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Suit List 2009 Due: Several Models Fail Tests

May 18, 2009  - Craig Lord

The list of FINA approved suits for this summer and for the rest of this year (and this year only) is likely to be published before the week is out, according to sources close to the process aimed at removing all current 2008 and 2009 performance-enhancing suits from January 1, 2010 onwards. 

As we have known for a while, there is likely to be good news and bad, and more good news. The first bit of good news is that several "suspect" suits have been weeded out in the first round of the independent suit-testing process because they failed to meet the limitations imposed by FINA. The tests for round one are not what they should be, designed as they were to eliminate some things but allow suits makers a little more time to take on board the new world to come. 

That the tests caught out some of the suits indicates that the team led by Prof. Jan-Anders Manson (of the Swiss federal Institute of Technology and Laboratory of Polymer and Composite Technology) in Lausanne is on the way to discovering more precisely where the problem lies so that  a line can be drawn in the rule book and fairness can be restored to swimming - and, most importantly, so that a professional suit approvals regime can become a key part of the governance of a sport that until now has put its swimmers in suits without any proper testing of garments having been carried out.

From round one of checks and balances, those suit makers who have had suits rejected now have 30 days in which to modify their devices and resubmit them for approval, at no extra cost to the suit maker. 

Which takes us to the bad news. That appeasement of suit makers has already backfired somewhat: far from trimming back and preparing their new lines and cuts for 2010, suit makers have been busy adding non-permeable surf-boardery and other trickery to their suits in abundance. FINA had hoped that suit makers would work in the spirit of doing the right thing for swimming. No such luck. It takes firm and fast rules and a resolve to make rule SW10.7 applicable to suits: no compromise, no aids to speed, buoyancy and endurance. The rule is good - apply it to suits. The spirit of that rule is the spirit of fairness, the spirit that ought to breathe in every FINA official who truly understands what they are looking at when they watch a race. 

The all-time world ranking lists bear testimony to the passing of one kind of sport and the birth of another. The records books, world, continental and national are transformed beyond recognition, way beyond anything that would have been predicted at the end of 2007 by anyone who had no inkling that the Speedo LZR was about to place a blade in the heart of swimming as we knew it. 

For Rome 2009 world championships, only a bylaw returning the state of suits pre February 2008 would truly deliver a world championship that would allow us all to marvel at the glide, stroke efficiency, natural propensity, affinity and feel for water of exceptional and hard-working talents and know that what we are seeing  is indeed exceptional. We would know that performance is not the byproduct of a super-suit that skews the result by negating the effect of water and by altering angles of buoyancy and more in a way that narrows the gap between the good and the great and in some cases actually gets the good past the great.

If FINA had courage, it would do something about Rome. It cannot now change much more on suits until January 1, 2010, having chosen an "evolutionary" method of correction in phases. Where it seemed fine to introduce a shark to the pool five months out from an Olympic Games, it seems that swimming must wait 18 months beyond the obvious before the shark is netted and caged. But it can save Rome by imposing a taste of 2010 for eights days of racing that represent FINA's biggest asset. We shall see if Rome can be saved a little, a lot or not at all from being a Circus Maximus.

And so, back to the good news: the process of righting the wrong of allowing non-permeable fabrics and other constructions to be used in race suits has begun. We shall see how far the process has got to when the FINA list appears. 

At this stage, there is no reason to doubt that FINA is serious about resurrecting swimming as we knew and loved her. Much good work - after bad - has been undertaken. The timing of things leaves much to be desired, particularly given the farcical scale of further progress on the clock around the globe in the past two months. 

What unfolds in the week ahead, at Rome 2009 will not only be a part of the story of a generation of swimmers but will form part of FINA's legacy. What FINA decides over the coming weeks and months ahead - including voting at Congress in Rome in July - is critical to the question that has been bouncing into my mail box from all corners of the globe in the past nine months: are FINA, 100 years old last year, and the national federations that make up the international federation (and a fair few domestic federations carry just as hefty a responsibility in all of this as FINA does, for they are FINA), in current shape and form, fit to govern and guide the sport of swimming for the foreseeable future, let alone the next 100 years?

There are those within FINA working hard to make sure that the answer is 'yes". Their deeds - backed by words that scream of a commitment to change and an understanding of what has happened and why FINA should never allow it to happen again - will tell them apart.