Dangerous FINA rules on water temperature

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  • MunatonesMunatones Charter Member
    Yes, I have read the study conducted by the University of Otago. I was shocked when I read that document. After reading this study, I shared my deep concerns with the executives of USA Swimming and dozens of other leading influence-makers around the world.

    Not one executive from USA Swimming or any other national governing body responded to my requests for their attention to this matter. When executives at the leading national governing bodies affiliated with FINA do not pay attention to such matters, then FINA's Executive Director can pass any legislation he wants.

    My perspective is the same as yours.

    I had to dive into the water at the 2011 FINA World Swimming Championships to help a German athlete to shore. She was in an obvious hyperthermic state when I reached her - blotchy skin, dry heaving, legs at a 45 degree angle to the water, labored breathing, eyes rolling back. I dove in and pulled her to the nearest dock about 350 meters away. I am the first to admit that my actions were not heroic in any sense; they were simply humanitarian. It was shocking to me that this young athlete was allowed to swim alone so far in such heat in such a state. The German coach knew his athlete was in trouble and had alerted me via radio so I directed an escort boat to her and found her to be in a very bad way. This was the same day in Shanghai that many world-class swimmers could not complete the race.

    But I was severely criticized by FINA for these actions and my post-race complaints. I had voiced my opinion about the absurdity of conducting a 25 km race in 31+ degree C water, especially on a cloudless day with little wind and air temperature over 35 degrees C. I received was a threat of disciplinary action by FINA for voicing my opinion.

    There is much more to this story, but I am hopeful that national governing body administrators put pressure on FINA to change these rules. They are the only ones with influence to change what FINA's Executive Director wants. Athletes like world champion Thomas Lurz and Alex Meyer and Linsy Heister have complained, but FINA has ignored them. Coaches have complained, but FINA has ignored them. The only ones with the real ability to change are the politically-savvy administrators with influence within the halls of FINA. But I fear that the study in New Zealand gives FINA all the justification (legal and operational) to keep its new rules.

    Thank you very much for pointing this out.

    Here is my perspective - you and I are exactly on the same page here:

    Steven Munatones www.worldopenwaterswimmingassociation.com Huntington Beach, California, U.S.A.

  • So no more ows races in England, are water is always below 16c
  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member
    Steve -

    Can you provide a link to the actual document that the University of Otago produced?


    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member
    edited October 2012
    Niek said:

    Hypothetical situation:
    They measure the temp 2 hours before the start and it's 31°C
    That's within the allowed range so the race goes on.
    No more measurements are done till 1 hour in the race. Sun keeps blazing and in 3 hours time it's now 36°C
    O boy it's to high lets wait another 30 minutes ( meanwhile the temp rises another 1-2 degrees).
    Oké we stop the race the temp is to high.
    Meanwhile the swimmers have been swimming in too high temperatures for 1h 30m
    The starting temp of 31°C is allready to high to begin with and the times between the measurements are too long apart.

    Does anyone find a fault in my hypotheses?
    Does anyone know something about the specialized University of Otago (NZL)

    Water has a pretty high heat capacity, I'd be impressed to see a 5C rise in 3 hours in any body of water large enough to run a 10km swim in purely from solar heating...

    http://notdrowningswimming.com - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • Talk about the cold. 16c is toastie. There are no British open water swims that ever get this warm. Will Fina ban the 21 mile Loch Lomond approx 14c (or make us wear wet suits)? Two way Windermere the same? Even the 8 mile Torbay sea swim only gets to 15c if you are lucky. We could schedule all of them for August/Sept that might help the temps reach the minimum legal level.
  • ZoeSadlerZoeSadler Charter Member
    edited October 2012
    Haydn said:

    Talk about the cold. 16c is toastie. There are no British open water swims that ever get this warm.

    I'm afraid that I disagree on that.
    BLDSA Windermere 1 way (10.5 miles/16.9K) on 1st Sept 2012 - the water temp was announced as 17C.
    10K at Dorney Lake on 27 May 2012 - the water temp was 19C and it was also a very sunny day (one of the few we've had this year!).

