By Greg Buckle
SYDNEY, May. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has advised Australian Olympic officials that their swimmers are free to wear bodysuits at the national Olympic Trials from May 13 to 20 in Sydney.
But Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) president John Coates said on Tuesday a CAS advisory opinion, given in Lausanne on Monday, had done nothing to clarify the legality of the neck-to-ankle suits.
CAS effectively backed world swimming body FINA's earlier decision to allow swimmers to use the body-suits.
Top swimmers already using them include Australian world champions Michael Klim, Grant Hackett and Ian Thorpe, all major medal hopes for September's Sydney Olympics.
The AOC had asked CAS to rule on the legality of the suits after concerns that they might breach a FINA rule which bans any device that may aid a swimmer's speed, buoyancy and endurance during a competition.
CAS published a statement from its Lausanne headquarters on Tuesday pointing to last October's ruling by the FINA Bureau which said use of the body-suits did not constitute a violation of FINA rules.
“The CAS considers that the Bureau directed its mind to the interpretation of the FINA rules and applied them as is its role and duty within the FINA constitution,'' the CAS statement said.
“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.''
Coates said the ruling did not address the key issue of whether the bodysuits were “devices that may aid a swimmer's speed, buoyancy or endurance.''
“I hope that they will resolve it prior to the Games. But that's FINA's call,'' Coates told a news conference in Sydney.
The CAS statement referred to FINA's ruling: “The FINA determined that the swimsuits were not a 'device' or technical equipment and did not evaluate them as such,'' CAS said.
CAS stressed that its opinions did not consitutute “binding arbitral decisions'' and that it was up to FINA to interpret its rules, though CAS could review the intepretation of these rules.
“FINA in this matter will be required to take the responsibility for the decision of the (FINA) Bureau on the bodysuits,'' it said.
Coates said CAS member Richard McLaren, a Canadian lawyer, had said in his report that it was not for CAS to offer an advisory opinion to the AOC.
“There is consequently no greater certainty now than in March as to whether swimmers may legitimately wear the bodysuits during competition,'' Coates said.
“Whereas we haven't got the standing to get an opinion on whether it's a device, clearly this opinion leaves open the door for swimmers to pursue their rights as members of a member (Australian swimming body ASI) of FINA.''
Coates said the AOC would postpone naming the Australian swimming team from May 20, the final day of the Olympic trials, to May 22 to allow for the possiblity of challenges from individual swimmers to the legality of the suits.
Coates faxed a letter to Australian Swimming presidemt Terry Gathercole on Tuesday warning him the issue was unresolved.
“The very situation the AOC sought to forestall by its request may come to pass, that namely a swimmer challenging swimming performaces and results by fellow swimmers who wear the bodysuits,'' Coates said.
“It is forseeable that this situation of protest and dispute may arise as early as the nomination trial commencing May 13.
“This is additional to the potential protests and disputes during the Olympics in September. These consequences are real and substantial.''