Speedo sponsorship doubt

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The Independent Online

Swimwear manufacturer Speedo had jeopardised its standing as the Australian Olympic Committee's longest-term sponsor by pushing its new Sharkskin neck-to-ankle bodysuits.

AOC president John Coates, who is leading a campaign to have the legality of the bodysuit tested in the Court of Arbitration for Sports, said the swimsuits would be regarded as equipment and not uniforms.

Swimmers could wear any brand of swimsuit without contravening the AOC's sponsorship deal with Speedo, which provides brief swimsuits as part of the official uniform for Australian swimmers, he said.

"We have said to Speedo that unless they convince us otherwise, (bodysuits) are technical, like running shoes - this will be the end of having a swimsuit sponsor for the team," Coates was quoted saying in local press.

Speedo International president Joe Fields said the AOC's stance had devalued its sponsorship deal with the Australian team but added that the company would honour its agreement for the Sydney games.

But "obviously in the future a contract is not worth much if people are not going to wear our gear," Fields said in a statement.

Meanwhile the world swimming federation, FINA, said it would support the use of bodysuits at the Sept. 15-Oct. 1 Sydney 2000 Olympics.

FINA secretary general Gunnar Werner said the AOC had "made a hen out of a feather" by referring the legality of the bodysuit.

The AOC is seeking a ruling to determine if the swimsuits comply with FINA regulations, which prohibit "any device that may aid (a swimmer's) speed, buoyancy and endurance during a competition."

The AOC wants a ruling before the May 13-20 Australian Olympic trials to avoid the threat of legal challenges from swimmers who wear regular brief suits and are edged out of the team by swimmers wearing bodysuits.