There has never been a better moment to back independent journalism and coverage of the sport of swimming. That’s the bad news. The good news comes when we can say that all focus and super troupers can be trained on the swimmers and the swimming, the lore and legend of it all, because there is no longer any need to fight for the good governance that is so sorely lacking in the global pool as 2017 draws to a close.
The question is: will you help us to provide that independent coverage?
Today, SwimVortex places the bulk of its content behind a paywall, a basic fee of €1.25 (less than $1.50) a month required to read most articles on our website. (In answer to questions from readers: the name and details provided by subscribers, the identity of subscribers, will not be published and will remain confidential unless the reader wishes to reveal who they are in the comments section under a chosen display name).
The move comes with a Premium package less than half the price of the current Gold subscription, a Business package and requests service for researchers and others wishing to tap into our deep archive, current and historic rankings. All subscriptions in place will remain as they are for the period of subscription. Somethings will continue to be free to view.
Only those logged in will be able to see world ranking lists – and for now those are restricted to top 30 for the top subscription package, top 20 and top 10 for others. There is a reason for that restriction, one which will become more apparent as 2018 unfolds.
At certain times of the year, rankings are uploaded soon after live timing of events has been confirmed is intensive. Multiple swims of thousands of swimmers from all over the world form a part of deep rankings. These feed into the expertise in our coverage of world-class swimming and keep alive a unique record of rankings dating back to 1896, complete with whole careers of the legends of the sport. If it becomes possible to do so, we will be converting some of the historic rankings into gold for those among our readers keen on the history of the sport.
If there is something missing from the package you want, we can’t promise to add it straight away but it would be helpful to know which aspects of our work you value. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a world stacked high with free content and community based exercises which range from excellent to the realm of the ‘I can do that’ girl refusing to be red-faced (reference for those unfamiliar with Catherine Tate, the British comedienne – here’s a few examples for the unfamiliar: Salsa Curling and Tennis), we recognise that some readers will no longer be with us.
We’re not The Times nor The Australian, nor The New York Times nor The Washington Post but we share two basic things in common: we strive to provide independent, quality journalism – and we think it reasonable to ask the reader to contribute to the work we do, even when it is online and so much else online is “free”.
There are two basic truths in the place we find ourselves: if not enough of you value our work to pay less than the price of a quality bar of chocolate for what we do each month, then we will have our answer and cease to exist; if there are enough of you, we will flourish and our swimming journalism will flourish, grow, allow us to develop some pioneering ideas and provide challenge, scope and investigative minds in a realm where such things are in woefully short supply.
The events of 2017, including the creation of a World Swimming Association and Professional Swimmers’ Association that reflect the deep dissatisfaction of swimmers, coaches and others, with the status quo of FINA, an international federation no longer fit for purpose, and the knowledge that leading figures in that organisation have been doing the rounds to plead with companies that support our work not to do so because they would rather we were not here, have contributed to the view that there is no longer much to be gained in lukewarm water: either we press ahead with independent, regular coverage of swimming because that is wanted and appreciated or we don’t because it is not.
To the “partners” of FINA – you know who you are: perfectly understandable that you wish to link your products to world-class swimming and have therefore always needed to engage with the leadership of FINA to make sure it is your timing system, your pool equipment, your lane ropes, and so forth, that form the wonderful infrastructure that underpins race day, sets the stage both technically and aesthetically (and always will do, regardless of who sits at the top table).
There comes a time, however, when you have an obligation to let FINA know that you don’t appreciate the decisions that link you and your products to ‘go easy on dopers’; to ‘grant the highest honour to Putin on the cusp on the biggest systematic doping crisis since China and before that the GDR’; and to nod when we hear ‘let’s hold swimming in a desert and a gala dinner in a remote place difficult to get to and in the absence of athletes, media, historic figures from the sport, barring those whose trip we paid for’. If such subsidised and selective madness were applied to your businesses, you’d all be bankrupt.
Time to tell them what kind of culture you expect. Time to tell them that you don’t feel it reasonable to create special awards to honour people who fell foul of anti-doping rules, as FINA just thought it wise to do – and in so doing, sent a new creed out to the wider world of swimming that effectively reads: “it’s ok to dope; we’ll love you and honour you anyway.” Is that ok with all you partners?
And if any of you would like to support our work in any way, through adverts that cost as little as 30 euros a month or through partnerships that help raise awareness of the things you care passionately about, please feel free to talk to us: email@example.com.
“Serious sport is war minus the shooting” – George Orwell
If there’s truth in that, then Noam Chomsky‘s words in “Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World” might also be applied to sport and the reporter who covers it: “No honest journalist should be willing to describe himself or herself as ’embedded.’ To say, ‘I’m an embedded journalist’ is to say, ‘I’m a government Propagandist’.”
