Build-up to Beijing: Controversy reigns

07 Apr 2008 Posted by

Beijing’s torch relay – a sign of the future? And the swimsuit wars hot up

The swimsuit wars hot up – rumours that Arena will seek to have Speedo’s LZR banned

Olympic controversy is the name of the game today, unfortunately. Starting with the less sedate of those stories, below is a very short article I was sent yesterday evening concerning the latest news around the ongoing swimsuit debate. This debate, which we have tried to cover for you in the last few weeks, revolves around the legality of the new swimsuit by Speedo. According to the article below, Arena (a rival manufacturer), is moving to have the Speedo LZR Racer banned, on the grounds that Arena’s suit is not as fast! Here is the article (in green):

Andrew Webster
April 7, 2008

DON’T be surprised if the controversial swimsuit responsible for helping our swimmers go faster than the Manly JetCat is banned this week. We have been told that swimwear manufacturer Arena is putting plenty of pressure on swimming’s governing body, FINA, to stamp out the suits because of a belief its Powerskin suit cannot produce faster times than the Speedo LZR Racer and adidas’s soon-to-be-released suit. At the recent national titles, where eight world records were obliterated, only Craig Stevens wore an Arena suit. And don’t be surprised if Arena gets its way: the company is one of FINA’s major sponsors. Swimming officials will meet at the world shortcourse championships in Manchester this week to discuss whether the suits will be allowed at the Beijing Olympics.

Honestly, had this article been sent to me a week ago, I would have passed it off as an April Fool’s joke, so ludicrous is the idea that one manufacturer would cite this as the reason. There are plenty of reasons to look at banning the suit, but this surely cannot be one of them! Imagine if in Formula 1, the Renault team tried to have Ferrari’s new engines banned because theirs was not “powerful enough”!

The point is, Arena themselves recently launched their own suit, the Powerskin R-Evolution, and it would seem that the “battle lines” had clearly been drawn. Speedo went to NASA to test fabrics, and New Zealand to test the suit. Arena, for their part, hired the same scientist who had worked on the America’s Cup boat Alinghi. There are clearly no “rules” in this particular war – do what it takes to improve the costume, so to now reportedly seek a ban because you lost the battle smacks of anything but competition.

We’ll see where it goes – this may well be a rumour that has caught on and spread – it was in an Australian paper, and Australia are sponsored by —- you guessed it, Speedo. So if anyone is threatened by impending bans, it’s them. So it may be a false report, born of paranoia. But what is interesting to me to see is how this issue seems to be polarizing the swimming community. We wrote in one of our posts on this topic (see related posts. below) that the technology in swimsuits threatened to create a situation with the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Whether or not this story is true, it certainly suggests that this may happen! At the very least, we have a situation of “us” vs. “them”, and all over swimsuits! It will be fascinating to see how FINA rule at the upcoming meetings at the World Champs in Manchester.

We’ll keep you posted!

The Flame of Discord – public relations disasters start now…

Moving onto a slightly more serious, but out of scope topic (for us, anyway), the Olympic torch, a symbol of peace and unity, had no sooner begun its journey around the world than it found itself the centre of global controversy. We wrote a few weeks ago that it was bound to be a relay stalked at every turn by ugly scenes, thanks to protests against China’s human rights record. Well, two stops, and two public relations nightmares for the Chinese Olympic Organizing committee, the host cities, the IOC – in fact, anyone who is even remotely linked to China’s spectacle in August must be dreading the next 80,000 miles.

It was London yesterday, and Paris today, that provided 48 km and 28 km of exposure for the protesters and the Olympic torch that can only be described as the “Flame of Discord”, according to the French press. Much like an open flame attracts insects at night (particularly in SA where we often have no power – as I write this, for example), so too this flame is destined to attract protesters wherever it goes. Today in Paris, for the first time in many years (perhaps ever – anyone know this?), the flame was extinguished, put out by protesters. It had to be relit using the backup flames that accompany it all the way through its journey.

This is obviously not our key focus here at The Science of Sport, so political insights and comments are left to the experts and the news sites of the world. But the Olympic Games most certainly are a key focus, and if the rest of the Olympics are going to be as fraught with problems as the Olympic Torch relay, then it will indeed be a shame for the athletes who work for four years to be the deserving centre of attention.

Spare a thought, for example, for all the athletes and dignitaries who yesterday and today had to carry the Olympic Flame in London and Paris – what might have been a glorious celebration and moment of achievement for them instead turned out to be a gauntlet of terror, with threats of violence stalking their run. Surrounded by three levels of security, including a very ominous “inner circle” of Chinese guards dressed in blue, their relay leg was anything but a celebration. If they were lucky, they got to finish their leg. If they were not so fortunate, they were ushered into a bus where the flame could at least be “protected” from the upcoming trouble…this is certainly no way to launch an Olympics under the pretence of bringing the world’s nations together.

And I read this afternoon that the IOC Chief is “very concerned” about the issues, including the current situation in Tibet. Well, the reality is that these events, and the protests, were identified as risks long ago, yet people have not intervened. The current protests, which threaten the Olympic celebration, are likely the symptom of a deeper problem and should not bear sole responsibility for the current controversy – the cause has been ignored and unfortunately, the Olympics are the catalyst that bring the symptoms to the surface. The irony is that the current relay concept owes much to the German regime in 1936 who felt the torch would glorify the ruling party – this particular version, the 2008 relay, is doing anything but glorifying China.

But let’s just hope that this issue does become a sidebar over time, a minor issue, and that maybe the Olympics can serve as a catalyst to resolve those political problems. And then, just maybe, we can actually get on with the business of the sports, the athletes and the performances, which is of course our main focus here.


This post is part of the following threads: News/Controversies, Olympics Games, Beijing 2008 – ongoing stories on this site. View the thread timelines for more context on this post.

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