FINA hits back at ISL criticism with own plan for 'innovative' competition
FINA, aquatics’ world governing body, has hit back at criticism from organisers and athletes involved in the rebel International Swimming League, saying that it will seek to “improve and modernise,” but warning that it will “continue to make every effort to protect and improve the competition calendar and promote its harmonious development.”
Having apparently been spurred into action by competition from the ISL, FINA told the BBC that it plans to launch an “innovative” new competition in 2019 in order to attract “the best athletes.”
Last month, FINA risked legal action by forcing the cancellation of a contentious swimming meeting in Turin scheduled for this month because of the involvement of the ISL, the club-based competition set to launch in 2019 with lucrative athlete contracts.
The ISL had teamed up with FIN, the Italian Swimming Federation, to stage the annual Energy for Swim 2018 meet in Turin on 20 and 21 December, after being initially frustrated in its plans to gain FINA approval for its own inaugural meeting this month.
The cancellation of Energy for Swim came after FINA threatened sanctions against those taking part, according to FIN, with FINA claiming that the organisers had failed to give it the required six months’ notice for an international event.
FINA’s critics have included Great Britain's Olympic champion Adam Peaty (pictured) who responded to the cancellation saying: “I’m incredibly disappointed [the event] has been cancelled because of politics. We need to ask why. I firmly believe that the athletes should be at the heart of any decision made by our governing body. Turin was a test event for just what our sport and the athletes need. I think this is the wrong decision and it will galvanise the swimmers, not break them.”
However, FINA responded that it “respects athletes’ perspective” and insisting that “short notice” was the reason for the cancellation, adding: “As the world governing body for aquatic sports, FINA takes great pride in its proven ability to deliver events of the highest quality for swimmers from all over the world.
“Coordinating events in order to ensure a coherent competition calendar adds an extra level of complexity and this is a key criterion for FINA’s sanctioning of international competitions.”
But, referring to the annual FINA World Championships, Peaty said: “At the moment we have one major swim per year, but we need more. Look at other sports like triathlon - a few years ago they launched their professional World Series where athletes are paid handsomely.
“I’m lucky that I have good sponsors, but not all of the top swimmers get paid what they deserve given the effort they're putting in.
“Obviously there are a lot of politics, but from an athlete’s perspective... whether it takes four years or 10 years I think it’s [an ISL-style commercial series] going to happen.”
The organisers had described Energy for Swim as a “national competition where national and foreign swimmers will participate on individual basis not representing member federations, in respect of LEN [European swimming’s governing body] and FINA rules.” It was being backed by Energy Standard, headed up by Ukrainian oligarch Konstantin Grigorishin, the man behind the ISL.
However, FINA said the involvement of non-Italian swimmers meant that the meeting was not a national event, as the organisers claimed.
The Switzerland-headquartered ISL has maintained that its preference is to reach agreement with FINA that would enable the world’s top swimmers to compete in a global, multi-national clubs competition, which in turn would help boost the appeal of the sport and the commercial value of the FINA World Championships.
However, the ISL has warned that it could follow the legal precedent set in the European Commission’s case against the International Skating Union a year ago, if it is not sanctioned by FINA.
In December last year, the European Commission decided that ISU rules imposing severe penalties on athletes participating in speed skating competitions that are not authorised by the ISU are “in breach of EU antitrust law. The ISU must now change these rules.”
The ruling was said to have major implications on private investors wanting to run their own events without the sanctioning of the necessary governing body.
The ISL is working with Wasserman, the USA-based sports marketing and talent management agency, which is acting as global adviser.