    There were also the 10K races at the Olympic Games at the Serpentine in August, which I believe were around 19C-20C.
  • Agreed, but most are colder. But if Fina ban wetsuits and ban racing under 16c, then how do they expect swimmers to train for a 17c swim. I assume they will expect us to train in a wetsuit, otherwise the much more extensive training becomes more dangerous for than the one off swim. Most swimmers in the uk are quite happy training and racing in sub 15c.
  • MunatonesMunatones Charter Member
    The study is a confidential document that FINA will not publicly release. However, it is currently supported by the FINA Sports Medicine Committee.

    I believe there are 2 issues at hand: hyperthermia and hypothermia.

    Regarding hypothermia (i.e., the lower end of 16C), this level is not really an issue for any FINA-sanctioned swim with the possible exception in some years at the Traversee internationale du lac St-Jean (the cross-lake swim that Dave Barra did to bring attention to this forum back in July). FINA sanctions only 16 races around the world (refer to http://dailynews.openwaterswimming.com/2012/10/fina-professional-marathon-swimming.html). This is their only jurisdiction. 15 of these races can be defined as comfortably warm (as least from the perspective of most of the swimmers in this forum and usually never drop near 16C). FINA does not extend its rules to non-sanctioned races, privately organized events or events that are under the jurisdiction of various domestic governing bodies (e.g., British Swimming, BLDSA). So there will be no banning of wetsuits or banning of racing under 16C with the possible exception of the pro race at the Traversee internationale du lac St-Jean in Roberval, Quebec, Canada.

    Regarding hyperthermia (i.e., the higher end of 31C), this level does not really seem to be an issue among swimmers, coaches or administrators with a few isolated exceptions. A very senior USA Swimming representative wrote privately yesterday that the FINA rules are consistent with the USA Swimming rules.* His implication was that there are no unsafe practices currently implied by any FINA or USA Swimming rules. Besides this forum and a few isolated discussion amongst experienced swimmers, there has been zero outcry - or even mild complaints - from swimmers, coaches or administrators about this new rule that was distributed by FINA worldwide. While I strongly believe racing for up to 30 minutes in water over 31C is dangerous and unnecessarily adding risk to a sport with inherent risks, it appears that many (or most) of the aquatic community differs in their opinion.

    It would not be the first time that my opinion on open water swimming differs from many (or most) people.

    What is telling to me is that if any pool water temperature is increased even slightly, swimming coaches and competitive swimmers complain that the "water is too hot". If the water goes from 27C to 28C in a pool, performance suffers and competitive pool swimmers complain to no end to their coaches. However, when the venue is open water, FINA and USA Swimming are talking about racing for hours on end in 31C, but no one complains?

    * I personally believe there is a difference between FINA and USA Swimming rules, according to the rule editions that I have. However, this senior USA Swimming representative said the rules were the same and that FINA's rules were taken "almost verbatim" from USA Swimming rules.

    Steven Munatones www.worldopenwaterswimmingassociation.com Huntington Beach, California, U.S.A.

  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Mem​ber
    Steve @Munatones, I imagine most here agree with you. Conditioned to various grades of cold as we are, I think we have near universal agreement that too hot is also dangerous purely from our own experiences of trying to maintain the ability to swim in temperatures ranging from %C on the low end to low 30C's. Once person's experience is an anedote, and multiples are only anecdata, but the anecdata amongst most of us has the cut off probably between 30 & 31C and only that high because public pools are always too high. I cannot swim for more than 15 mins in a pool once it reaches 31C, but can do multiple-hour pool sessions at 29/30 (not because I choose to, but because I have to). That one degree increase seems to be the tipping point.

    I find it regularly extraordinary that the swimmers are not listened to by FINA to when the matter is actual safety. But didn't Formula One regularly ignore safety until they'd had enough deaths to force them to improve?

    A FINA race judge told me that at one of the Circuit events 2 years ago, FINA officials stopped measuring two hours before the event, when the water was at the limit, and did not continue testing in case it rose over the limit. The objections of both FINA race judges were over-ridden.


  • IronMikeIronMike BostonCharter Member
    Thanks for that perspective @Munatones.

    I don't think anything will be done until all or most of the pros refuse to race. Didn't Alex Meyer do that?

    RIP Fran.