Indeed; which is why – in sport and other places beyond the realm of war for real – they don’t tell you, even when its true. Here we are on the cusp of 2018 at a time when the media bench at major events has its fair share of people there because the purse of the International Olympic Committee is paying for it, because a budget has been extended by FINA or related federation, because the reporter in question simply would not be there were it not for that way of covering costs in the absence of a mainstream media organisation hiring them and covering their costs in return for independent journalism.
There are times when having a bill paid by a particular authority can be regarded as acceptable practice; there are meetings to be had and best at some stage to engage with and talk to journalists who’ll be working at your event, using and judging your media services; there are long-terms projects in which journalists and federations can work together in a constructive way to make information sing and personalities leap out from behind their caps and goggles.
- Never, however, is how often that should influence the reporter’s coverage of events;
- never, however, is how often engaging the help of media experts should be preserved only for those who play the game of doing whatever it takes to maintain the status quo of bad governance models come hell or high water;
- never, however, is how often you should see a reporter hugging a political figure and extremely well-paid ‘executive volunteer’ in jubilation after a vote has been won (or even lost);
- never, however, is how often a reporter should run an editorial in support of “Project and People X” without telling the reader/viewer/listener that the costs of his or her journalistic work have been covered by … well, yes, you got there … Project X;
- never, however, is how often a kit company should feel it reasonable to judge its partnerships on the basis that the truth about doping has been told – and it is, indeed, uncomfortable and challenging.
And so on and so forth. Such things are and ought to be like banned substances to the media: poison.
The price of truth can be steep in the closed-shop environment of heavily subsidised international sport that is not there because Land Rover/Jaguar, Mercedes, Coca-Cola et al are buying into a massive ‘healthy lifestyle’ market in the entertainment sector but because a broadcaster here or there pays a massive amount for rights.
The drop in that arrangement includes the challenge of the digital age, as news from Australia reminds us today; and the fact that swimmers lag the rewards on offer in professional sport by the size of all; the oceans in then world. That will continue to be the case as long as FINA thinks it reasonable to spend more money on blazers and the politics of their sport than they do on athletes.
At the heart of sports governance is an Olympic sports federation model of “executive volunteers” who are paid excessively for what they do but receive money not as “professional payment” but in the form of per diems, even though, truth be known, they have no costs that come anywhere close to the misnomer: professional they may not be, ‘reimbursement’ it is certainly not. Just how such ‘volunteers’ report the tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds of ‘per diems’ in their annual tax returns may one day be the subject of academic research and fascination.
That system is underpinned by this principle: given that we are giving of our precious time and given that we are not experts in our fields but merely politicians providing a service, we need to surround ourselves with the knowledgeable and those with the know how to make it all work. And work well, not often does, because of those experts who make up a part (it used to be the bulk; it no longer is thanks to the presidential race this year and the venomous payback culture that flowed from the top table of FINA) of the commissions and committees that underpin the ‘volunteer executives’ and put a respectable face and gloss on many a thing that is anything but.
There is a truth at play, one highlighted not only by this website in recent years but by the resignations of three leading anti-doping experts in 2016 and Australian head coach Jacco Verhaeren from the ranks of those helping FINA to maintain its status quo, even when the motive for being there started out as pure and good and helpful. Behind the veneer and mask of such panels of experts and the political appointees and hangers on who do the bidding of their masters a carriage or two up the gravy train is something that ought not to be: the silence and complicity of federations and good people.
Before the year is up, SwimVortex will return soon to the tales of Libby in the United States; a British doctor who made a discovery that could have saved thousands of lives but for the fact that people who knew she was right took the best part of 30 years to admit it and other tales from the eye-opening work of Margaret Hefferman in “Wilful Blindness“, a book explaining why humans turn a blind eye to problems they have clearly seen and understood – and even when that behaviour hurts, damages and even kills others.
For now, suffice it to say that wilful blindness has worked its way into every crack and crevice of FINA life to one degree or another. It is important to say so and to highlight where and why things are going wrong in swimming governance and how that – be it doping, prize money, a lack of professional circuit and many other issues – impacts the lives of athletes, coaches and the support teams of folk behind them.
Many are the fine quotes of the famous on the matter of truth, among them such gems as
- The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is – Winston Churchill
- Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth – Buddha
- No legacy is so rich as honesty – William Shakespeare
For the sports programs of Russia and China, there are these:
- Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold – Leo Tolstoy; and
- The object of the superior man is truth – Confucius
Beyond which, there is
- Peace if possible, truth at all costs – Martin Luther
And, for the journalist … “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” – Galileo, more than 400 years ago.
It was, sort of, the point that coach Chris DeSantis made in an entry in his blog/podcast – one mostly about interesting and sometimes challenging aspects of coaching philosophy, methodology and psychology – that carried the headline “Craig Lord is Swimming’s One True Journalist“.
