(ATR) Athlete safety in the grueling open water swim events must be given more attention, says a scathing report from a FINA task force investigating the death of 26-year-old U.S. swimmer Fran Crippen last October.
The 59 recommendations provided by the aquatics federation in its report cover all aspects of the discipline.
The task force notes the presence of the open water swim on the Olympic program requires that attention to athlete safety must be paramount.
"It is the opinion of the Task Force that there is an urgent need for an organizational commitment to athlete safety as a top priority," the report reads. The final statement calls to "update and amend the Rules and Regulations of Open Water Swimming to keep up with the sport as it moves forward as an Olympic sport."
Marathon swimming joined the Olympic program at the Beijing Olympics.
Crippen was swimming at the Fujairah Open Swimming World Cup event in the United Arab Emirates when he died.
The FINA Task Force wrote that "a multitude of factors" may have played a role in his death, the first ever in a FINA event.
Although little evidence was found of medical issues, the report said "cardiac abnormality" and "uncontrolled exercise-induced asthma in unfavorable race environmental conditions" may also have been factors.
Water too hot for the event is believed to have been a safety issue in Fujairah.
Crippen’s body was found a few hundred meters away from the finish line in waters that were unusually warm. The FINA report expressed doubts about temperature measurements reported by the organizers.
Organizational problems with the event were also cited as problematic.
Originally scheduled for the neighboring emirate of Sharjah, just days before the race was supposed to take place it was moved to Fujairah. The sudden move is believed to be unprecedented, said to have been made because the new venue was better for the race.
FINA’s task force reports that "the set FINA Rules and Regulations were not followed at the Fujairah event. In this regard the Task Force Concludes that there were rules which were overlooked or inadequately fulfilled by the UAE Organising Committee, especially rules that were related to the safety of the competitors."
Part of the blame rests on FINA’s shoulders as "a lack of thorough oversight of implementation of rules by the FINA Technical Delegate" exacerbated problems.
A technical delegate from Lithuania was said to have been wandering around following the race, when Crippen’s whereabouts were still unknown.
"He did not respond to the emergency situation as would be expected from the official FINA Technical Delegate" the report said.
When Crippen was discovered missing, a "chaotic" scene erupted.
Saying there was "no coordinated effort" for the search, FINA’s task force wrote "a general panic started to unfold".Individual swimmers reportedly conducted their own search efforts.
Mistakenly, an early assumption was made that Crippen had returned to his hotel room, despite his gear still being at the race site.
ATR’s source says the Lithuanian director has not had any assignments since the fatal race and is being "quietly dropped" from FINA rosters.
Officials at the event were also reportedly slow to act on Crippen’s disappearance and ill-prepared. The report says there were fewer lifeguards on duty than what the organizing committee claimed, and the ones who were there lacked equipment and adequate training.
While the recommendations of the task force have yet to be adopted by FINA, last weekend’s World Cup event in Santos, Brazil was staged with a new awareness of athlete safety.
"Athlete safety is new ‘Job One’" says a source familiar with the race.
Recommendations from the FINA report include a call for a safety officer with the authority to call off a race if inadequate safety procedures are in place.
Another recommendation calls for the organizer to pay travel and hotel costs of every competitor in the event of a cancellation, which is a "big financial incentive to have everything the way it should be," says the report.
USA Swimming released its report on Crippen’s death last week, prior to the FINA report. The USA Swimming report also emphasized a greater need for swimmer safety.
Among the recommendations for future events are swimmer monitoring mechanisms and the ability to reach each athlete during the competition, as well as minimum and maximum temperatures for water.
USA Swimming proposed that if the water temperature is below 16 degrees C, no race can be held and if the water is above 31 degrees C for races of more than 5km no race can be held. If air and water temperatures combined are less than 30 degrees Celsius no competition can take place and if the temperatures exceed 63, the race cannot start.
The U.S. Open Swimming championships were proposed for Florida but USA Swimming will re-evaluate the venue.
"Previously scheduled for Fort Myers in June, concerns have arisen regarding potentially warm water temperature in Fort Myers."
Written by Ed Hula III.