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Fran's Father Says UAE Listing Disrespectful

Dec 2, 2010  - Craig Lord

Peter Crippen, the father of Fran Crippen, who died in a FINA 10km marathon race in the UAE on October 23, has criticised the international federation for showing disrespect for his son by listing two open water events in the Gulf State for the 2011 race season.

Yesterday, FINA released the 2011 race circuit for its two open water circuits, the marathon world cup (the Olympic 10km only) and the open water grand prix (multiple distances). The UAE is scheduled to be the host of one event in each of the circuits, though neither dates nor specific locations are provided.

FINA and USA Swimming are both conducting inquiries into events in the UAE in October and the processes, the FINA one internal, the US inquiry independent and ledt by WADA and IOC boss Dick Pound, are expected to last for several months.

"I was very distressed to learn that Fina will put an open water event back in the UAE again in 2011," Peter Crippen told SwimNews. "I can't believe they would do this. There are many aspects of this sport which need to be examined and held up to scrutiny. FINA by their actions today in assigning a meet to Argentina and the UAE have continued to disrespect Fran."

Contacted by SwimNews to ask why the UAE was back on the meet schedule for 2011 in light of events in October this year, Cornel Marculescu, Executive Director of FINA, explained the federation's dilemma and nodded to contractual and legal obligations: "We don't confirm that we will go there [by including UAE on the schedule] nor do we wish to take any decision until we have the decisions of the task force [investigating Fran Crippen's death]. 

"We are on standby. We can't take it [UAE] out, it's too early. There is no official confirmation [from the task force] about what happened but there is a contract there. Legally we cannot say we will not go there until we have something on the table to tell us what happened." The FINA task force is due to meet in January and awaits the autopsy results.

The issues in open water go beyond events in Fujairah on October 23, when an athlete died in competition for the first time at a FINA event. Mr Crippen's reference to Argentina highlights what many in open water, including his son, have complained about:

The swimmer's father recalled: "Fran swam in a race in Argentina last year where they had to board a small plane for 3 hours the ride was so bumpy that many of the athletes got sick - you can imagine what that was like. They were offered by the organisers to take a bus back to the airport at least a 9 to 12-hour ride over mountain roads. I know the sport is in its infancy but that is ridiculous."

Argentina hosted three events this year and all three remain on the 2011 circuit, while one, a 12km race at Viedma is added.

Events in the open-water community, headlined by that fateful day on October 23, have prompted many in the swimming world to raise questions about what part FINA's style and structure of governance played in events in Fujairah, what implications that may have for the entire community of five Olympic aquatic sports and how matters might be improved.

In the United States, a vote on whether to press for change in FINA structures was lost last week in part on the basis that it would be wrong to peg the death of Fran Crippen to any move by the World Swimming Coaches Association and others to jolt the international federation into a better way of going about the business of running world aquatic sports. While there was support for change, there is debate about the best way to get there.

Those who argued that the link between Fran Crippen's death and change at FINA should not be made are at odds with the position of the father of the man who lost his life, a father who believes that any effort that can be made "to setting these people on the correct path would be appreciated". 

Mr Crippen added: "We know Fran was very concerned with safety, he would want us to pursue this: we are setting up a foundation that will have as a goal the safety of all open water swimmers. Any and all buttons need to be pushed for this to occur. This should never have happened. The physical safety of the athletes should be paramount from the time they touch down at the airport. These events need to occur where proper safety and emergency procedures can be guaranteed."

Criticising "the tone of the director of swimming in the UAE which totally disrespects Fran" (you can read here what was said in the UAE in the wake of the tragic events on October 23), Crippen senior noted: "This can be a dangerous sport but no athlete should drown and not be located for almost 2 hours. In fact it was his teammates who first went to look for him. How can the New York marathon track 40,000 runners with computer chips and these people not track 90. My anger is so deep.

"I have observed some of these meets and in hindsight they all lack safe procedures. For example, I have a picture of Fran finishing a race at Govenor's Island New York September of '09 in the dusk: if the light is not adequate how do you keep track of the athletes?"

Yesterday, the peers of Fran Crippen, including 59 world-class open water swimmers, made it known that they have asked FINA to make 11 key rule changes designed to improve safety standards and bring their sport into the 21st Century. Many of the issues raised match those that Fran Crippen had raised with USA Swimming and FINA before his untimely death in circumstances that many in open water swimming believe could and should have been avoided.