Forbes Carlile, Cecil Colwin, Peter Daland, all influential forces for the past 50 years in swimming. They have been pioneers, men who sought out the cutting edge, pursued the thing that would help them and their charges go the extra stroke, tried to leave no stone unturned. Now, they are the Octogenarians at the helm of a movement to have the bodysuit either banned or placed under a tight regime of control that the compression that is helping buoy performances in the pool right now.
These men have not been stick-in-the-muds. Not luddites. Not the kind of people who have wished to hold back the tide. On the contrary. But when it comes to technology going further than it ever has before in helping to enhance performance (and anyone who argues with that needs to go back and take a look at the progress from around the world that has been making indents into the all-time ranking lists like never before unless you count the swims we know to have been doping-assisted), they are among those calling for a halt, a moratorium, a reconsideration. Are they wrong now? Or do they have a point?
We will return to the theme again soon, and look at the impact of the latest generation of bodysuits - in light of the latest rash of Olympic trials around the world - how they are viewed by people within the sport and by those looking in from outside, and why whole swathes of swimmers and coaches have been told by their federations to 'shut-up' about the suit. That won't work, of course. It will simply make everyone more determined to talk about it.
Before we consider all of that, here's something for the weekend: a letter sent to all federations around the world by Carlile (and the federation that dismisses such things without giving them due consideration does not deserve to hold office), which raises issues that are being willfully overlooked by some who simply say 'the suit is here, it's here to stay (I don't doubt it), and that's that (there, I beg to differ). The letter refers much to FINA. But you are FINA, all of you. On any issue. FINA is much blamed for much. Sometimes, deservedly so, but often the issues comes down to what the people who represent you at home in your federations wanted. There is little point in blaming FINA for much of what develops in swimming, when you might as well simply look in the mirror of your own country and sports politics.
We will also be speaking to FINA HQ and to the suit makers over the coming weeks, the balance of comments essential if the sport is to find the right path, not only for the here and now but for what is likely to unfold next in a world that swimming appears to be unprepared for. There is a weight of acceptance of the suits by swimmers and coaches, while the many who believe that the LZR gave rivals an unfair advantage, turn rapidly into happy beings as long as they can have one or have a different brand that can do the same for their own performances. A minority, it seems to me, are ready to acknowledge openly and honestly that their performance has been aided by the suit (many because they simply do not really know - but they must suspect to a high degree).
We start with some things to think about from Carlile:
AN OPEN LETTER
Do you believe the majority of members of your Federation strongly hold the view that a rapid end must be brought to the intrusion of "hi tech" swim suits into competitive swimming and the sport be 'given back to the athletes?'
Whilst the FINA Bureau stands defiantly with its back to the wall, telling all objectors we should not be standing in the way of 'progress' , do the majority of your members consider that the sport of swimming must be saved from continuing its rapid plunge to the depths, enmeshed in the unedifying intrigue and tangle of the 'war of the manufacturers' which is causing the sport of competitive swimming to rapidly lose both its credibility and its integrity?
If you believe that what is happening is wrong please seriously consider taking any or all of the following actions here suggested which could be undertaken by your members individually, and as a Federation, in an effort to persuade FINA to abandon its present course of permitting the use of high level technology in swim wear devices to cause 'compression', decrease drag, possibly increased buoyancy etc), this as distinct from embracing science and technology to improve human performance, using science in its various aspects in preparation for high performance, including training and in improving swimming technique.
The swimming world is confronted with the misplaced application of scientific and technological advances. To cut short the harm which is being done the clock does not have to be "turned back" to racing in woollen or baggy cotton swim suits but rather as will be asserted, FINA should legislate for racing in standard competitive swim wear at the stage of development to the pre Year 2000 Olympic Games era with brief suits for all standardised fabric and cuts--all complying with new FINA rules.
It is not an impossible dream, that with good will before it is too late, a fresh course of action should be signalled by the Bureau to prevent further great harm being done to competitive swimming.