    Please join the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation on FB!

  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member
    Just thinking out loud here...

    FINA seems absolutely unwilling to back down on this despite the fact that anyone with more than half a brain knows that this is a dangerous practice. That begs the question of why they are so adamant in sticking to it. I wonder how much of the refusal to change has to do with the MONEY that some of the race locations (e.g oil-rich middle east countries) can bring to bear but also are the places most likely to have higher water temperatures. If that is the case, then are they worried that if they lose those races there will be no replacements available or is there a darker reason such as something going on under the table with these sites?

    Just sayin'...


    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • MunatonesMunatones Charter Member
    Leonard, thank you very much for asking that question. The pressure to keep this new rule quiet and under the table is tremendous. The criticism from FINA of those who ask questions of this new rule continue. When FINA quietly added this rule (10 days before the London Olympics), there was no public complaint or disagreement from any of the representatives of the 202 national governing bodies who knew of this rule. There is significant pressure upon FINA members to not publicly complain. A public complaint or questioning is most assuredly a proven way to lose one's status and committee position within FINA.

    FINA does not allow pool events to be conducted in water greater than 28C. This is written in its rule book. I also know that when the water temperature is approaching 31C, the air temperature is at least that high. Where it gets dangerous is the cumulative effects of warm water + warm air + intense competition + lack of hydration + the survival mentality of athletes who push themselves beyond limits that would normally stop ("regular") individuals.

    It is disturbing to me that Fran Crippen died in temperatures that were not as high as FINA is now allowing. That is, although there was a death in a FINA-sanctioned race, FINA legislated rules that are even MORE extreme. That is highly unusual in the world of sports. In fact, I cannot imagine another sport that is trying to improve safety, takes a certain set of conditions (e.g., those in Dubai that led to Fran Crippen's death) and then legislates even more inhospitable conditions.

    I agree that what FINA and other governing bodies have legislated as new safety rules since Fran's death are responsible and necessary. Good for them and great for the athletes. The remaining problem is this new 31C rule.

    Coaches, administrators and athletes lobbied about FINA's swimsuit rules a few years ago. It was a global outcry and FINA responded. FINA changed its rules based on the global opinion that it faced.

    This same lobbying effort is non-existent regarding a new FINA rule that is most definitely a safety issue. While I understand there are many people who CAN swim for several hours in 29/30C water (e.g., LoneSwimmer), this does not mean it is safe for all competitors to swim for several hours in 29-31C water when the air is at least that warm under cloudless skies while competing intensely for medals and money.

    FINA made this point at its 2011 World Championships in Shanghai. FINA said that the top swimmers had "no problems" in the 25K race in water that was warmer than 31C. What they ignored were the dozens of other athletes who had to be pulled from the event or who voluntarily pulled out because they knew their own limits. If FINA gears its safety rules to the abilities of the best athletes at most extreme (e.g., Lewis Pugh or Lynne Cox on the low end or Petar Stoychev or Ana Marcela Cunha on the high end), they are going to face many problems for less capable athletes.

    While FINA and other administrators at the governing bodies around the world are critical of my position and others with similar opinions, we are focused on the overall safety of everyone in the sport. And, frankly, 31C is simply not within the safety umbrella for anyone, let allow everyone.

    Steven Munatones www.worldopenwaterswimmingassociation.com Huntington Beach, California, U.S.A.

  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member
    Some more thinking out loud:

    1) From 1982-1991 I was a member of the US Olympic Committee - I was the head of the scientific computing group and for a good part of that time was also second in command of the Sports Science and Medicine Division. In my experience, if something as clearly insane as FINA's 31 degree rule was being so ferociously protected, it was ALWAYS because there was self-interest involved. Usually it was about trips, privileges, association with a sport/athlete, or access to events. Back then amateurism was fading, but was still strong enough to keep money issues as secondary. Now, with open professionalism being the norm, the amount of money floating around has to be vastly more and tainting any number of decisions. See the current mess with the International Cycling Union for a good example.

