Just weeks after adopting new rules designed to end the controversy over high-tech, full-body suits, the world swimming governing body (FINA) is having second thoughts and considering tinkering with its swimwear regulations as early as January, several U.S and international officials said.
Since FINA decided in late July to allow only waist-to-knee textile suits for men and neck-to-knee textile suits for women, the governing body has been under pressure to make men’s and women’s swimsuits equal in size, the officials said.
“There’s an enormous amount of pressure on the FINA Bureau [the 22-member executive leadership] now to have the body coverage be the same for men as for women,” USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus said. “We are very concerned that FINA might not stick with what was approved in Rome by the FINA Congress.”
USA Swimming had put forth the proposed rule changes that were adopted by a nearly unanimous vote of the congress — FINA’s more than 200 member nations — before this summer’s world championships in Rome, but the national governing bodies for Great Britain and Australia kicked off a re-thinking of the ban just days after the vote, officials said.
Both sent letters to the governing body proposing equal body coverage for men and women.
British Swimming Chief Executive David Sparkes said in an e-mail that the British governing body would take no action beyond the letter it sent, but added, “no doubt this matter will be given further consideration…”
Said Swimming Australia spokesman Lachlan Searle: “Swimming Australia had raised with FINA in Rome the possibility of equality for male and female in neck to knee coverage in relation to the proposed new swim suit ruling. However, at this stage we have had no advice from FINA that it has any intention of changing its proposed rule….”
Indeed, a spokesperson for FINA said no such proposal was yet on the agenda of the next FINA Bureau meeting, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 15-16 in Bangkok, Thailand. But the proposal would be added to the agenda if put forward by a FINA committee, and FINA’s technical committee plans to consider it in November, according to Carol Zaleski, the chair of the committee.
Zaleski said FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu instructed her in an email to add the suit issue to the technical committee’s agenda.
“I truly don’t understand where Australia and Great Britain are coming from on this,” Zaleski said by phone Tuesday. “Why anyone is having second thoughts afterward I don’t quite get. For me, it’s common sense: men’s and women’s suits have always been different for obvious reasons.”
UPDATE: Italy joined the call for full suits above the waist for men when the vice president of the Italian swim federation, Giovanni Rosaia, wrote to all members of the FINA Bureau saying the different suits represented discrimination, swimnews.com reported Sept. 5.
Zaleski said she did not know where the other 14 members of the technical committee stood on the issue.
She and other officials speculated that the coverage issue was less about equality of the sexes than sponsorship concerns — and the legal ones that tend to arise when sponsors feel threatened.
Sponsor logos are readily visible on suits that extend over the chest, but they can’t be seen well – particularly when swimmers are still in the water – on the men’s waist-to-knee “jammers.”
USA Swimming officials say the rules enacted this summer were designed to minimize the impact of suits and put the focus on the swimmer. That, they said, should be sport officials’s highest priority.
Speedo’s Craig Brommers, senior vice president of marketing, said in a statement that although Speedo did not agree with the drastic change in suit profile, the company would comply with the new rules. Brommer did not comment on the proposal to equalize men’s and women’s suits.
“Despite the decision to return to jammers for men and open back knee-skin suits for women,” Brommers said, “Speedo will continue to work with the world’s leading athletes, coaches and experts to develop the most innovative swimwear and equipment.”
Australian Coach Alan Thompson was among a handful of coaches that met before the FINA Congress to hammer out the details of USA Swimming’s proposed ban. At the time, Zaleski said, everyone was on board with the changes.
“I’m not sure what it’s about, to be honest,” Zaleski said. “Why the change in position relatively overnight?”
Searle and Sparkes offered only brief statements with no elaboration on their proposals.
Since FINA adopted the current ban, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and National Federation of State High School Associations put similar bans in place. USA Swimming, meantime, planned to formally adopt the ban at its annual meeting in two weeks, setting an immediate implementation date.
But, Wielgus said, members and officials were concerned about what might take place at the international level.
During this summer’s FINA Congress, the membership voted to put control of the suit issue in the hands of the FINA Bureau so that as technology changed, the organization would be in position to react quickly.
The intention of that change, Zaleski said, was not to have the bureau undo various aspects of the ban six months later.
“We’re actually kind of anxious about that,” Wielgus said. “What we’re saying to [FINA] is the membership was very clear. We certainly hope they are still with that.”