Athlete Reps Send FINA Safe-Sport Message: Facilities Rules Do Count When WRs Are Set

When does a pool not have to measure up for a world record to count? - image by Craig Lord

Leaders of the Athletes’ Committee of FINA are at loggerheads with the international federation’s technical swimming committee and ruling Bureau over the stance of bosses who declared that facilities rules governing the dimensions of pools and athlete safety do not apply when a world record is set.

The issue dates back to 2014 when New Zealand’s Lauren Boyle, now retired, broke the world short-course record over 1500m freestyle in a Wellington pool configured in a way that fell foul of FINA rules that set specific measures for pools, including length, width and depth, the latter a safety issue.

The Wellington pool was shallower than the required FINA Minimum Standard Pool rule that is made obligatory in more than one place in the FINA rule book, including a Work Record Application form that calls on the referee or other official to confirm that “All FINA Rules” were complied with when the new standard was set.

New Zealand Swimming signed the form knowing that Facilities Rules had not been upheld, while FINA backed it by ratifying the record and issuing the following reply to SwimVortex when we questioned the legitimacy of the conditions in which Boyle set the record:

“…there is no specific requirement concerning the depth of the pool when considering the application for a World Record.”

SwimVortex tried again, asking “… how it would be possible for any event at which a world record is set to overrule minimum FINA standards on facilities”. The reply came back that the powerful Technical Swimming Committee, of which USA Swimming’s long-time member Carol Zaleski is now the head of, had dismissed the need to follow facilities rules designed to ensure athlete safety, noting:

“…the TSC also confirmed the application from New Zealand, specifying that there is no specific requirement for depth in the WR procedure”.

Now, over three years on and as part of the SwimVortex Safe Sport series, we asked athletes, in a series of questions that raised more questions what they thought of the issue with this question:

Athlete safety and welfare clearly in focus, what is your opinion of the view that FINA Minimum Standard Pool rules that make sure athletes (of all levels, including teaching) do not break teeth and crack skulls on the pool floor can be ignored when a world record is set?

Athletes replied:

“Regarding the facility rules and world records – as far as we know the facility rules do apply when a world record is set.”

All the more so, say critics of the 2014 decision, given FINA’s own entry and description of the FINA Minimum Standard Pool:

“All other events held under FINA rules [including the New Zealand Championships]should be conducted in pools that comply with all of the minimum standards contained within these Facilities Rules.”

In other words: not only was the world-record swim in default because of organisers but the entire meet should have been ruled out of order.

Memory Lane – From Our 2014 Archive

The caption used on the original article noting the very opposite of what the New Zealand swim fed boss claimed – “The quality of Lauren Boyle is not in doubt – the quality if the Wellington pool as a race venue is”

The line taken by FINA in the face of its own basic constitutional aims [C5.4: “to adopt necessary uniform rules and regulations to hold competitions in Swimming…”] arises from questions over the conditions in which Lauren Boyle clocked 15:22.69 over 1500m freestyle at the short-course New Zealand Winter Nationals in August.

The time, still listed as “pending” on the official list of world records and awaiting a final decision as the TSC deliberate the facilities question, was established in Wellington’s Regional Aquatic Centre, a facility at the centre of controversy for several years. Observers at the national championships noted that the pool was set up in a format with the start end of the pool dictating a 1m 20cm depth. Critics point to FINA Rule FR2.3, which states:

“A minimum depth of 1.35m, extending from 1.0 metre to at least 6 metres from the end wall is required for pools with starting blocks”.

The argument over the Wellington Pool does not extend to questions over Boyle’s ability to race at world-record pace: the triple world-championships bronze medallist and Commonwealth 400m champion is among the best distance swimmers in the world.

However, her swim came at the end of a lengthy period of protest over a pool that has hosted many age-group events down the years while being cited as dangerous to the welfare of athletes. That view is supported by cases in which children lost teeth when diving into the shallow end and hitting the bottom of the pool. That very possibility of danger to athletes is among key reasons why FINA’s experts set a 1.35m minimum depth standard for all FINA competition.

The issue goes back several years, as noted by former NZL performance head Clive Rushton, among others, in the comments at the end of our coverage of the controversy.

