Pro-Tour Organisers Tell FINA: Co-Operate & Grow Or We’ll Litigate & Go Toe-To-Toe

The Sette Colli pool at the Fort Italico - by Craig Lord

Planners of a World Swimming Association Pro Tour will file legal action against FINA with the help of volunteer attorneys, including former swimmers, if it refuses to co-operate with the delivery of a new competitive and financial offer for swimmers that aims to hand more than half of all proceeds to the stars of the show: athletes.

Critics of the FINA leadership, including one of its vice-presidents, Paolo Barelli, have noted that the international federation spends less than 5% of available budgets on athlete prize money each year.

LEN, the European swimming league led by Barelli, has just increased its prize-money for athletes and contributions to national federations to 1.5 million Euros in 2018. The WSA intends to go much further by adopting the model that applies to many professional sports such as tennis, golf, basketball and baseball, in which the money that pays athletes for their work and starring role exceeds half the proceeds of their sports.

The WSA is planning to launch its Pro Tour in the coming year but while the move will challenge FINA’s traditional monopoly on swimming governance, organisers do not intend to be confrontational.

George Block, the president of the World Swimming Coaches Association and a member of the group that established the WSA and helped athletes establish a fledgling Professional Swimmers Association, told SwimVortex:

“We plan to ask for host-nation and FINA approvals. We want to be cooperative with FINA. If FINA won’t be cooperative in growing the sport, then we will have to file legal actions. Fortunately, we have volunteer attorneys all over the world.”

The challenge to FINA’s authority comes at a time when the European Union’s Competition Commission has issued a ruling that effectively orders all sports federations to remove ‘anti-competitive’ rules that restrict the rights of athletes to engage in their profession and earn money from it wherever they wish to.

Any threat to punish a European swimmer for opting into the Pro Tour would trigger a specific order for FINA to scrap rules that tie athletes to what has been a self-regulated monologs since 1908. Block recommended to the FINA leadership the book “Out of Control”, by Kevin Kelley, and noted: “The only way to gain control and still grow is to give up control.”

Light show at the Foro Italico – Craig Lord

With a nod to news yesterday that senior FINA figures have discussed the possibility that world records ought not to count in outdoor pools, Block noted, tongue in cheek: “Would they do that retroactively? It could clean up the suits times from Rome!” [43 world records fell in eight days at the 2009 World Championships after FINA allowed non-textile materials to be shaped into shiny suits and worn in racing without ever having conducted any research or study into what that would mean, whether it was safe and how it would change the very nature of the sport of swimming. The suits survived 23 months before a ban on non-textiles and bodysuits returned swimming to swimmers from January 1, 2010. To this day, the all-time world rankings across all world-championships event are heavily loaded with shiny suit swims from 2008-09. The men’s 50m free top 100 including 36% of all entries and 7 of the best 10 ever from 2008-09 seasons.]

There have been no official moves or proposals made to rule world records out of bounds for outdoor pools. Just as well says Block, given other pressing matters related to the conditions in which world records can be set, as highlighted by a challenge to the FINA leadership from its Athletes’ Commission in Safe Sport answers to this site last week. Said Block:

“Before FINA rules out World Records at outdoor pools, they should rule out World Records at pools that are too shallow for safe starts. If FINA would consider ‘what is best for swimmers’, they would get away from these kinds of distractions and would focus on building partnerships that would grow the sport.”

Block called any moves by FINA to damage the Pro Tour plans as “short-sighted”, adding: “They really need to lean to co-brand events.” He suggested that it would be in swimming and the international federation’s best interests to change the game, including staging:

“… competitive events leading up to qualifying for Worlds and the Olympic slots. Instead of “universality” slots, they could have earned slots at regional, co-branded championships”.

On the specific issue of world records and outdoor pools, Block noted: “Our events aren’t going to be in the prime ‘World Record season’. It is going to be a winter tour for the near future. We want the swimmers to be able to train, but have fun racing. We may also use some indoor facilities that have great nightlines and energetic acoustics.”

In order to reinforce its business model, FINA has turned evermore to hosts in the Middle East, vast and expensive pools in the desert with not a world-class swim program for many miles around, to China and other nations where asking what local taxpayers may think is not quite the inconvenience it is likely to be in other parts of the world.

Block said: “Those two cultures don’t do well in ‘exclusive’ arrangements … at least not for the last few thousand years. FINA should be careful. They might also want to look at actual swimming nations and those nations that are trying to grow swimming, where the universality policies are stifling it.

“FINA could be leveraging their sponsors to build low-cost, easily maintained training facilities in those countries.”

The last World Championships to be held outdoors was also one of the most controversial (because of shiny suits) and the most spectacular: Rome 2009 at the Foro Italico’s 1960 Olympic pool, renovated and updated several times down the years yet as magnificent as it ever was. The Energy Swim post-season team spectacular was held at the same venue last August.

Planners of a World Swimming Association Pro Tour will file legal action against FINA with the help of volunteer attorneys, including former swimmers, if it refuses to co-operate with the delivery of a new competitive and financial offer for swimmers that aims to hand more than half of all proceeds to the stars of the show: athletes.

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