Crikey! Hopefully not. Indeed, I know that not to be the case, some great colleagues still there having shared the journey with me, even as waves fine colleagues have left the pool disillusioned by the state of governance of the sport that gets in the way of the thing that matters most: the athletes and the issued raised by WSCA and affiliates and now the WSA and PSA. Nonetheless, thank you Chris, who wasn’t simply swimming in sycophancy.
He notes my blindspots (yes, we all have them but my role is to spot those in others – and if I’m not too blinded by my own light, the blindspots Coach Chris sees tend not to hurt people in material and physical ways, I would venture). He then concludes:
“But ultimately they aren’t in any way disqualifying. They are evidence of a greater problem: we need more Craig Lords. What I mean by that is we need more people who go after the important topics of swimming (of which there are many) from more angles, with different blindspots. We need reporters willing to develop and tap sources on a consistent basis. We need more passionate, fact checking, voices like Lord.”
I agree. Journalism is a professional calling, whatever anyone may tell you. It takes training, knowledge, of law and much else – and experience. The lack of resource for swimming journalism does indeed render it something of a hobby at times but it is not a community exercise, just as accurate rankings services are not a community exercise – and in the hands of the wrong people thinking it wise to reconfigure seasons and years lead to lists that surely have the much-missed Nick Thierry and his dedication to swimming turning in their joint grave (RIP, old friend). Nick supported quality reporting, the truth and provided a platform on which young would-be reporters might hone the art. It is one in short supply in swimming even when the truth is more blinding than the super troupers lighting up the pool and fringe farce.
What we saw in Budapest this past July was truly woeful for the sport of swimming, the king and prince of FINA from nations with no world-class swimming programs, a president in place after he survived several broken promises and a volunteer-politician’s career stretching back to the days of the GDR and including an abject failure to deal with the misdemeanours of abusers and those who would be handed criminal convictions. Indeed, some of those folk have their honours yet, with the blessing of the top table of FINA.
At a revealing press conference in Budapest – a city that put on a magnificent World Championships and showed the international federation why it should not simply case the money but stage its showcases in places where swimming is swum and loved and recognised and celebrated – there was no mistaking the lie pouring from the top table. It was there for all to see and it poured out in response to a question from this reporter. Others asked some tough questions, too, but not enough, nor did they come from the “embedded” journalists sitting alongside observing, note-taking FINA top-tables in the media seats.
“I don’t think a tough question is disrespectful,” said Helen Thomas. She was a member of the White House Press Corps. She served for 57 years as a correspondent and, later, White House bureau chief for United Press International (UPI). Thomas covered every president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, was the first woman officer of the National Press Club – and she told it like it is.
So will we. If you value that, if you would rather not have FINA HQ and the leadership group making more than a hash and an asterisk of it all dictate the pace and program, please support us and the work we do.
Of course, coverage is not all about controversy. The bulk of what we write is about the actual swimming and swimmers. So much that is written about swimmers is shallow and not a few times have I been told by editors (yes, Chris I do have them, just not at SwimVortex, for we cannot afford whole editorial teams and armies) that ‘the trouble with swimming is that there are no personalities’. Actually, the pool is stacked with personalities – and not only among swimmers.
Meantime, the backing we have had from Arena, FINIS and others, including private donors, has been immensely valuable to SwimVortex. In return, if we write about news related to those commercial enterprises and others who back our work through advertising and partnership, we will make that material free to view.
The reality is, however, that resources do not stretch to providing the quality and depth of journalistic coverage of swimming that we would like to achieve; the kind of work we do – such as this – and this – do not attract any but the most courageous of commercial partners, particularly in a world where such folk fear consequence to their fat contracts if a few FINA men take umbrage.
True independent journalism requires honesty about relationships and interests and cannot thrive when media is coupled to such things as honour systems for FINA folk who deserve far less than they’ve had and insist on having. Swimming can be much more than a fan club and cheap deal provided by interns looking for a leg up into journalism.
One subscription for your club or program is the price of a box of fine chocolates or less – for a whole year – but it would contribute to the work of our writing team; to being able to justify extending our rankings offer beyond the surface view into the depths only SwimVortex can provide courtesy of Nick’s legacy and our hard background work; to bring you more of the brilliance of Patrick B. Kraemer through a lens; and help us to extend our offer to a team of “passionate, fact checking, voices” of the kind we would like to see multiply in number and provide a variety of opinions and challenges.
Such things are critical if we truly want swimming to be what it can be: a role model of best practice, the clean athlete and program at the pinnacle and priority of all that at the start of a much-needed new chapter in the pool.
Thank you. We hope to be here talking to you and wishing you a Merry Christmas in 2018.
The SwimVortex Team