FINA’s new proposals for the World Cup, including a limit of four individual events per swimmer at each leg of the series, have been met with derision by Katinka Hosszu, the Hungarian who became a dollar millionaire on the back of a format that suited her like no other.
The governing body unveiled the new format for the ailing event, which limped to its conclusion last October with Hosszu, a triple Olympic champion in Rio when she swam to the her first medals in four Games of asking, and Russia’s Vladimir Morozov taking the overall $100,000 prizes for women and men respectively.
Hosszu has dominated the World Cup scene in recent years, finishing as top woman in the last five editions, and earning far in excess of $1,000,000 with multi-event programmes.
Other changes will see the first six swimmers awarded prize money, with $3,900 on offer per race, rather than the top three as has previously been the case although the actual breakdown of what each swimmer will receive is not stated.
Hosszu made her feelings clear on Twitter, saying:
“Innovative idea from about the World Cup
@fina1908??!! Ridiculous… Thanks for asking about our opinion… Swimming is going backwards.”
FINA has, in fact, consulted swimmers and coaches on the issue of why the world cup is failing. One of the feedbacks from that consultation, a source tells SwimVortex, was strong opposition to a world cup format that so favoured one swimmer whose approach to performance is like no other in the sport and has not led to others seeking success along that same pathway.
Hosszu races almost every stroke and distance at many meets as part of her preparation but the bulk of those efforts have highlighted the “training not peak-performance spectacle” nature of a series notable for its empty stands and poor attendance.
The international federation acted after the bulk of top swimmers chose to stay away from the World Cup, the likes of Olympic and world luminaries Katie Ledecky and Adam Peaty giving it a wide berth, while also acknowledging that domination by one is not an appealing prospect for spectators and TV alike with the “innovations” aimed at “attracting more Stars and improving the exposure and visibility of this top-level event”.
A senior source at FINA told SwimVortex: “Having one swimmer swim it all, win it all, has been a serious problem for the cup because of the perception that producing relative mediocrity in a marathon of racing often well away from best effort is worth the biggest money prize in the sport. So, FINA faced the problem of how to get round a model that makes a lot of world-class swimmers decide that the world cup is not for them. I’m not sure that this compromise is the answer. Much more thought needs to be given to it and a wider discussion with athletes and coaches needs to happen.”
Other changes put forth include a maximum of 25 events per leg over a three-leg cluster with each event swum twice and up to six times during a the nine-leg series.
This begs the question of who will decide what events will be scheduled where and by whom?
Olympic and world medallists will all go straight to finals, which could directly affect the make-up of the heats and those competing in them. One outcome of that may be unpalatable: possibly no reward for those on the fringes but not having been on a recent Olympic or world podium but who perform well in prelims.
From both sides of the argument, the questions run and run – and while some fail to acknowledge existing rules (no, Mark Spitz would not be eligible – because he’s not in the anti-doping pool), others are reasonable. Take these, in the midst of uncertainty and the unexplained, from American Tom Shields:
- “2 meets at like 3/4 schedule then eindhoven at full schedule? are you kidding me?!?!!?”
- “@fina1908 why would you seemingly arbitrarily exclude some events at the World Cups? we are an obscure sport, i can see the ?’s already”
The FINA press release in full:
FINA is happy to present the 2017 edition of the FINA/airweave Swimming World Cup, which will incorporate a series of innovations, aiming at attracting more Stars and improve the exposure and visibility of this top-level event.
Held between August and November, this year’s competition (in 25m-pool) will comprise nine legs in accordance with the following circuit:
- Moscow (RUS), August 2-3
- Berlin (GER), August 6-7
- Eindhoven (NED), August 11-12
- Doha (QAT), September 22-23
- Dubai (UAE), September 26-27
- Hong Kong (HKG), September 30 – October 1
- Beijing (CHN), November 10-11
- Tokyo (JPN), November 14-15
- Singapore (SGP), November 18-19
The main improvements, to be implemented as soon as this year, focus on:
- Olympic and World medallists will have direct access to finals;
- Maximum of 25 events per leg – over a three-leg cluster, each event (i.e. 50m breast, 200m back, 400m IM, 1500m free…) is swum twice and up to six times during the Series;
- Increased awards for each race, with the first six ranked swimmers getting prize money (total per race: US$ 3’900).
- Relays will also be entitled to prize money. The overall amount for prize money will ascend to over US$ 2 million;
- Maximum of four individual races (plus relays) per swimmer/per leg;
- Enhanced sport presentation and TV production in all legs;
Additional promotional activities on-site, involving the participating Stars;
The medal ceremonies will be held at the end of each day, in the form of a Parade of Champions.
Thanks to these new features, which received favourable feedback from athletes and coaches, FINA hopes to definitively consolidate World Cup’s status as the most important swimming event outside the frame of the FINA World Championships and FINA World Swimming Championships (25m).
“Our goal is always to organise great events with the presence of our Stars. Giving them additional recognition and visibility will certainly foster their participation and involvement with the FINA/airweave Swimming World Cup. The continuous support of prestigious cities, with emblematic venues, is also a guarantee of success for this fundamental competition in our calendar”, said FINA President Julio Maglione.
What Maglione, the 81-year-old Uruguayan facing a challenge to the FINA presidency, did not say was that FINA’s leadership spends more of its budget on itself than on athlete prize money, the latter, in an average year, less than 1% of the balance of FINA’s bank account.