    2) If the report that the New Zealand university produced is not publicly available, then it can not be held up to peer review. This is the basis of all VALID scientific research. Moreover, since its (supposed) conclusions are being implemented as a matter of public policy, the researchers themselves should release it if only to protect their own reputations and shield themselves from culpability. If nothing else, that is what websites like wikileaks are for. Damn the legal mumbo-jumbo about ownership of the study, just do the right thing.

    3) Is this rule (and the secret study's release) something that can be attacked proactively in a venue like the Court for Sports Arbitration or even the World Court? (I'm no legal eagle and, as I said, I'm thinking out loud.)

    The more I subject this to the "sniff test", the more it smells fishy.


    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • MunatonesMunatones Charter Member
    Leonard, you ask excellent questions that I am unable to answer out of ignorance. However, the new FINA rules were passed reportedly without the review, recommendation or approval of the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee. It is unclear whether or not the FINA Sports Medicine Committee also reviewed or discussed the rules. No one is allowed to discuss this issue publicly. The rules were passed with the approval of the FINA Bureau 10 days before the Olympics. The FINA Bureau are 22 members who decide all rules, regulations, protocols and procedures for the 5 aquatic disciplines (including open water swimming).

    Because no members of the FINA Bureau, FINA Sports Medicine Committee or FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee are allowed to speak or express a private opinion publicly or privately, the information and background of these new rules are a closely guarded secret. If a member expresses their opinion publicly, the threat of discipline is always there. Expression of a private opinion leads to that committee member being asked to appear in front of the FINA Disciplinary Panel which, I understand, is the next step to either (a) asking for a resignation, or (b) expulsion from FINA.

    So the public, the media, the athletes and the coaches will never know why this rule was put in place. FINA will not explain themselves and no committee member will do so either. If FINA and its members can discuss and debate the equipment that water polo players use, if they can discuss and debate the swimsuits that swimmers wear, if they can discuss and debate the scoring systems used by synchonized swimmers and divers, I am frustrated because FINA will not discuss and few outside this forum's members will discuss the inherent safety issues of racing in 31C water under even warmer air temperatures and solar radiation.

    FINA claims these conditions are safe, but the athletes and coaches know factually that it is not safe and that many around the world have had serious health problems racing in these temperatures and an unfortunate few have died.

    Steven Munatones www.worldopenwaterswimmingassociation.com Huntington Beach, California, U.S.A.

  • IronMikeIronMike BostonCharter Member
    Cowards. That's what I think of the FINA bureau.

    And I repeat: the swimmers have all the power.

    Please join the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation on FB!

  • Dear forum members,

    The International Society of Swimming Coaching is developing guidelines for open water swimming in regards to thermoregulation, the topic being discussed here. We would like official submissions made via admin@isosc.org

    We will bring about change in health and safety when competing.
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    What is the International Society of Swimming Coaching?
  • Bumping this thread as it has been now three years since Fran Crippen's death and there's still a very dangerous rule on the books with no publicly researched scientific backing, amid a lot of protest.
  • So much for them distributing the research. :/
  • IronMikeIronMike BostonCharter Member
    Probably too late (maybe not), but there's a study going on in the UK on body temperature while swimming. The study "may influence temperature guidelines for future swimming events..."

    Our fellow swimmers in the UK may want to take part. They'll provide coffee tea and biscuits. Yum. Biscuits.

    Here's the link from H2Open: http://h2openmagazine.com/news/volunteers-needed-swimming-and-sunlight-study#sthash.Lg5ooX6N.dpbs

    RIP Fran Crippen.

    Please join the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation on FB!

  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Mem​ber
    @IronMike, those aren't biscuits, they are scones. Biscuits are cookies.


  • IronMikeIronMike BostonCharter Member
    @loneswimmer. I know. It was humor. (I mean, humour.) ;)

    Please join the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation on FB!

  • JenAJenA Charter Member
    @IronMike: I see you've got your spelling issues sorted out... ;-)
  • IronMikeIronMike BostonCharter Member
    @JenA, certainluy, I've got the funny Britiush spelling aull figuured out.

    Please join the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation on FB!

  • JenAJenA Charter Member
    edited July 2014
    @IronMike: I think by "Britiush", you really mean "everyone else in the world, except the Americans..."


