Bodysuits ruling still not resolved

Far from clarifying the legality of the Fastskin neck-to-ankle swimsuits, a Court of Arbitration for Sports ruling has further muddled the issue, says Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates.

CAS-appointed arbitrator Richard McLaren handed down an advisory opinion backing a decision by FINA, the international swimming federation, to sanction the controversial bodysuits.

His decision opened the way for Australian swimmers to use the full-length bodysuits at the May 13-20 Olympic selection trials but increased the prospect of protests and legal challenges, said Coates.

"We will allow our swimmers to wear the bodysuits but we point out that they do so at their own risk," Coates told a press conference in Sydney on Tuesday.

Coates didn't dispute FINA's right to interpret and enforce its own rules, but said the AOC was more concerned about the process regulators used in determining whether or not to sanction the bodysuit.

But in his written statement, McLaren said the AOC was not a member of FINA and, therefore, had no right to seek validation of the international federation's decision-making process.

As a result, the AOC would delay naming the Australian Olympic swimming team until May 22 to allow a 48-hour appeals period for swimmers contesting the selection trials.

The risk of protests had been diminished because all leading Olympic candidates had been fitted with a bodysuit for the trials, but the threat of protests existed, said Coates.

Coates said the AOC had wanted the CAS to determine if the Fastskin bodysuits, which were sanctioned by the FINA bureau on October 8 last year, were devices or swimming costumes.

FINA rule SW 10.7 prohibits "any device that may aid his speed, buoyancy or endurance during a competition."

The issue has polarised Australian swimming since Ian Thorpe asked the AOC for permission to wear an adidas bodysuit instead of one supplied by rival manufacturer Speedo, a long-standing Australian team sponsor.

Coates said a subsequent adidas presentation revealed the performance-enhancing qualities of the swimsuit and sparked his concern.

"As (Australian) chef de mission, it was my job to try and remove any uncertainty" over the legality of the swimsuit, he said.

Bodysuits were used by many swimmers during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and FINA president Mustapha Larfaoui said he could see "no reason for the AOC to challenge a decision by FINA based on rules adopted by the FINA congress."

"The CAS considers that the (FINA) bureau directed its mind to the interpretation of the FINA rules and applied them as it is duty within the FINA constitution," CAS said in a statement.

"The effect of such interpretation and application is that an approval of the swimsuits has been validly granted. In doing so, the FINA has not acted in contradiction of its own rules."

But Coates said McLaren, a Canadian lawyer, was not given enough evidence on which to base an opinion.

FINA had been a hostile participant, Speedo had supplied only limited documentation on the technology and adidas had refused to participate, he said.

Coates said he hoped the controversy would prompt FINA to review its stance at its next Congress.

Australian coach Dennis Cotterell, who trains world 1,500 meters freestyle champion Grant Hackett, said the issue was an annoyance.

"It's really annoying because the confusion still abounds, just when we thought we had a resolution," he said. "If they don't resolve it soon it's actually going to impact on the performances at the (Australian) trials."

Hackett, who has worn Fastskin swimsuit in training, welcomed the CAS ruling but said he was prepared to swim under any conditions.

"I don't care if I have to get up and swim nude at the Olympic trials. If that's what it takes, that's what it takes," he said.