The suggested steps to change FINA Bureau's course of action are:
1. NATIONAL FEDERATIONS are encouraged immediately, if they have one of the 16 Bureau members, to raise the matter them and in an official letters to FINA tell of their displeasure and apprehension, and in this way endeavour to change the Bureau’s clearly stated determination to hold to its present line of action regarding the hi tech Speedo LZR and similar suits.
Action will need to be taken by the Bureau, at least to be in force after the Beijing Olympics to call a moratorium on the use of the present suits with 'material' (plastic etc) implanted in fabrics being permitted in any swim wear. It is no equitable solution to permit all the manufacturers to introduce possible performance-enhancing 'materials' into the fibre mix as Speedo boasts of doing to explain their suits pre-eminence.
What comes next?
If the will is there it is still not 'too late', for the democratic force of majority opinion in swimming to stop the FINA Bureau in its tracks and have a rule at least foreshadowed to require a standard costume , fair and equal racing swim wear, for all competitors. It may be impracticable to apply until after Beijing Olympics, but it will be better late than never.
2.INDIVIDUALS: write to both national FEDERATIONS and to FINA.
Individuals, Friends of Swimming, and National Federations gravely concerned for the future well-being of the sport, should make their voices heard by immediately emailing FINA, outlining reasons for their concerns at what is happening, to email@example.com, or by fax to the FINA office at Lausanne, Switzerland, 312 6610. Or, perhaps simply forward this email to FINA with your comment(s).
3. AT THE NEXT FINA CONGRESS
When the matter of the Bureau's amended swim suit rules presents for discussion, as they almost certainly will, at the next full Congress, unfortunately not scheduled until the time of the World long course championships in Rome 2009, federations should grasp this belated opportunity for their delegates to stand, voice their outrage and submit amendments or reject outright the Bureau's proposed new rules. IF they offer only to patch up and exacerbate all that is wrong on the direction FINA is taking, in an attempt to enshrine more costume rules cementing the position which will allow greater penetration of swim wear technology to further destroy fair play and honesty in competitive swimming.
Would you please consider the succinct plea I have received.
The statement sums up the fundamental objection to the destructive, disharmonious state of affairs in high level swimming. The following echoes the despair and sincere conviction of many, the majority of whom are not associated with swimming at a high competitive level but are closer to the grass roots of the sport.
'As the World's steward of the sport of swimming I implore you to reconsider FINA's position on the use of the new swimming suits. These suits are clearly not costumes but equipment; and using the suits should be considered the same as using fins and/or paddles in sanctioned competition. Competition should be between individuals based on talent, training and preparation not on corporations based on technology that artificially enhances performances. Give the sport of swimming back to the athletes!' - Bob Groseth
Here are the questions to which those in favour of perpetuating the notion of hi tech suits should be prepared to answer.
1. If sufficient scientific proof is eventually brought forward, as has been demanded by the FINA Executive Director and spokesman, Cornel Marculescu, and it emerges that it is eventually proved unequivocally that the present hi tech LZR Speedo swim wear after rigorous scientific testing by independent, disinterested scientists does enhance performance, what new rules does the FINA Bureau intend to recommend to Congress? Would it mean that the performance-enhancing rule in line with the use of fins and hand paddles will be abandoned? Where are we headed?
In view of the present unrest and explosive state of high level competitive swimming FINA should rule for a moratorium applied to the use of post - February 2008 hi tech swim wear? If not coming into force immediately, surely this should happen directly after the Olympics in Beijing.
2. By the introduction of new technology with the very clear perception by many that hi tech swim wear can enhance performance, apart from artificial records how can this benefit the sport down to grass roots competitors?
3. If the latest technological advances in swim wear is guaranteed to be distributed ,free, for all competitors in the Olympic Games and World Championships will all swimmers be able to enjoy those advances at the same time? Further, will all competitors in other competitions conducted under FINA rules (which is nearly all competitive swimming )have these suits made available to them? Of course the answer is that this is impossible. Should it matter?
This is the essence of the problem, how is it envisaged that throughout the sport of swimming the ethical ideal of an 'even playing field' can be achieved when for various reasons, some would be wearing hi tech suits and others are not?