  • jnewton116jnewton116 SingaporeMember

    I hope this hasn't been brought up elsewhere and I simply missed it, but regulations are meaningless if they aren't followed.

    The Asian Open Water Swimming Championships were held at Lake Putrajaya in Malaysia a couple weeks ago and the 10km race was allowed to proceed despite the water being measured over the max temp.


    I find this to be absolutely unconscionable.

  • nitelingniteling Victoria, BC, CanadaMember

    This may be naive, but what is a measurement interval measured in hours even doing in a modern standard?

    Technology is cheap and plentiful; measure it continuously, and if it's near the limit, have temperature probes hanging off the sides of escort boats near the swimmers.

    The way the standard is worded makes it sound like thermometers cost $10000 and there will only be a single thermometer on site on race day. This is silly.

  • Kate_AlexanderKate_Alexander Spring Lake, MichiganMember

    31c is way too hot for me. I swim in very warm water year round, am acclimatized to it, and I can only stand 28c (83F). Also, I'm a slow swimmer. I can't imagine a top athlete burning calories at the rate they do being able to swim in 31c water.

    Is there any where in the world where the temp never drops below 31 during the year?

  • IronMikeIronMike BostonCharter Member

    Kate_Alexander said:

    Is there any where in the world where the temp never drops below 31 during the year?

    Maybe Dubai?

    Please join the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation on FB!

  • nitelingniteling Victoria, BC, CanadaMember

    IronMike said:

    Kate_Alexander said:

    Is there any where in the world where the temp never drops below 31 during the year?

    Maybe Dubai?

    Nope: https://www.seatemperature.org/middle-east/united-arab-emirates/dubai-december.htm

    says it's 27.6 C there right now. Oman is higher than 31, but it was cooler earlier in the month:


    If there is somewhere that stays 31+, I'd guess it would have to be a large shallow inlet or lake or something. Maybe something like the Salton Sea (https://what-if.xkcd.com/152/), if it were closer to the equator, or something with a hot spring maybe?

  • brunobruno Barcelona (Spain)Member

    Never expected to see XKCD linked here! :))

    What I find odd is that, when talking about cold water, we always pair it to air temperature and wind (water at 10ºC being very different with air at 5ºC or at 15ºC, etc.). But you never hear the same reasoning with warm (hot?) water. And I think that, obviously, the same applies, doesn't it?

  • nitelingniteling Victoria, BC, CanadaMember

    bruno said: What I find odd is that, when talking about cold water, we always pair it to air temperature and wind (water at 10ºC being very different with air at 5ºC or at 15ºC, etc.). But you never hear the same reasoning with warm (hot?) water. And I think that, obviously, the same applies, doesn't it?

    Maybe it's to do with which direction you want your body temperature to go after you get out? i.e. in cold air & water, your body temperature's recovery direction is "up" and cold air and wet fabric are a hindrance to that (and worse / more dangerous the colder the air temperature), but in warm air and water you're presumably running your body close to overheating and want your temperature to go down, and cooling with wet fabric and airflow is probably helpful regardless of the air temperature.

  • jnewton116jnewton116 SingaporeMember
    edited June 2017

    bruno said: Never expected to see XKCD linked here! :))

    What I find odd is that, when talking about cold water, we always pair it to air temperature and wind (water at 10ºC being very different with air at 5ºC or at 15ºC, etc.). But you never hear the same reasoning with warm (hot?) water. And I think that, obviously, the same applies, doesn't it?

    USA Swimming combined air and water temp limits in a 2011 ruling:

    The air temperature and water temperature when added together shall not be less than 30 degrees C nor greater than 63 degrees C

    I don't know if this is still in effect.

    Earlier this year I had a swim at that same lake in Putrajaya and the combined air and water temp was very close to 63C. It. Was. Miserable. I got rib cramps, leg cramps, and had to swim with a water bottle shoved in my suit between my shoulder blades because the water stops weren't frequent enough. Race organizers provided only water after the race, no electrolytes, and none of it was chilled. I found my friend on the floor of the showers after the race, unable to stand.

    It's not enough to simply have a rule, it actually has to be enforced. Everything has inherent risks, but willfully disregarding those risks and ignoring the personal safety of participants is outrageous.

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