Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems

"Doping on a Hanger": Regulatory Lessons from the FINA Elimination of the Polyurethane Swimsuit Applied to the International Anti-Doping Paradigm

Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems

"Doping on a Hanger": Regulatory Lessons from the FINA Elimination of the Polyurethane Swimsuit Applied to the International Anti-Doping Paradigm

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

In early 2008, swimwear manufacturer Speedo introduced the world's first polyurethane competition body suit, the LZR Racer.1 The Speedo suit, which was imitated by nearly two-dozen companies immediately after its debut, represented an unprecedented leap in swimsuit technology by increasing swimmers' buoyancy up to 8% while significantly reducing drag.2 As outcomes in swimming are determined by margins of only hundredths of seconds, it was unsurprising when more than 130 world records were broken in only the first seventeen months after the LZR became available to competitive swimmers.3

The suits did not make it far past those initial months. In July 2009, the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), the international governing body of swimming, voted on an American proposal to ban polyurethane competition suits beginning on January 1, 2010. The proposal passed easily, with 180 nations voting in favor of the proposal and only seven voting against it.4 Despite some experts' calls to distinguish those records set by swimmers wearing polyurethane suits, FINA ultimately did not choose to differentiate or nullify the records.5

After they emerged, and during the debates surrounding their regulation, polyurethane suits were frequently disparaged by swimmers and FINA regulators as akin to "doping on a hanger."6 Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Rebecca Adlington commented of the suits, "I would never in a million years take a drug to help me, so why would I wear a suit just to improve my performance? It's just not who I am." However, Adlington continued to wear the suits until the ban took effect in order to remain competitive among her peers.7

Improved technology has produced mixed consequences when applied to swimming and other sports. On one end of the spectrum, technology can be used in any sport to enforce rules with a previously impossible degree of precision. Sideline replays and other new technologies aimed at improving accuracy8 can reduce referee discretion, decreasing the risk of match-fixing and generally improving fairness in competition. However, as the swimming community observed after the introduction of polyurethane suits, modern technology that provides athletes with too great an advantage can ultimately threaten the nature of competition.

The respective battles to limit doping in sport and polyurethane in swimming have been characterized as battles of ideals. In order for the nature of sport to be preserved, some argue, outcomes must be determined by perseverance and training combined with a "certain levels of biological luck."9 The importance of training and skill is threatened by the presence of mechanisms to create artificial improvement. In this sense, both extreme swimsuit technology improvements and doping can give advantages to athletes with less talent and experience. The prevalence of artificial improvements has compelled elite and recreational athletes to see the technologies as a "necessary part of the route to achieve success."10

In this struggle to preserve the nature of sport, the similarities between the harms created through doping in sports and the use of polyurethane swimsuits in competition are readily appar ent. Accordingly, both have been monitored and regulated by international organizations due to their respective impacts on the integrity of sports. However, there is one major difference between doping and the polyurethane swimsuit: the former is still a headline in international sports news while the latter has been completely out of use for years.

The goal of this Note is to compare the international doping problem and the polyurethane swimsuit ban and then to ascertain how the successful FINA regulatory paradigm might be applied to the international anti-doping regime. Upon realizing polyurethane swimsuits stood to radically change swimming, FINA implemented regulation that swiftly and successfully eradicated the problem. In contrast, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the international organization charged with eradicating doping in sport, has yet to effectively control athletic doping. …

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