By Priyant Pratap, BehindTheBlocks.com
ROME, Italy, August 1. LAST night's finals saw some incredible swimming, and one of the fastest 50 frees of all time in 21.20, by Trinidad and Tobago's George Bovell courtesy of a swimoff to make the final. But, what was little known was the circus taking place backstage during the semifinal.
There was a delay before the start of the semifinal of this event, which was fine by the crowd, which danced their way through music as the commentator kept people entertained.
Behind the scenes was a showing of sportsmanship by all athletes that makes one proud of the sport. Bovell's suit split, to the extent where he was practically naked. Telling Swimming World, "My suit popped like a balloon right before I was about to walk out to the semifinal". The organizers were screaming at the men to go out, and while Bovell ran to get an old LZR, the men stood their ground and did not race until he was ready.
"In a show of solidarity, they refused to go out and I was able to get my suit on and up and got the job done."
Bovell, along with Roland Schoeman, are getting their legs in starting up an International Swimmers Association to work with FINA to improve the rights of swimmers, believing that in this instance, among others, "the competition was run on a TV schedule, not a swimming schedule."
With more and more criticisms being directed at FINA, and growing concerns that the swimmers best interests aren't being put first, Bovell and his teammates believe this only adds fuel to this fire.
Australian head coach Alan Thompson told Swimming World that he thought it was incredible moment, and that he was proud of the boys.
"At the end of the day, we're here to see fast swimming, and the best 16 in a semifinal, which George was. It was great that the boys stood their ground and an amazing moment for the sport. He came and swam one of the fastest times ever in the sport, and that's what we like to see and why we're here".
There was talk of the entire semifinal being disqualified as well. A member of FINA refused to comment, while another was not sure whether he was able to comment, and declined.
Also commenting was a swimmer from that semifinal who asked to remain anonymous fearing there would be repercussions from FINA.
"I can't comment with my name because the way they're handling things, I feel like they'll come after me. They need to realize why they're in this sport, and who makes this sport what it is – the swimmers. It's becoming a joke, their management and their organization of this meet. First, they allow all the suits and then threaten to disqualify a semifinal? So many people have trained so hard for this meet, and it's an insult to treat us like we're pawns".
David Dunford, who swam in the semifinal with Bovell, also spoke with Swimming World.
"Yeah it was pretty crazy in the tunnel," Dunford said."George ripped his suit right before we were about to walk out and the officials couldn't have been less sympathetic. They were aggressively trying to get the swimmers to walk out on time and told George that he could either race with his completely ripped suit or not race at all. Of course neither was an option and every one of us knew that. Since most of us have suffered at some point because of the new, ridiculous suits we could all empathize with George and so we decided to make a small stand against FINA. He later proved that he deserved to be in the final, and I am very glad that he was not robbed of his place by some people who obviously don't value the integrity of the sport".
Swimming Australia media attache Ian Hanson likened the matter to that of Cecil Healey and Duke Kahanamoku, where due to an error by team management at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, Duke wasn't able to swim in the semifinal (along with his American teammates), with Cecil refusing to swim until the Americans were allowed to swim a time trial in order to qualify for the final, a move that eventually resulted in Duke defeating Cecil.
It's becoming clear that the allowance of various high performance suits isn't the only thing that's catalyzing criticisms towards FINA, but their overall handling of these World Championships, and swimming itself.