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Australia Imposes One-Suit Rule

Jan 28, 2009  - Craig Lord

Australia has become the first nation to officially cut out the practice of wearing two or more suits in an attempt to increase buoyancy in racing. 

New competition by-laws approved yesterday by the Swimming Australia Limited Board leave competitors in no doubt: it will be one suit (with a modesty brief allowed for the sake of preserving modesty) from March 1 onwards. In other words, in time for the trials for Rome 2009 world titles. 

Bravo Australia. The first move in several on the way to restoring fairness in the race pool has been made in the rule book governing senior elite swimming. The one-suit rule for seniors sees Australia stay true to her commitment to change on an issue that tainted performances and dominated debate in 2008 and follows myriad new rules imposed around the world that ban the use of bodysuits for juniors, with age limits for such limitations varying from nation to nation.

SwimNews understands that FINA is also minded to impose a one-suit rule at its Bureau meeting scheduled for March. Such a rule would have to take immediate effect for it to have an impact on domestic championships and trials of many nations around the world. It would also have to be accompanied by a compliance rule that governs when suit checks can be made by judges and other officials - and what kind of evidence is permissable in the case of protest resulting from an accusation that a swimmer has worn more than one suit.

The additions to the competition by-laws tag on to rules CBL 14.1  (4) - Swimwear is limited to (1) swimsuit - and the interpretation of CBL 14.1 (4) and CBL 14.2 (2) (i) and CBL 14.2 (2) (ii).

The new ruling states: "For the purposes of these By – Laws, one (1) swimsuit may include the wearing of a single pair of “briefs” or “bikini bottoms” to ensure the modesty and privacy of swimmers."

And why have swimmers been wearing so many suits in the face of a history in the sport of donning more than one suit to increase drag in training, make things harder in preparation for racing "light"? Flotation, buoyancy: these suits are flotation tools. Otherwise swimmers would not have been so keen to put more fabric on their skins. That conclusion means that much more must be looked at that a one-suit rule, of course: if two suits are serving as an aid to buoyancy, so is one. You can put your money on it. And that flies in the face of FINA rule SW 10.7. Not a new rule, an existing rule: "no swimmer shall be permitted to use or wear any device that may aid his speed, buoyancy or endurance...". A device is a tool and if the latest generation of suits are not to be considered as a device or tool, then Ian Thorpe was a lousy 400m swimmer.

A one-suit rule is just the first step in a wholescale change to suit rules and the suit approvals process after a year in which "new" technology - or better still, existing materials new to the swim race pool - drove an off-the-chart progression in standards across the globe. At the tip of an iceberg of gain were 108 world records (one of which may  not be ratified, having been set in conditions that fall foul of FINA rules in a similar way to those which dictated that Libby Lenton's 52.99 100m free from April 2007 could not count as a global standard). 

In 2008, world records, at least one Olympic title, several other Olympic medals, places on Olympic teams and myriad European medals, continental and national records were established by swimmers wearing more than one suit. There is little doubt that such "progress" flew in the face of the spirit of the FINA rules that states that no device shall be worn that may aid speed, buoyancy and endurance. 

FINA is due to meet suit makers, coaches, athletes and others in Lausanne on February 20 and will not make any further statement on suits until after the Bureau meeting in March, a spokesman told SwimNews.