FINA, the international governing body for aquatic sports, has come under fire from USA Swimming for setting a fixed maximum water temperature for open water events that does not meet US standards introduced after the death of American swimmer Fran Crippen in 2010.
During its meeting in Barcelona this week, where the 2013 World Championships get under way tomorrow, FINA agreed to set an upper limit of 31 degrees Celcius for open water events, compared with the 29.45 Celsius set by USA Swimming for domestic competitions.
FINA had previously suggested a 30 degrees Celsius upper limit, but amended it following a study carried out by the University of Otago in New Zealand, in collaboration with FINA, the International Olympic Committee and the International Triathlon Union.
Cornel Marculescu, executive director of FINA said: "They told us 31 and that’s what we decided on. It’s not a matter of being happy or not happy. It was a scientific study and that’s what we are following."
But USA Swimming said it had asked its athletes to consider not competing in events outside of USA.
In a statement, the domestic governing body said: "The safety of our athletes is extremely important to USA Swimming. When it comes to international open water competition, we would advise our athletes not to compete if the water temperature is above 29.45°C degrees.
"If the athlete does decide to swim, USA Swimming will ask them to sign a waiver and release. That being said, our onsite staff will carry out their normal roles as long as US athletes are competing regardless of conditions."
Crippen, a world championship bronze medallist, died after losing consciousness in a 10-kilometre open water swimming World Cup race in Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates in October 2010. He was the first swimmer to die in an open water race overseen by FINA.
Doctors said that Crippen’s death was caused by severe fatigue but police investigated the incident amid claims that the hot conditions might have been a contributory factor.
The organisers stated that the water temperatures were 30 degrees Celsius although some of the swimmers claimed that they were actually 10 degrees higher and complained about the lack of shade at the course, given the desert location.
There has long been a rule that water temperatures for open water swimming should be no lower than 16 degrees Celsius, but there had previously been no upper limit.