Further swimsuit developments

08 Apr 2008 Posted by

Arena threatens legal action if Speedo’s swimsuit is not proven to legal

Yesterday’s post looked very briefly at the latest development in the ongoing swimsuit battles between the major manufacturers – in case you’ve missed it, 19 world records have been set in 2008, 18 of them using one suit – the Speedo LZR Racer. The only exception a record by Federica Pellegrini of Italy, wearing the Powerskin R-Evolution by Arena

And yesterday, I wrote that there were reports from Australia that Arena was actually pushing the governing body of the sport, FINA, to ban the Speedo suit on the grounds that it was illegal, and Arena did not believe its own suit would produce the same performance improvements that Speedo’s did!

I could scarcely believe that this could be true, so amazing is the apparent reason for the ban – as I wrote, it seemed as though Arena, having entered a “competition” to develop a faster swimsuit, having hired scientists who previously worked on the America’s Cup boat Alinghi, were now turning around and citing the “credibility” of the sport as a reason to have the competitor banned.

It seemed unbelievable, but sure enough, more reports have followed. The article below, which I was sent by Adam, one of our readers, was published in The Australian, and it contains some remarkable quotes from the CEO of Arena. It’s in green, my comments in black below.

SWIMWEAR manufacturer Arena has called for a moratorium on the use of all new swimsuits, including its own.

Arena has made the move so the suits “can be properly analysed” to ensure they do not illegally enhance performance. Italian-based Arena’s CEO Cristiano Portas sent an open letter to the International Swimming Federation saying that a “firestorm of public concern has ensued about the alleged buoyancy advantage provided by Speedo LZR Racer and Tyr Tracer Light suits”.

Since the Speedo suit was launched on February 12, 19 world records have been broken, 18 by swimmers wearing the LZR Racer. The 19th record was set in Arena’s new suit.

Portas said FINA needed to “scrutinise and reaffirm the effectiveness of its policies” in approving new swimsuits. He said FINA faced an “irrecoverable loss of credibility for swimming sports, just a few months before the Olympic Games” if it did not conduct urgently a “reliable and transparent analysis” of the fabrics used in the suits. He hinted that his company would take legal action if FINA did not satisfy it that its’ rivals suits were legal.

FINA responded with a statement saying that it was always willing to examine the issue of swimsuit approval. “However, to the best of our knowledge, there is no objective scientific evidence on the alleged buoyancy advantage provided by the Speedo LZR Racer or any other swimsuit approved by FINA,” the statement said.

FINA will meet with all the manufacturers on Sunday during the world short-course swimming championships in Manchester to discuss the issue. The governing body said it would “review and update, if considered necessary, the procedure and requirements for swimwear approval”.

Both the Italian and Canadian swimming federations banned their athletes from wearing the suit during their separate recent Olympic trials.

A few things jump out at me here. Firstly, there is no problem at all in wanting to analyse the suits so that they do not illegally enhance performance. That, I’m sure, is something we’ll all agree on. But surely that should have come long before 19 world records were broken wearing it – if FINA has policies and regulations, then you cannot review them after the fact – they should have been watertight (pardon the pun) when the process of suit development began.

But more than this, it’s amazing that the CEO is questioning the “credibility” of the sport as a whole! This quote:

FINA faced an “irrecoverable loss of credibility for swimming sports, just a few months before the Olympic Games”

must surely be one of the more dramatic quotes made about this whole issue, especially when you consider that it comes from the CEO of one of the companies who has been at the forefront of the technological innovation that affects that credibility!

I wonder whether Arena, Speedo, or any of the other manufacturers considered this as a potential fall-out when they began the expensive process of teaming up with NASA, hiring America’s cup scientists, using mathematical equations, swimming flumes and hydrodynamic testing? I doubt it…

But, now that we have some indication of the fact that one suit is performing better than another, we have a situation where there is suddenly a need to “scrutinise and reaffirm the effectiveness of its policies”. Would that have happened if five more world records had been set in the Arena suit?

Of course, Arena may well be correct. Despite the apparently lax FINA regulation and policies over equipment, there is a rule that the suit cannot alter the buoyancy of the swimmer. And so if Arena are correct, and the LZR is able to change buoyancy, then by all means, it should be banned.

But, if the manufacturers have all played by the “rules” set out by FINA, then I’m afraid it’s back to the labs and drawing board for Arena, because they’ve been outplayed.

Ultimately, however, all this serves to do is detract from the swimming performances. It’s telling that we’re talking about one suit “performing better than another”. I always thought that the swimmer was performing…? And while I appreciate that the suit is a signifcant part of the equation, this latest development does certainly prove that the swimming world is being divided into the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have nots’.

Your thoughts welcome!

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