, told The Times: "It is fantastic that FINA has finally done the right thing. The continual changes on the suits issue in the past months has been terrible for swimmers and coaches alike. We have seen kids lining up for two hours in oppressive heat hear at these championships just to get their hands on a suit that will make them competitive."
The coach noted that the suits cost £350 or more each and that "they often rip or lose their effect after several wears". He said that £1,000 a meet was "just too expensive for parents and kids ... a ludicrous expense."
The threat of action against FINA was backed by Biedermann, the German who not only felled Phelps this week but erased the 400m freestyle world record of Australian Ian Thorpe. On the boycott threat, Biedermann, who also wants a return to textile shorts, said: "When Michael Phelps is really doing that, FINA should react. It is the hammer [he hit his hand down like a hammer, but "der hammer" in German means "its great"]. When the best swimmer in the world says that, that's amazing. It's really great."
Suit wars began with the launch of the Speedo LZR Racer in February 2010. Half of the Nasa-designed apparel, with bonded seams, was made of polyurethane panels that reduce drag in water and help swimmers to glide like never before. Rival suit makers cried foul. They had understood that no such equipment would ever be allowed because of a rule stating that "no device may aid speed, buoyancy and endurance."
Complaints fell on deaf ears at FINA and in 2008 108 world records fell, most of them to swimmers wearing the LZR. That suit also accounted for more than 80% of all medals won at the Olympic Games in Beijing, including the eight won by Phelps and the two won by Britain's Rebecca Adlington. Since the turn of the year, more than 20 rival suit makers have swamped the race pool with 100% polyurethane suits and wetsuit-lookalikes that trap air and help to reduce fatigue through compression.
"We've lost the history of the sport," said Bowman. "Does a 10-year-old boy in Baltimore want to break Paul Biedermann's record? Is that going to make him join swimming?" He called on all world records in 2008 and 2009, including 10 set by Phelps, to be marked as "artificially aided".
Bowman said: "I would be perfectly happy if we adjust all the records starting with the LZR. If we took them all out and went back to 2007. Even those in Beijing. We can have them in a separate list. These were done in polyurethane suits and then these are done in textile suits. Then we can start over in January and make the sport about swimming. There should be separate lists for polyurethane and textile suits, so we can start over in January. I think these records need to be kept apart."
The FINA BUREAU'S POSITION ON SUITS - in their words:
The Bureau reconfirmed its position in relation with the requirements for swimwear approval, reinforcing the decision of the Congress on July 24, 2009. These rules include the following conditions for swimwear approval:
Surface covered: Men swimsuit shall not extend above the navel nor below the knee and for women shall not cover the neck or extend past the shoulders nor shall extend below the knee.
Type of material: The material used for swimsuits can be only "Textile Fabric(s)" defined for the purpose of these rules as material consisting of, natural and/or synthetic, individual and non consolidated yarns used to constitute a fabric by weaving, knitting, and/or braiding.
Surface treatment of the textile fabric: Any material added on to the surface of the textile fabric (e.g. coating, printing, impregnation) shall not close the original open mesh structure of the base textile fabric. The treated material shall further comply with all requirements in particular in regard to thickness, permeability and flexibility. This part of the rule does not apply to logos and labels. This applies to both the manufacturing level and the actual use of the swimsuit.
Flexibility: the material shall be flexible and soft-folding.
Regular flat material: The material shall be regular and flat. The material shall not form outstanding shapes or structures, such as scales.
Outside application: No outside application shall be added on the material.
Variety of materials: Different materials may be used in one swimsuit provided they are textile fabrics as defined above and they comply with all other criteria including notably thickness and Official FINA Partners permeability (measures to apply to total layers). Combination of materials shall further not create outstanding shape(s) or structure(s). Layered materials must be completely attached/bound/stuck together except where required to protect sensitive parts ("privacy layers").
Thickness: The material used shall have a maximum thickness of 0.8mm. It is clarified that this maximum thickness does not apply to seams as far as they are functional and their thickness and width result from their natural function.
Buoyancy: The swimsuit shall not have a buoyancy effect above 0.5 Newton measured after application of vacuum.
Permeability: Material(s) used must have at any point a permeability value of more than 80 l/m2/second. Permeability values are measured on material with a standard multidirectional stretch of 25 %. However, measure on material which cannot be significantly stretched will be effected on unstreched flattened material.
Construction: No zippers or other fastening system is allowed. Seams shall be limited to functional systems and shall not create outside shapes.
External stimulation or influence: Swimsuits which include any system providing external stimulation or influence of any type, including pain reduction, chemical/medical substance release, electro-stimulation etc. are prohibited.
Consistency: Swimsuits effectively manufactured and used shall correspond to and be fully consistent with submitted samples. Any modification before use (including impregnation) is prohibited.
Customisation: There shall be no variation/modification for individual swimmers from the models corresponding to the samples submitted for approval.
The new requirements for swimwear approval will be enforced from January 1, 2010. The list of approved swimsuits by FINA Executive on June 19, 2009 and published on the FINA website, is valid until December 31, 2009.
Approval of swimwear in the future will be done at least 12 months before the next FINA World Championships (50m) or Olympic Games. Moreover, the manufacturers will have the responsibility of making those models available on the market (available on sale to Federations and competitors) at least six months prior to the next coming FINA World Championships or Olympic Games.
As announced by FINA President Dr Julio Maglione, the Bureau appointed a Commission led by Prof. Jan-Anders Manson (from EPFL in Lausanne, SUI) and formed by scientific experts and an athlete’s representative to control the swimwear approval process and to monitor the development of the swimsuit industry based on the rules established by the FINA Bureau and the measurable scientific tests on buoyancy and permeability.