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An Absence Of Fairness And Wisdom

Aug 8, 2009  - Craig Lord


Where is the wisdom of Britain, of Canada, of all those who left Rome and decided to drag the circus with them? Whither the wisdom of Australia too?

For events in Leeds over the past three days, with more woe still to come, will surely soon be placed in context by events in Hobart at the Aussie  s/c nationals, where organisers and the national fed of Australia have decided to travel the way of their counterparts in Britain and elsewhere: every mad, bad suit on show in Rome will be allowed to be worn yet and the records books, national and international, will come under assault once more.

With each passing week, the recent history of the sport - the entire record book and all-time world rankings - is rendered ever more meaningless. With each passing week, the reasons why FINA must draw a line in the record book grow in sympathy with the size of the farce unfolding. 

The latest suit-assisted efforts, since Rome 2009 world titles:


  • 06/08/09: 50m breaststroke - Jessica Hardy (USA) 29.95 (In a time trial on way to 100m), Federal Way, Washington
  • 07/08/09: 50m breaststroke - Jessica Hardy (USA) 29.80 Federal Way, Washington (on way to 100m below)
  • 07/08/09: 100m breaststroke - Jessica Hardy (USA) 1:04.45 Federal Way, Washington (to mark her return from a doping suspension)


  • 07/08/09: 200m breaststroke - Annamay Pierse (CAN) 2:16.83 Leeds
  • 07/08/09: 4x200m freestyle - Canada - 6:51.05 (Colin Russell (1.43.60); Stefan Hirniak (1.43.41); Brent Hayden (1.41.49); Joel Greenshields (1.42.55)
  • 08/08/09: 50m breaststroke - Cameron van der Burgh (RSA) 25.43 Pietermaritzburg
  • 08/08/09: 100m breaststroke - Cameron van der Burgh (RSA) 56.39 Pietermaritzburg
  • 08/08/09: 50m freestyle - Roland Schoeman (RSA) 20.30 Pietermaritzburg
  • 08/08/09: 400m freestyle - Joanne Jackson (GBR) 3:54.92 Leeds 

And counting ...

There is no point in reporting who the record belonged to at this stage because the conditions in which the two swimmers, then and now, swum is incomparable. One generation to the next, same generation racing in a different sport. 

It is not just the times on the clock that are making a mockery of a sport that has lost its credibility. Worse is the hidden and inherent unfairness of the sad suits saga. In Rome, FINA boasted "availability" as an answer to the charge of unfairness. Availability was a relative term in Rome. Beyond Rome, the concept is dead and buried. There is no fairness.

Take this from Hobart: Australian swimming is allowing all suits to be worn at the meet, including Jakeds, X-glides and Hydrofoils, suits that are ONLY available to those who picked one up in Rome. So, if you hadn't made the top flight before, you can clearly forget about making it now. The club is closed, the haves have and the have nots are locked out. The race pool is further poisoned. 

At the pre-meet technical meeting in Hobart, some coaches protested against the use of suits that their swimmers simply have no access too. Suit makers have let it be known that they will not extend "avaliable" beyond Rome because of the hit they took in Rome and the hit to come in 2010. And yet, Australian organisers, like organisers in Leeds and teams from Britain and Canada and elsewhere, think it fine to stage a meet in which they condone unfairness and absence of standardised race conditions. 

And the official press releases of nations, such as Britain, who in Rome called records "irrelevant", continue to boast "Another record - yippee!!!!" Double standards all round. 

Some will blame FINA, shrug and ask "what can we do ... those are the rules". The rules say "available to all". The rules are being broken and federations around the world are actively encouraging swimmers to break the rules every time they race right now. Shame on them.

From Australia, a source says: "Whilst this meet is not a major selection meet, there are still world cup team spots up for grabs, not to mention the right to call yourself national champion."

Quite. And we can all expect more nonsense like the above before the sad suits saga is laid to rest. Even as the awnings and buntings were being pulled down in Rome, some at the helm of FINA and the suit-maker friends that they are linked to at the hip,  had started to prepare plans designed to scupper the wishes of the 168 nations who voted in Rome to kill the bodysuit and revive swimming by demanding that suits be made of textile-only fabrics from January 1, 2010.

The first piece of immaturity is this: men should wear what women wear. Equality is the weapon of those who turn to political correctness as a last resort in their lost war. A mature society recognises the difference in men and women. Lets state is like it is: breasts. 

 Quite right that women should have the right to cover up up top. Men don't need to. It is infantile to suggest that men will feel offended if they can't have fabric on their chests. Beyond that, those in FINA or near to influence in the federation need to ask themselves a few questions before moving further down the road to false equality, like:

  • - will FINA now allow synchro for men, and if so, will the men wear the same sequined full suits as women?
  • - will FINA now insist that male water polo players wear what the women wear, and will the women's field of play take on the same dimension as exists for men?
  • - will male divers be forced to wear what the women  wear?
  • - will lady officials have to stop wearing skirts; or perhaps the men must come over all Scottish?

And on and on and on. 

We all know why there is a move to have men wear what women wear in the race pool: suit makers want more fabric in their suits because the suits will then cost more; and officials want more fabric because they may wish to use a sponsor's name across the chest. Nothing to do with equality. Everything to do with money. And if those are the real arguments, they should be placed in the open and discussed for what they are.

Over the coming weeks and months as swimming moves towards its January 1, 2010 date with destiny, the FINA Bureau (not just the executive) need to work on three key areas:

- enforce the wish of 168 nations and make it stick for the period leading to the 2012 Games so that swimmers and coaches can prepare in a stable environment that is fair for all

- draw a line in the world record book and set a FINA standard time as the world record from January 1, 2010 that reflects the state of the sport on January 1, 2008. That move has the backing of the USA and many others who would be affected by such a move, one that would not dishonour a single swim or swimmer from the past two years and would provide federations around the world with an easy model of demarcation for continental, regional and national record books.

- listen to that panel of fabric experts and consider the issues associated with profile of suit and definition of "textile", with a nod to the engineering now possible in suits that was not possible in suits just a few years ago.

 Under the direction of new FINA President, Julio Maglione, and his banner of "integrity", we can expect FINA to do the right thing. But FINA does not have sole responsibility for the sad suits saga. Federations and meet organisers must share the blame for the continuing procession of meaningless records and standards that blight swimming yet and are not worth covering as a meaningful reflection of the state of a sport that will not be revived until every bodysuit and non-textile demon is confined to the non-standardised worlds beyond the elite race pool that figures as a leading Olympic sport.

A year to the day after Beijing welcomed the world and three years before London lights the flame, swimming is still intent on self-harm. Closure will require wisdom and clarity.

Roll on 2010.