Joshua Chaffee
Joshua Chaffee

Jun 13. 3 mins


The thrilling sport of freediving, or apnea, is one that truly draws a crowd. But who regulates it? Who decides the rules? If you don’t freedive, you might think: “Who needs rules? All you’re doing is swimming underwater. What’s to regulate?”. Anyone who has ever seen a freediving competition will understand just how wrong you are.

The Bodies of CMAS and AIDA

In the world of apnea, there are two main governing bodies: CMAS and AIDA.

CMAS stands for the “Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques” in French, or the “World Underwater Federation” in English.

AIDA stands for “Association Internationale pour le Développement de l’Apnée” in French, or the “International Association for Development of Apnea” in English.
But what do they do?

These two governing bodies decide the regulations and hold competitive tournaments in eleven different freediving disciplines such as constant-weight apnea, dynamic apnea, free immersion apnea, static apnea, skandalopetra (a freediving team-event), and more.

You will find freedivers sometimes describing themselves as a CMAS or an AIDA person depending on which organization and set of rules they prefer or compete with.

Why The Divide?

In September 1958, there was an international congress of diving federations from all over the world. One year later, because of decisions made by that congress, CMAS was formed. One of its founding members and proponents was the famous diver and explorer Jacques Cousteau.

CMAS is a very large organization with three branches: sport, technical, and scientific. Just within their sports branch, CMAS has historically governed 10 different water sports including freediving.

However, in the late 70’s, CMAS jettisoned their support of freediving altogether. Officials claimed that the sport was simply too dangerous due to blackouts and the possibility of drowning.

Some people claim that the divers in CMAS were simply jealous of athletes within apnea. It’s obvious that freediving is an amazing feat of skill and physical prowess; anybody could understandably be jealous of freediving world champions. These claims are supported because there was little (if any) observed attempt to make apnea safer and more viable for competitions by CMAS.

Davrell Tien, an underwater rugby journalist, likens the ban on apnea to disgruntled parents trying to ban rock and roll, with about the same amount of success. Apnea enthusiasts continued developing their lust for the freedive.

To fill this void, in 1992, AIDA was formed. The Association Internationale pour le Développement de l’Apnée [The International Association for Development of Apnea], as its name makes obvious, is completely dedicated to the sport of apnea, unlike CMAS, which governs and regulates a plethora of underwater practices.

A short time after AIDA was formed, CMAS once again recognized apnea as a sanctioned sport, however with caution.

CMAS and AIDA both hold to the fact that freediving can be deadly, especially for untrained people, however their regulations for the different apnea disciplines as well as number of disciplines recognized differs still. CMAS still does not recognize the “no-limit” apnea discipline as it is regarded as too unsafe.

What’s The Problem?

One of the biggest problems that you find with the fact that there are two completely separate and unassociated bodies regulating the same sport is that world-record holders are not well-defined. CMAS does not recognize the world records set by AIDA, and AIDA does the same to CMAS.

The comparison is made to the sport of boxing. Boxing has up to 6 governing bodies for any given weight class, and some governing bodies separate their champions into different “types” of champions. This means that there are up to 7 champions in a weight class at any given time.

While diving might not be as confusing as boxing, it is a little confusing when you have two completely dissociated entities that refuse to recognize the world records set by the other.

Not only is it misleading, it questions the legitimacy of the sport. When it comes to the Olympics, freedivers all over the world would love to see their beloved sport featured. Deep freediving certainly deserves to be in the Olympics, even if it takes some time to organize proper safety protocols. It seems, though, that this could be accomplished much faster if CMAS and AIDA worked together.

So, Which is Best?

As a neutral third-party as it stands, I am not here to tell you which organization is best, but it seems obvious that they both have their benefits and fallbacks.

CMAS “Pros”

  • CMAS is an organization that has a rich history and is well established on the world scene.
  • It is the only organization recognized by the International Olympic Organization in the category of underwater sports.
  • It seems to have far better access to funds than AIDA.

CMAS “Cons”

  • The rules and regulations in CMAS are stricter.
  • CMAS has been criticized for its bureaucracy and use of funds.
  • CMAS is governed by non-freedivers

AIDA “Pros”

  • AIDA is an organization dedicated to the sport of apnea. This comes with many benefits when it comes to the development of the sport.
  • Freedivers seem to prefer the rules within AIDA
  • AIDA offers the “no-limits” apnea discipline
  • Even though CMAS technically recognized apnea first, since it was quickly banned by CMAS, AIDA now has many more years under its belt governing apnea than CMAS does.

AIDA “Cons”

  • AIDA is a newer and smaller organization and therefore doesn’t match the stability or funds of CMAS.
  • AIDA is unrecognized by the Olympics

When it Comes Down to it

Freedivers within the AIDA community might have a “Who needs CMAS?” mentality, and within CMAS, they may have the “What AIDA?” mentality, but when it comes down to it, if you are an amateur freediver, the difference for you is very little — if any.

Both agencies offer a freediving certification that will properly educate you when it comes to apnea. Both agencies are ripe with experienced freedivers that can help you learn about the dangers of freediving, and how to do it safely and effectively.

If you want to compete in apnea, however, the decision may be an important one. More research is definitely worth your time.

The Dream

More organizations can actually bring benefits when it comes to the increase in competitions and overall popularity of the sport. However, the dream is that the organizations can at least recognize the world record accomplishments of athletes within the other organizations.

Hopefully, neither organization would ever ban an athlete from competing within another organization again, as this could only slow the development of apnea.

The decision is yours to make, but most of all, have fun, and be safe.


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