Speedo grumbles about suit ban

A potential ban on high-performance polyurethane suits threatens to throw swimming back two decades by hampering innovation, an executive at swimwear maker Speedo said on Sunday.

A possible return to all-textile briefs for men as outlined by the Fifa world governing body on Friday would be “a retrograde step”, Jason Rance, vice-president of marketing at Speedo International, told Reuters.

Controversy over wetsuits made from non-textiles such as polyurethane, which critics say trap air next to the body, has overshadowed the Rome world championships which began on Sunday.

“We’re certainly concerned ... that we’re going to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” said Rance, who oversaw development of the full-length LZR Racer suit used by 14-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps.

“In order to get rid of the wrong of having wetsuits in the pool you’re actually going to take back innovation in the sport and throw the sport back two decades” with a return to traditional suits.

He added: “My analogy would be next year at Wimbledon Federer and Nadal are about to start a game and you say, ‘Hang on a minute, mate. Give me your nice carbon graphite racquet, here’s a cane one from back in 1990.
Have a good game.’”

Reverse decision
Fina executive director Cornel Marculescu said on Friday that starting in 2010 suits would have to be made from textile and “in general” the change would be back to short trunks.

Details will be thrashed out after another meeting on Tuesday when the exact measurements for men’s and women’s outfits for 2010 will be ratified.

Finda only agreed in June to allow all-polyurethane suits, which have caused a flurry of world records. However, Finfa is ready to reverse that decision after protests from national federations fed up with the suits controversy.

Rance said Speedo, which has about 40% of the world market for performance swimwear, had long supported a ban on suits that trap air.

Speedo’s LZR Racer, which carries a $500 price tag, incorporates polyurethane panels that are glued on key parts of the suit to reduce drag but do not trap air.

“If you were to wrap yourself in cling film all over ... and jump in the water, you’re going to be trapping air all over your body,” he said.

“To go back to the early 1990s to briefs or jammers [shorts], it wouldn’t serve any purpose and would remove a lot of the excitement from the sport and create a lot of unnecessary confusion.”

The new suits have heightened interest in the sport among young people eager to find swimming kit equivalent in bragging rights to expensive soccer boots or other equipment, Rance said.

“Now it’s back to the briefs everybody used to tease you about at the pool. I don’t think it’s going to help the sport.”

Speedo, headquartered in Nottingham, England, is owned by the Pentland Group. - Reuters

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