SWIMNEWS ONLINE: May 1997 Magazine Articles

Shopping Media Kit Trial Issue Swim Camp Directory



Cecil M. Colwin

After the 1948 Olympic Games, the FINA Congress acepted by 42 votes to 31 a proposal by the Amateur Swimming Union of Australia that "butterfly-breaststroke and orthodox breaststroke be considered separate events, as they represent two distinct styles of swimming, and should not be swum in the same competition." The Congress asked the FINA Bureau to work out the details. There are two accounts of what followed after this. One said that "At an informal party, seven of the ten members decided to veto the Congress ruling." (O'Connor, 1949)

This action brought an immediate protest from Mr. Harold Fern, Britain's Bureau representative and a former President of FINA (1946 -1948). Mr Fern, who had presided at the Congress Meeting, felt strongly "about keeping faith with the FINA nations, and said that, unless the Bureau change their decision in the next meeting in Italy in September it means the butterfly stroke will be used at Helsinki against the wishes of the majority." Fern pointed out that the European League had already decided to make butterfly and breaststroke two different events for the forthcoming European Games in three years time. Fern added that this action was "unconstitutional" and a postal vote was taken. By six votes to three (the Hungarian representative did not reply) it was decided to retain the butterfly as part of the breaststroke. Mr Fern, believing that a grave injustice had been done by this ruling, with the support of the (English) ASA, circulated the following resolution: "The ASA Committee submits that the FINA Bureau's ruling on the matter of the breaststroke over-rides the decision of Congress in a manner which is quite unwarrantable. The Committee accordingly records a strong protest against the action of the Bureau." (O'Connor, ibid.)

Mr. Harold E. Fern supported the move to a fourth stroke in 1948, which the FINA Congress also ratified, only to have the FINA Bureau overrule it
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © ISHOF

Up to this date the butterfly-breaststroke controversy had been the centre of many bitter arguments, but this one even threatened to cause a split in FINA.

Although the Congress had voted to separate the butterfly-breaststroke and orthodox breaststroke, because the IOC would not allow additional events in the Olympic Games, the real effect of the vote would have been to "ban" the butterfly-breaststroke.

IOC "Adverse" to New Events

Mr. Max Ritter, American Hon. Sec. of FINA, who was the main force behind the veto, pointed out that thousands of swimmers had taken up the butterfly and if it was banned it would cause an uproar in the United States. Mr Ritter said, "The members of Congress were too tired to understand what they were voting for when they 'banned' the butterfly."

Max Ritter had a meeting with President Edstrom of the IOC, on Monday night, August 9, 1948, at which he was told that the IOC "was adverse to increasing the Olympic program, as also the national Olympic Committees considered it a hardship to increase the Olympic teams for financial reasons."

Mr. Max Ritter, pointed out that thousands of swimmers had taken up the butterfly and if it was banned it would cause an uproar in the United States.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © ISHOF

The Hon. Secretary, on the basis of these facts and other important implications, felt compelled to point out this situation to all the Bureau members, which he did in a circular letter of August 11, 1948, requesting consideration of the earlier decision taken, and an early reply of all members so that a final ruling could be drawn up and communicated to the affiliated nations.

By September 22, 1948, the answers from the Bureau members were received, one member failing to send his reply. Six Bureau members voted to draw up rules for breaststroke, grouping under (a) Orthodox breaststroke and (b) butterfly-breaststroke, thereby retaining these two strokes as breaststrokes. Three Bureau members were of the opinion that butterfly stroke should be listed as an entirely new stroke and that only the orthodox stroke should apply to breaststroke. Based on this decision of the FINA Bureau, there followed yet another detailed list of rules for the two strokes respectively, which were to be swum in the same event! At this point, the rule-makers of FINA had reached a new high in obfuscation.

