Lausanne, Switzerland -- If the swimming world was hoping for a rapid end to recent controversy about use of polymeric materials in swimsuits, a 22 June listing of swimwear approved for competitions by International swimming federation FINA did not do the job. Instead FINA backed down and gave the OK to suit designs it was previously expected to ban.
The swimming world had expected that suits coated with non-permeable polyurethane would no longer be allowed, either because they trapp air, or because they contain more than 50 percent non-permeable material.
Previously, FINA had sent several designs back to the manufacturers for modification after a 19 May listing of approved suits.
But in fact, in its later ruling, FINA approved designs such as the controversial Jaked J01 suit -- a stretch fibre construction coated with a thin PU layer -- with no modification, a move which may have infuriated Jaked competitor Arena, who spent the intervening month modifying its X-Glide suit to meet FINA's demands.
Arena said that, as well as providing a modified X-Glide - which was approved -- it also presented FINA with "incontrovertible, scientific results" proving that the original Powerskin X-Glide suit did not have any air trapping properties. Jaked made the same point to FINA about its J01 suit, but did not submit a redesign. Jaked had its unmodified J01 suit approved: Arena's original X-Glide did not get on the approved list.
Arena said it was "surprised and truly disappointed" that FINA would not reconsider approving the original version of the X-Glide, while other racing suits based on similar technologies were approved.
But while the swimming press is full of commentators saying that it is only possible to win now if you wear one of the polyurethane-coated body suits, a possible disadvantage with the Jaked model was apparent at the Mediterranean Games in Pescara Italy at the end of June. Italian Olympic swimmer Flavia Zoccari was competing in a championship race 30 June when her $500 Jaked J01 suit ripped at the back and she was unable to compete. This is not the first report of the suits tearing.
Various figures in the swimming world have attacked FINA for backing down, allegedly in the face of threats of lawsuits by certain swimwear makers, amid statements stressing that the air-trapping properties of the suits had not been proven.
French federation FFN (Federation Francaise de Natation - FFN) was a vocal critic, issuing a statement saying that FINA has no "clear and ethical position" on the suits. FFN said it would in future use only the previous 19 May list of approved suits from FINA for competitions in France.
In its 22 June statement, FINA said that manufacturers re-presented their swimsuits with modifications, and agreed that, "In certain cases, the manufacturers have submitted arguments regarding the fact the construction or material of their swimsuits would not create air-trapping effects."
Saying that, "evidence of 'in use' air-trapping effect is complex," and that to set up tests to control this would be expensive and take time, FINA added that it will issue new rules for 2010.
Many commentators also expect FINA to canvas the national swimming federations for some sort of consensus on the issue, before it takes any further steps.