4.. WHO WILL TEST THE NEW SUITS to determine whether each new hi tech suit presented for approval by FINA falls within FINA’s limits of acceptability, not being performance- enhancing?
This is an impossible task beyond the capabilities of any FINA 'testing panel'.With a raft of promotional claims one can imagine persistent argument transcending the sport itself. Actually it is irrelevant that FINA has been vague about any plans to set up independent testing laboratories etc because it is fundamentally wrong in the first place that any 'special' swim suit equipment outside a standard costume should be marketed with claims of 'performance advantage'. The unproven perception alone of advantage now is causing trouble enough.
5. If inadvertently or by stealth, even perhaps in spite of the best intentions of FINA,an unfair practice has intruded into swimming, should it EVER be considered "too late" to remedy a situation which is undermining the health of the sport?
The use of drugs has intruded into sports generally. Is this good reason to believe that in some sports because drug use 'is there' and is clearly a long way from being properly controlled that no action should be taken ? – and there should be no concerted effort to stamp out cheating and unfair practices?
The unfair swim suit situation serves as a valid comparison in the two situations.
6. In what possible ways does the introduction of advancing technology in swim wear benefit , and promote the well-being of the sport?
Has availability and the ethics of wearing hi tech 'fast suits' been an obvious concern of the FINA Bureau , the latter as indicated by the application of its present rules, or are entrepreneurial considerations being paramount in its thinking?
7. Do you approve of what is happening in the present 'War of the Manufacturers', the focus of attention being increasingly directed towards what brand of swim suit a record breaker has worn , rather than on the performance of the swimmer inside the costume? Is the sport is running second to considerations of glittering prizes and dollars?
8. Despite the obvious blindness or recalcitrance of the FINA Bureau the over-riding question is this. Is it not desirable, and possible for friends of swimming to move boldly with hope, determination and energy even now to change the present mind-set of its swimming leaders, by force of mobilising into action the deep-seated convictions of many in the ways here suggested?
Instead of meekly accepting the superficial tired argument that those who are opposing FINA on the swim suit issue are 'dinosaurs' determined to take swimming back to the era of baggy woollen costumes, wanting to revert to a past age of competitive swimming, why should there not be vigorous agitation for the wearing of standard swim wear? Perhaps a loss of “glamour” from the swim meet spectacle - the visage of often nearly completely covered bodies rather than bare skin and rippling muscles?
A STANDARD SWIM SUIT
With the present malevolent, worsening situation, FINA must at least soon foreshadow legislature for the use in competitive swimming of brief , relatively low cost swim wear ensuring that all competitors use similar costumes, essentially 'equal', with fabrics and cut in compliance with revised, up-dated, relatively simple and easily policed FINA costume rules
WHAT ABOUT PRESENT RECORDS?
An excellent question—and not difficult to answer.
The 'records' made in hi tech competition suits which have been ratified from the beginning of February 2008 (the cut-off date corresponding with the introduction of the LZR Speedo genre of suits) should continue to be displayed with an asterix. The same time the older world records made pre- February 2008 should be recognised as the current world records.
The 'hi tech records' should bear an asterix indicating the time was established since early February, 35 'record' times being made in the Speedo LZR and one in a suit from another manufacturer—the situations being very well documented. The 'old' and the 'new' times should be displayed together. The possibly assisted times will serve as a matter of long term interest and a challenge to swimmers and coaches.
It may be only a matter of time before all the recent 'records', those made with latter-day swim suit technology, will be broken by faster swimmers, because of their ability, and advanced technology being applied appropriately where it should be, in swimmers’ preparation not in devices applied to cover swimmers’ bodies.
What are the valid objections to the above suggestions to restore equanimity and honesty to the sport? Impractical? I do not think so.
[Carlile then repeats his points in summarised form].
Please seriously consider the arguments and propositions made in this paper and move, by letting your voice be heard, to encourage your Federation to have FINA modify its announced, so far apparently immovable position that there is 'nothing wrong with the LZR swim wear - it complies with our rules' - so that the unfairness, disruption and unrest we are seeing in competitive swimming, like a bad dream can be forgotten and put behind us.