The FINA Bulletin of January 1949 mentioned how the Bureau members had discussed in detail the Congress' mandate to the Bureau to draw up rules for the orthodox breaststroke and the butterfly strokes. "It was not clear to some members if the intent of Congress was to separate these two strokes under the names of breaststroke or to create an entirely new stroke called butterfly. In this meeting the majority of the members seemed to favour the latter course and rules were drawn up accordingly. On later reflection it was felt that it was possibly not the intention of Congress to create an entirely new stroke with butterfly, but still to consider butterfly as a breaststroke, although separated from the orthodox stroke." This apparent confusion could well have been the result of language difficulties, and the problem of unambiguous translation among the representatives of so many nations.

IOC Again Refuses New Events

At a meeting with the IOC in Copenhagen, May 12 and 13, 1950, at which the final 1952 Helsinki Olympic Program was submitted for approval to the IOC by the Finnish Organising Committee, the FINA Bureau requested an additional event for butterfly. However, the IOC "refused to add new competitions to the Olympic Progamme."

As a result, FINA asked the IOC to consult with International Sports Federations "before future final Olympic Programmes are approved by the International Olympic Committees." FINA said that no programme can be permanent and that the natural development of a sport must be taken into consideration. The FINA Bureau said that it "considered this to be a very vital question, but recognizing the great extension of the present Olympic Programme, pledges itself to cooperate with the the International Olympic Committee in any curtailment of the programme that might prove necessary in the future."

In April 1952, there was a proposal by Hungary saying that "breaststroke should be separated from butterfly stroke as these are two different styles which should not be swum in the same competition." This simple statement hit the nail on the head. At the same meeting there was a proposal by Iceland along the same lines, saying that "a definite distinction should be made between breaststroke and butterfly stroke, and that the two styles should be kept entirely separate in international contests." At the same meeting there were similar proposals by Japan and Spain while Sweden, for some imponderable reason, went back to square one, by suggesting that "Orthodox breaststroke and butterfly shall be considered the same stroke and that a swimmer should be allowed to change from one style to another during the race."

Joe Verdeur, USA, won the 200 breaststroke at the 1948 Olympics swimming butterfly with the breaststroke kick
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © ISHOF

In December 1952, a letter from the President of the IOC was read to the FINA meeting regarding the necessary reduction in the number of participants at the Olympic Games. Japan and Iceland proposed that the number of events be increased to include breaststroke and butterfly for men and women. The vote was carried by 52 to 38. The meeting also agreed, by 39 votes to 33 (it looks as if 18 people didn't vote on this!) that, if the IOC would not allow this increase, then the event should be breaststroke.

After 21 Years Butterfly Becomes a Separate Event

FINA announced in December 1954 that the IOC had agreed to the inclusion of butterfly events in the 1956 Olympic program, with the proviso that a maximum of three competitors for men and three for women from each nation "be entered for the combined breaststroke and butterfly events." It should be noted that prior to this announcement the IOC had been requested by the Hon. Sec. of FINA to consider the introduction of two butterfly events into the Olympic program, but that President Brundage had pointed out that the von Frenckell Committee, which had considered the reduction of the Olympic program, had strongly recommended that no new events should be accepted.

In June 1956, entries for the breaststroke and butterfly events at the Olympics were limited by the IOC to only three competitors to be entered in breaststroke and butterfly together. Furthermore, the IOC said that these three competitors would be entitled to compete in both styles. This statement showed that, after so many years, the IOC still had a complete lack of understanding that breaststroke and butterfly were essentially different strokes that should have been separated long ago. The truth is that the IOC had been too concerned with its own priorities to consider the developmental needs of one particular sport.

End of part two. To be concluded

The Author gratefully acknowledges the access to FINA archival material, and permission to reprint certain excerpts therefrom, provided by Director Preston Levi, The Henning Library at the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Home | E-Mail | Top of Page | May 97 Contents | Magazine
News | Mag Archives | Calendar | World Rankings | Meet Results | Links to Sites
Photo Library | Biographies | Forums | Shopping | Classifieds

COPYRIGHT © 1995-1999 SWIMNEWS PUBLISHING INC., All Rights Reserved.
URL: http://www.swimnews.com