Where The Process Stands

Lauren Boyle by BW Media

In response to a question over the ratification process for Boyle’s swim, FINA told SwimVortex that it had “received all the guarantees from our Member in New Zealand that the pool has the necessary conditions for Swimming competitions.”

Answering the specific question about facilities rules and the depth of the pool in Wellington, FINA’s reply added:

“Moreover, please note that there is no specific requirement concerning the depth of the pool when considering the application for a World Record.”

When asked “how it would be possible for any event at which a world record is set to overrule minimum FINA standards on facilities”, FINA confirmed that its powerful TSC had given the thumbs up for world records to be set in facilities that do not comply with minimum requirements for pools:

“…the TSC also confirmed the application from New Zealand, specifying that there is no specific requirement for depth in the WR procedure”.

That response is correct at face value: SW12 rules governing world records in swimming do not specify any need to adhere to facilities rules.

However, the contradiction in FINA’s position is clear: the New Zealand swimming federation is a member of FINA and all its competitions must be held under FINA rules, all rules, not just a part of the rule book and as such, New Zealand and its national championships must comply with FR rules governing facilities. That “All Rules” provision forms a part of the “World Record Application Form”.

The pertinent sections include an overriding clause that would appear to govern world records as much as any other swim in a competition held under FINA rules:

  • FR1.3: FINA Minimum Standard Pools. All other events held under FINA Rules should be conducted in pools that comply with all of the minimum standards contained in this Part.
  • FR 2.3: Depth – A minimum depth of 1.35m, extending from 1.0 metre to at least 6 metres from the end wall is required for pools with starting blocks. A minimum depth of 1.00 is required elsewhere.”

Thus the question remains: was the Wellington pool set up for nationals in a way that left the water depth at the start end of the facility at less than 1m 35cm? Observers, including coaches and parents present at the time are on the public record as stating that the pool at the start end was not at least 1.35 deep.

That takes us back to the official FINA World Record Application Form. The last demand on the form, which must be signed by the referee of the competition at which ay world record was set, asks for specific confirmation:

18. In my opinion All FINA Rules have been met.

“All FINA rules” include those governing facilities that set minimum standards designed to protect athletes. The safety of swimmers is also one of FINA’s paramount interests, as highlighted by the latest news of a bid from the UAE to return to hosting marathon World Cup open water competition five years to the month after the death of Fran Crippen.

If New Zealand argues that its pool complied with the 1m 35cm minimum pool requirement, then a different argument follows.

However, FINA is not arguing as to whether the Wellington Pool complied with facilities rules. At this stage, it is saying that such rules do not apply to world-record applications, a view that is called into question by clause 18 as set out above, with its reference to “All FINA Rules”.

In an Open Letter to FINA at SwimWatch.net (scroll down to article posted August 16, 2014), coach David Wright notes that the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre had a depth of 1m 20 at the start end for the winter nationals in August. He also raises the issue of currents. While the latter is a more complex argument that has been raised not only for the Wellington pool, the issue of depth is one that cannot be circumnavigated: the rule is clear.

In his letter to FINA, coach Wright cites what he says is a New Zealand federation policy that seeks to circumnavigate FINA rules for its competitions, an official document containing the following line: “SNZ may waive certain standards for pools if they do not materially interfere with the running of the competitions; compromise the health and safety of competitors, officials or spectators; or expose SNZ to undue legal or financial risk. This will be determined on a case-by-case basis by SNZ Council.”

As a FINA member, SNZ may not waive certain standards for pools as far as FINA rules on minimum standards for all member nations go.

SwimVortex has asked FINA’s TSC to reconsider the question and either confirm or alter its position. We await response to a question critical to the conditions in which world records, moments that draw global attention to elite swimming, are established.

Back to 2018: athletes have send a clear message to FINA – surely, facilities rules designed to ensure athlete safety MUST count, where the WR application for states clearly that “ALL FINA RULES” must be upheld for ratification to take place.

 

Leaders of the Athletes’ Committee of FINA are at loggerheads with the international federation’s technical swimming committee and ruling Bureau over the stance of bosses who declared that facilities rules governing the dimensions of pools and athlete safety do not apply when a world record is set.

Comments

No comments are available.

Leave a comment

Post a comment with your SwimVortex Account. Don't have a SwimVortex Account, Sign Up?

(*) Fields are required!
×