Economic and territorial conflicts in scuba diving certification contributed to the CMAS shift in emphasis from scuba licensing to sports governance.
In 1997, CMAS expelled Prince Charles. He was not alone. The World Underwater Federation cast out the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) entirely. The UK club had been a founding member of CMAS. And Prince Charles was not just an ordinary member of the BSAC but its President. Understanding the history of upheaval within CMAS is essential for those who want to see the organization reform to better serve the interests of underwater sports.
CMAS was once a powerful nongovernmental organization that had considerable influence over scuba diving certification worldwide. The financial structure of CMAS rested on nonprofit diving clubs that were in turn members of national diving federations.
Club members – the divers who paid for instruction – nourished CMAS with a revenue flow. As divers raised their competency with new skills, such as dry suit use, gas management, and cave diving, they strengthened CMAS as an institution and brand.
The British Sub-Aqua Club is actually older than CMAS. In 1957, BSAC and 14 other national diving federations founded the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (CMAS). They elected Jacques-Yves Cousteau the organization’s first President. A Briton, Oscar Gugen, was a Vice President. He was also the President of the Technical Committee, which organized the standards of diving certification.
During the early years of scuba diving, CMAS was a cutting-edge institution that led a huge paradigm shift. Diving with bottled air went from being the activity of the military and scientific elite to a form of recreation. With today’s 130-nation-strong membership, one can say that CMAS is a truly international NGO.
When Growth Rates Stagnated and Fell
The CMAS based diving club boom of Europe never really spread to other countries. For example, the Underwater Society of America, the CMAS member federation, has a very weak presence in diver education, although there a plenty of scuba divers. Other institutions, PADI, Scuba Schools International (SSI) and National Association of Underwater Instructors to name three big actors, have spread all over the world, rendering CMAS just another certification agency.
As scuba diving grew in popularity, the member federations came into conflict over the right to control diving education and certification in their national waters. British diving clubs arranged for UK diving instructors to train British divers aboard. This reduced the economic opportunity for the local dive instructors. The quarrel over local rights ultimately led CMAS to expel BSAC in 1997.
Prince Charles did not retire beaten and BSAC did not collapse and whither away. At its height, it had around 50,000 members in the 90s. By 2009 it had shrunk to around 30,000. But this decline probably simply reflects the general decline in CMAS membership.
PADI, the first diver certification program that provided cards with photos, treated diver education like a market. And PADI along with CMAS’s other competitors in the certification business proved far agiler. An organization whose decisions are taken at annual assembly meetings that require United Nations style one-country-one-vote majorities will likely alway be out of tune with consumer needs.
UK Hockey Hurt by Rupture
Underwater hockey originated in the UK and is arguably the most popular team sport in CMAS. Without BSAC’s credentials, the UK underwater teams of England, Wales, and Scotland could no longer compete at CMAS events. All British underwater sportsmen suddenly had to establish a new NGO to satisfy CMAS requirements. Here verbatim is what Wikipedia states:
It [The British Underwater Sports Association] was created in 1997 to fill the vacancy on the CMAS Sports Committee for the United Kingdom caused by the expulsion of the British Sub-Aqua Club from CMAS in order to ensure ongoing access to international competition offered by CMAS for British underwater sports teams.
Its members include the British Finswimming Association, British Octopush Association, and British Spearfishing Association. Its role is exclusively one of representation of British underwater sports at the international level. It does not have any recognition from the British government or the governments of the four constituent countries of the UK.
BUSA members seeking government funding for sporting activities are required to obtain a letter of support from the National Governing Body (NGB) for Sub Aqua in their country. These include the BSAC for the UK and England, Northern Ireland Federation of Sub-Aqua Clubs for Northern Ireland, the Scottish Sub Aqua Club for Scotland and the Welsh Association of Sub Aqua Clubs for Wales. However, in June 2013, UK Sport and Sports England reportedly published their requirements for the acceptance of BUSA as the NGB for underwater sports in the UK
Long-term Consequences of Policy Blunders
Scuba diving as an activity remains economically important. The value of dive tourism to Australia, for example, is over $4.4 billion annually. The major players in the diving course industry are PADI and SSI. CMAS could not make come back commercially without fundamental changes in its organization.
There is an example of an organization successfully making that transition. BSAC itself had such serious economic problems as a result of government funding cuts to noncompetitive sports, that it had found a way to earn income.
Thus, it started BSAC International, a British trading company wholly owned by the Club that was formed to administer a royalty franchise system. From 1987, BSAC International started a successful operation in Japan to provide BSAC training and certification system for Japanese divers.
“To date the royalties paid to the Club amount to over £2M.The success of BSAC Japan in creating this alternative income stream to membership fees encouraged the formation of our BSAC Korea franchise in 1994 and more recently BSAC Thailand in 2009. This regular income is a significant annual contributor on the positive side of the Club’s balance sheet.” – BSAC website
BSAC Japan was founded in 1987 with its headquarters in Osaka and has since expanded with training centers and members throughout Japan. Currently, BSAC Japan has some 115 training centers employing more than 800 instructors. During its 21 year history, BSAC Japan has trained over 120,000 divers.
BSAC Korea was founded in 1994 with its headquarters in Seoul and has since expanded with training centers and members throughout South Korea. Currently, BSAC Korea has some 50 training centers employing more than 350 instructors.
BSAC Thailand was launched in May 2009 and is under license from BSAC UK. BSAC Thailand provides local support to Thai Dive Centres and local BSAC Branches. We are also actively supporting BSAC branches from the UK and around the world by assisting in the training of their members here in Thailand.”
But why would CMAS compete with PADI, SSI, BSAC and all the others when it is the governing body for sports that can grow? It is, therefore, no accident that the CMAS of today is primarily concerned with the promotion of sports. In underwater games and finswimming CMAS enjoys monopolistic control of top international events, notably world and European championships. The exception is AIDA, the independent governing body of apnea. How CMAS resolves the problem of AIDA’s separate life would seem to be essential for the organization’s future.