ABU DHABI // More than four years after the death of open-water star Fran Crippen, swimming’s international governing body plans to hold a World Cup race in the UAE.
But USA Swimming has opposed the March 13 event in Abu Dhabi, saying it was "disappointed" that Fina, swimming's world governing body, decided to return to the country where Crippen died during a Fujairah race in October 2010.
American swimmers could still choose to compete in the 10-kilometre race but their national organisation will not provide any financial assistance or support staff, making it highly unlikely that any US athlete will make the trip.
“The US swimming family is still mourning the death of Fran Crippen,” said Chuck Wielgus, the executive director of USA Swimming.
The organisation said it had “no plans to support or send athletes to the UAE for this event”.
A post-mortem examination found that 26-year-old Crippen died from drowning and heat exhaustion, although it did not exclude other factors.
As a result of organisational shortcomings, no one noticed initially when the Philadelphia swimmer disappeared. His body was found by divers two hours later.
Fina defended the decision to put Abu Dhabi on the World Cup calendar, saying it would be unfair to bar the UAE from ever hosting another open-water race.
“We cannot banish a federation for life,” executive director Cornel Marculescu said on Thursday.
He emphasised that the March event was dependant on there being no issues at a test event in February, which is restricted to local swimmers and will be held under the supervision of Fina’s open-water technical committee.
“If that goes well,” Mr Marculescu said, “then we will have the world series event in March.”
While many swimmers complained that oppressive heat contributed to Crippen’s death, Mr Marculescu said that it was not ruled out that a heart abnormality or “uncontrolled exercise-induced asthma” in unfavourable race conditions could have been factors.
“Even today, we don’t know why he died,” Mr Marculescu said.
As for USA Swimming’s decision to skip the event, he added: “It’s up to them. It’s not mandatory to compete.”
After an investigation into Crippen's death, Fina said there was an "urgent need" to improve safety standards in the gruelling sport, which includes races ranging from five to 25 kilometres in distance, held on natural courses such as oceans, harbours and lakes.
* Associated Press