UNTIL recently the World Underwater Federation, or CMAS, had two official languages, French and English, with growing demand to add Spanish as a third.
The deliberations of its Technical Committee were always conducted in English, because the overwhelming majority of participants were English-speaking.
Then, suddenly, the Executive Bureau decided to revert to a single language - French. Does that sound to you like a developing international body, ready to burst into the new millennium
In December last year the British Sub-Aqua Club was expelled from CMAS on the grounds that its overseas activities, including the training of divers in countries outside the UK under the Club's overseas branch and schools network, contravened its rules.
The BSAC maintains that the expulsion contradicts the rules of the CMAS constitution and is out of step with modern international sport-diving practices, but its appeals were rejected.
What, many people wondered, would Club members lose by being out of CMAS? My long decades of involvement with the organisation lead me to a clear conclusion, but make up your own minds as you read the story...


The Tower of Babel

IT WAS long ago at a BSAC AGM that Oscar Gugen announced that he had just returned from a meeting in Monaco of a newly formed body that would be called CMAS (Confederation Mondiale des Activites Subaquatiques). He said the BSAC had become a founder-member, along with a dozen or so other countries.
We heard little more until it was announced in 1962 that the BSAC would host a worldwide conference to be associated with a CMAS General Assembly. The list of speakers included Hans Hass and Jacques Cousteau.
Thanks to the organising abilities of the BSAC, this historic event went off smoothly. Cousteau made his Manfish speech, and acquaintances were struck up with divers from around the world.
In 1973 an even bigger event, Oceans 2000, was staged by the BSAC in support of a CMAS General Assembly. I got involved in the organising team.
This was my first real contact with the CMAS Technical Committee. I was asked to keep an eye on the debate that was supposed to lead to the introduction of the 4 Star Diver Equivalence and the acceptance of BSAC First Class Diver as the first CMAS 4 Star Diver.

The I was astounded by the chaos and confusion I encountered. This was truly diving's Tower of Babel, and it was hard to believe that everyone in the meeting understood the problem under discussion. Half believed that First Class was a new grade designed to replace instructors, and they were ready to veto it. It took a lot of chatting in the tea-break to correct these misunderstandings.
Oceans 2000 and its associated Scientific Conference was, however, an outstanding event. Later General Assemblies I attended were pale imitations of the London events, and some were unacceptable on an organisational level.
I'll never forget the Cancun event, when the Mexican Navy offered all the delegates a break from meetings to go for a dive to a nearby island on a navy vessel.
We boarded the coaches after breakfast and set off for the rendezvous. It was dusk by the time we entered the water. We were supposed to return in time for the closing banquet, but made it in time only for a hasty meal at a youth hostel.


Struggling in Paris
IN 1973 I was asked to be President of the CMAS Training and Techniques Commission. After seven years as BSAC National Training Officer, it seemed appropriate to be able to keep an eye on the international implications of what we had been developing. There might even be a chance of picking up useful information and advice from other CMAS members.
For me this was the start of some 20 years of dealing with CMAS. Other Brits involved at that time were Colin McCleod, an elected member of the Executive Bureau (BE); Nic Fleming, President of the Scientific Committee; Reg Vallintine, who was appointed Secretary of the Technical Committee and was an elected BE member for a period; and Ron Jacobs representing British spearfishing. Deric Ellerby joined the BSAC team at CMAS later as an elected BE member.

A The first meeting I attended at the Paris headquarters reminded me of those romantic tales of struggling artists in damp Parisian garrets. This was supposed to be the leading world body for diving, but it was housed in a couple of rooms above a nightclub.
CMAS survived here until President Pierre Perraud decided it was time to look for better premises.
He found them in another part of Paris and struggled to get help from the French government, but in the end was able to make the move only by lending CMAS a good part of the price from his own pocket. This decision later backfired on him, as various individuals tried to make political pie out of his supportive act.
The Secretary of CMAS at the time, another Frenchman, disappeared from sight later in circumstances that make President Clinton look like a saint.
The election of the current President, Achille Ferrero - previously President of the Sports Committee and Spearfishing Commission - led to the proposition to move the HQ to Italy. CMAS is now housed in the offices of the Italian Olympic Committee in Rome, which provides the premises, facilities and a few staff members.
Over this period there were many moments of frustration, as the smallest step forward seemed to present a diplomatic or organisational mountain. Our BSAC background had not prepared us for the slowness in thinking and planning that we were to find in CMAS.


Missed chances
AS we understood it, we were not so much BSAC representatives at CMAS events as officers of CMAS working for the general good of the organisation. This was a role that we carried out at least as energetically as any other non-representatives seated around the table.
The In my Training Commission role I discovered that many federations were short of good training material. It was decided to produce a series of flip-charts for classroom use with good-quality artwork that could be supplied with or without the captions in different languages. I commissioned no less an artist than Rico to design the first three, which I delivered to the Paris HQ, ready for printing.
At the next meeting I brought the next three designs and expected to see the first three printed and ready. I was horrified to find that the artwork had been lost.
I also found that there were no funds to print the charts, even though they would have sold at an acceptable profit. So another good idea went on to the pile.
A little later CMAS decided it should have a diving manual, and the Technical Committee asked the BSAC if it would consider producing a publication based on the BSAC Sport Diving manual.
An agreement was drawn up and signed by the CMAS President, and a suitably modified manual produced.
There was no question of CMAS being able to fund this, and it was with a certain air of sacrifice that the BSAC made this gesture of aid.
Since that day the number of copies sold by CMAS has been negligible, demonstrating little attempt to honour its obligation.
A basic lack of understanding of business was at the core of many missed opportunities and, together with the idea that diving was a sport and should be supported by governments, this led to desperate financial times.
I recall a meeting at which the Treasurer distributed a set of accounts. At best sketchy, they indicated to me an organisation that would not be allowed to continue trading if based in the UK.



