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June 2010: FINA Said Zippers Are Fine

Jul 21, 2010  - Craig Lord

FINA officials, including the Open Water Technical Committee of the International Federation, confirmed in writing twice to the Portuguese federation that zippers could be used in open water suits for the world cup event that it hosted in Troia, Setubal, south of Lisbon in June.

After the statement made by Thomas Lurz (GER) after his victory in the 5km at Roberval and the related SwimNews article, Paulo Frischknecht, president of the Portuguese Swimming Federation (FPN) and FINA Bureau member, told SwimNews that not only did he seek advice about zippers before hosting the open water cup but received written confirmation  from two official FINA sources that zippers, while banned from the race pool, were allowed in open water.

A storm blew up at FINA World Open Water Championships in Roberval after some swimmers were told to change out of suits with zippers (all of them complying with textile rules) and wear older models without zippers in order to comply with FINA rules. At the same time, some swimmers wore models of suits that rivals, some coaches and officials claim were approved in June (not April 15 or July 1, the official dates for suit approvals).

Confusion reigned over zippers because less than a month before racing in Roberval most competitors racing at the World Cup in Troia were allowed to wear suits with zippers. And it can now be revealed that it was not a mistake by the Portuguese hosts or indeed the officials on the ground and in boats on the day - but a mistake, or at best confusion, within FINA itself.

Nuno Dias, on behalf of the federation in Portugal (and doubting whether race-pool rules applied in open water), raised the zippers question verbally and sent a request to FINA for general advice. His note highlights a problem of availability and the newness of open water rules and reads: 

"I called you to clarify a situation that is on many swimmers minds. What swimsuits are they allowed to wear in SetubalBay World Cup? The new swimwear rules for OW races started this month. The list of approved suits for Open Water is quite short and the suits are nearly impossible to get ... Given all this my question is can textile suits (and pants) older than 2008 be worn in Setubal?"

That question is critical because many suits made prior to 2008 have zippers (I have one myself dating back to 2000, for example).

This is what the Portuguese federation received from Flavio Bomio, the Swiss delegate and Hon Sec of the FINA TOWSC: "As I told you by phone, in open water you can wear a suit which is made in textile, long pants, not covered neck, shoulder and arms. That means, that the suits worn before the "magic moments" (Jaked, Blue....etc) can be worn. The problem with the zip doesn't exist, because this argument is not included in the FINA Rule." 

Oh yes it is: see rules at foot of this article.

Confirmation that zippers could be used also came in writing from an African member of FINA due to be on duty in Portugal for the world cup event.

Frischknecht told SwimNews: "This was not a mistake made by Portugal. We asked for advice and we got written confirmation that zippers could be used ... plus, the costumes were all textile, pre-2008 style. I wanted to make sure the event was in compliance with the rules. We had doubts before the world cup but not at the world cup because as far as we were concerned we had been given the answer."

The question now remains for FINA: how in a period of three weeks did open water become a sport that could use zippers to one that could not? Or was the June advice simply a mistake?

While the sport is left reeling once more on the suits issue and governance has been seen to have fallen shy of its best just a year after FINA Congress made up its mind, the FINA rule book makes no distinction on suits for open water and race pool other than in the length of leg. The relevant rules read:

  • OWS 6.9 No swimmer shall be permitted to use or wear any device which may be an aid to their speed, endurance or buoyancy. Goggles, a maximum of two (2) caps, nose clip and earplugs may be used.
  • BL 8.4 From June 1, 2010 Open Water swimwear for both men and women shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulder, nor shall extend below the ankle. All Open Water swimsuits shall comply with the FINA Criteria for Materials and Approval Procedures.*
  • GR 5.4 Before any swimwear of new design, construction or material is used in competition, the manufacturer of such swimwear must submit the swimwear to FINA and obtain approval of FINA.

*FINA Requirements for Swimwear Approval - (Regulation valid for swimwear to be used from January 1, 2010) You can read the entire document here.

d) Construction

• No zippers or other fastening system is allowed

The confusion appears to have arisen because of the widely held belief that somehow the swimwear approval document, penned as it is with the elite race pool in mind, may not apply to other branches of FINA sports. Untrue. Unless specific exemptions are given elsewhere in the rule book, there are no exemptions. 

The bottom line is that all in FINA ought to know their rules. If in doubt, Cornel Marculescu, the Executive Director of FINA, tells SwimNews, officials and meet organisers should address their questions to the FINA office, and where relevant matters can be put to the Suits Approval Commission led by Prof Jan-Anders Manson. 

Marculescu noted that as far as the elite race pool was concerned suits that may be worn for world titles in Shanghai next year are already approved and no further additions will be made. Those suits must be commercially available to all by the start of 2011. The July 2011 round of suit approvals will decide what can be worn at the London 2012 Olympic Games, with no additions possible after that date. 

In Masters, an exemption has been made so that many who have suits that pre-date 2008 can still wear them but for clarity's sake, the FINA will soon send a notice to all federations laying out what is and is not allowable in the various branches of the sport of swimming.