Opportunity In The Suits Crisis
Jul 3, 2009 - Marcello Tonelli
SwimNews guest commentator suggests ways in which swimmers, coaches and the sport of swimming can make the most of the suits crisis this summer
Can the current crisis over suits initiated by FINA be turned into a great opportunity for swimmers, their coaches, and the sport in general?
While a boycott [of events such as the world championships] initiated by the Federations would be a mistake, swimmers could themselves take a stance. They could choose to compete in briefs!
The ongoing debate over swimwear, the numerous world records set over the past 18 months, and the inconsistent decisions made by FINA have all contributed to a worldwide media attention that will only increase over the upcoming weeks in the lead up to the World Championships in Rome. Is it possible to take advantage of this unique media coverage and turn it into significant benefits for swimmers and their coaches, the real actors of the sport who have been turned into pawns by recent events?
I believe it is and here are just some considerations that led my thinking:
1) All the current Olympic and World champions (but possibly even podium finishers and finalists) can only suffer from the current situation as they will compete in new territory.
2) Swimmers who cannot choose among suit makers because of their contractual obligations will be in a clear disadvantage. However, such deficiency will only be known by the people with a close tie to the swimming world. The average viewer will see a race among 8 swimmers wearing full-body suits and him/her will not understand the implications carried by the different brands. Talks about current generation of suits that work as flotation devices that aid speed, buoyancy and endurance (by the way unsubstantiated by clear scientific evidence) will be jargon for him/her. Perception will instead be much different if the 8th man was to walk to his block in briefs.
3) It is not necessary for all swimmers to be united in their protest. I would actually argue that even if just a dozen athletes of the likes of Phelps, Peirsol, Sullivan, and Bernard were to compete in briefs, the point would be made very clear.
4) A win in briefs would represent an historical event! Watching Phelps winning even just a single event in briefs against a field wearing full non-textile, non-permeable suits would be as exiting as seeing him winning his 8th gold medal in Beijing.
5) The data collected over the past 12-18 months is substantial and nobody can deny the advantages of non-textile, non-permeable suits. It is not necessary to gather additional evidence and a win by a swimmer in briefs at the World Championships would not cause uncertainty over whether or not swimming has become an equipment-based sport, but rather only elevate the status of the particular swimmer to ‘unbeatable’.
6) The potential financial returns from sponsors for the athlete able to win a swimming event in briefs at the upcoming World Championship s are beyond imagination.
7) The world-class swimmer who first decides to publicly announce that he/she will race in briefs will arguably soon become the centre of media attention.
8) The event in Rome is already compromised and any win over there will not be comparable to wins at prior World Championships. Swimmers should ask themselves how important is it for their careers to win the “World Shampionships” and become champion of the “Circus”.
9) How will the coach of a swimmer who accomplishes such a feat be refered to? Guru, wizard, master will never be enough to describe such a mentor. Swimmers and coaches cannot expect their federations to take a stance against FINA’s ruling because respect of FINA’s decisions, although not approved from an ethical perspective, is paramount to avoid anarchy and further chaos in the swimming community. The Federations do, and should, comply with the rules set by the international governing body [ED, providing those are clear enough for that to be able to be the case].
What can Federations do to support their swimmers? While having to comply with the existing rules and regulations set by FINA, Federations can still democratically organize themselves to collectively build a front capable of dethroning what Lionel Horter described as the "band of idiots" at FINA. How good and appropriate would it be to initiate this process at the World Championships in response of world-class swimmers’ 'official' request for a ban of non-textile, non-permeable fabrics?
About the author:
A competitor at club level for 20 years, Marcello Tonelli appeared in his first final at the Italian Open Championships in 1995 and raced in the 1st Division of the American NCAA circuit on a full athletic scholarship for the duration of his undergraduate studies. At 31, he made a final at the Australian open short-course nationals in 2006 and has served as an assistant coach in the US and is a qualified Bronze Licence coach in Australia. He has been a sponsor of the Yeronga Park Swim Club for several years and in 2007 became co-founder of LOS (Language Of Sport), a non-profit swimming association based in Italy that is linked to the Australian swimming community.