Two sides
CMAS has always relied on subsidy from a host nation. For many years this was France, and the burden is now carried by the Italian Olympic Committee. So it seemed appropriate to propose, from time to time, projects that might help to make CMAS self-supporting.
I presented a proposition to allow CMAS to recognise diving schools in territories that had no member-federation, so that it could sell its certification cards directly through them. The President, Jacques Dumas, rejected the idea. He said it was not in CMAS's line of business.
Ten years on he suddenly had the idea himself, so I dusted the proposal off and put it back on the table, and the OCC school recognition system was born.

CMAS For years there had been little demand, other than from certain frequent travellers, for CMAS cards. They were relatively costly considering that they confirmed only what you already had, so I drew up a plan to put the CMAS details on the back of the national card.
This would be known as a double-sided card, and would cost the issuing federation far less than the previous one.
My proposition recognised that the CMAS share of a vastly increased number of cards would greatly boost its revenue. To encourage it, the BSAC drew up the first contract to issue double-sided cards. The system proved a great success and is currently CMAS's only cash cow.
It has since become a rule that federations must issue double-sided cards only, although this seems not to be acceptable to CMAS management in the case of BSAC overseas members.



Failing the test
THE BSAC was perhaps a little early in adopting continuous-evaluation teaching methods over the examinations favoured in Latin countries.
It is so much easier to devise a system of tests and barriers to sort the men from the boys, and present this to divers as the path to higher qualification.
However, the Technical Committee accepted that it was time to revise the system and, with a couple of Scandinavian colleagues, I revised the Training Programme and Standards & Requirements blue books.
These documents offered a more objective approach to diver training, minimising reliance on quantative performance measurement. This was seen as a significant step forward, and the books were printed and distributed in English. There was great resistance to printing them in other languages, as it would oblige everyone to follow the guidance given.
We had decided not to fix the number of dives required for 1 Star Diver, as it was considered more important to describe the knowledge and skills necessary. These levels were intended only to establish equivalence with national certificates, so it was vital that they could be translated into national terms, with all the complications that can arise.
To demonstrate CMAS's poor grasp of this concept, a late-night meeting of the Technical Committee at a general Assembly at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, voted to insist on a minimum of five dives. It was simply easier than evaluating the diver's skills.



A shaky federation
THE notion that each sovereign country has a governing federation is at the core of the CMAS structure. In this simplistic model each federation sends its representatives to a meeting of the Confederation, and there you have the United Nations of Diving.
But how many countries can claim to have such an all-powerful representative federation Certainly not France or Italy, and probably not the UK either. So it becomes difficult to move on to the second stage of forbidding any member-body to operate in the territory of another member. In Europe it is even against the law to so restrict trade.
Almost from its conception the BSAC has been international in its influence, with branches spread about the globe. This very point was written into the CMAS statutes at one time, defending the BSAC's right to serve its members wherever they might be.
This tight structure of national federations was blown out of the water by CMAS's signing last year of an agreement to recognise PADI certificates.
Once you recognise one international body's certificates, why not open the door to everybody After all, the main aim is that trained divers should be able to travel freely and have their qualification recognised wherever they drop their dive bag.
During the past 20 years the question was often raised as to whether staying in CMAS was compatible with the development of the BSAC. The choices were either to continue to participate positively, to remain passive members, or to leave.
Passive membership would have left us with all the disadvantages of being subject to CMAS regulation, but with no participation in decisions - definitely not our style. Active membership would involve the costs of participation, but perhaps we would be able to help produce tangible advantages for our members.
We lived in hope that one day this organisation would be injected with new life and move forward again. But the signs from recent meetings, as in the decision to make French the official language, gave little hope of that.



Best ambassadors
SO what do we lose by being expelled Little of value. We can be justifiably proud of the BSACs reputation in the diving world, and need not worry if we occasionally find a dive guide in a far-flung spot who has heard of no organisation other than the one that sold him his C-card.
At the recent DEMA Show in California US instructors came to the BSAC stand to ask for information, having recently had BSAC divers at their centre. One asked to do an instructor cross-over; he said he wanted to be a part of an organisation that produced such good divers. Our divers are our best ambassadors.
Now that the Club is unfettered by CMAS regulations, it can develop as it sees fit, and not in a way that meets with the approval of the Argentinians, Russians, or whoever.
The BSAC has been getting it right for long enough, and can only do better given the freedom to act in a way that best benefits BSAC divers.


What makes CMAS

CMAS is made up of three committees: Technical, Sports and Scientific. National federations can apply for membership of any or all three. Each committee membership carries a vote at the General Assembly, regardless of size, so Luxembourg or Monaco have the same voting power as Russia or Germany.
The Technical Committee covers subjects such as certificate equivalence, school recognition, training standards and standardisation of signals. The Sports Committee is concerned with the organisation and running of competitions such as spearfishing, underwater hockey, fin swimming and target shooting.
The Scientific Committee brings together diving scientists from all member-countries to exchange information and expertise, and to seek ways of coordinating the work of scientific divers.
The Officers and Executive Bureau are elected at the General Assembly, held about every two years. The member-federations present cast a vote for each committee to which they belong.