ISL Announces 2021 Season With Same 10 Teams & Expanded Playoffs

The International Swimming League announced details of its 2021 season in a press release today, confirming all ten returning franchises.

The ISL release unveils a format roughly similar to last year’s – but spread out further. The 2020 season was compressed amid the coronavirus pandemic, with teams living, training, and competing within a bubble to protect from COVID-19 complications.

2021 will be the third season for the upstart professional swimming league. The inaugural season (2019) featured eight teams and seven total matches. The second season (2020) added two more teams and nearly doubled the total meets to 13.

According to the ISL press release, the 2021 season won’t add any new franchises, but the ten established teams will all return. The season will be spread out, though, between late August and December, with a total of 18 matches, each featuring four teams.

A few more details from the release:

  • Locations are still being determined, but the ISL says it is talking to “cities in Asia, Europe, and North America.”
  • Eight of the ten teams will return their same General Managers. Energy Standard coach James Gibson is stepping into the GM role – that comes after former GM Jean-Francois Salessy publicly resigned and blasted both the ISL and Energy Standard in an open letter. Meanwhile, the Aqua Centurions are still looking for a GM to replace Alessandra Guerra.
  • The regular season will remain at ten total matches, with each team competing in four of the ten. But instead of the two lowest-finishing teams being instantly eliminated at the end of the regular season, the league will hold an 11th regular season match with the four lowest teams competing for two playoff spots.
  • The playoffs are also expanded from last year’s plans, which included just two semifinals. This year’s playoffs will feature 6 total matches, 3 per team.

The league has hinted that it plans to have something resembling a draft for roster construction, but we don’t yet have any details on that, or on how teams can retain swimmers from last season.

Season Plan

The season will be broken into three parts in a similar format to last year, though with a more spread-out schedule than the compressed version we had amid the coronavirus pandemic this season.

Regular Season (6 Weeks)

  • Begins in late August
  • Ends in late September
  • Location to be determined
  • 10 teams / 10 matches (4 matches per team)
  • Top 6 teams automatically make the Playoffs
  • The bottom four teams will compete in an 11th match, with the top two finishers in that bottom match joining the 8-team playoff field.

Playoff Phase (3 Weeks)

  • Takes place in November
  • Location to be determined
  • 8 teams / 6 matches (3 matches per team)
  • Top 4 teams advance to the Grand Final

ISL Grand Final

  • Takes place in December
  • Location to be determined
  • 4 teams

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1 month ago

Hope there is a draft. Otherwise nice to see this thing coming back. Now one needs to choose which one to cheer for.

1 month ago

Did the players get paid yet

Reply to  Math
1 month ago

This was immediate question

Some Giy
Reply to  Math
1 month ago

We will be able to figure that out with how quickly athletes say they are going to participate

Reply to  Math
1 month ago


Andrei Vorontsov
1 month ago

Would it be nice to see audit and financial report of ISL for the last season.
I talked to a few swimmers from UK and Sweden. They are still not paid and afraid that
they will not get their fees

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Andrei Vorontsov
1 month ago

Stitches are for snitches.

Reply to  Andrei Vorontsov
1 month ago

I was told that it took until June for all athletes to get paid after season 1.

So, they aren’t past that timeline yet. I also wouldn’t say that this is a positive way to operate, but it’s not out of line with the past history yet.

ISL has been challenging to work with for the media, for their vendors, for the fans, for their staff…but the one group that they seem intent on keeping happy are the athletes. I think the athletes will be paid, even if that’s later than expected.

Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

I’ve heard the same, about how everything is geared toward keeping the athletes happy. And this is why I worry about the league’s future. The athletes are important, yes, but without all of those other things working, you can’t have a business. Konstantin talks about a ‘post modern’ sport, but he lives in this pre-historic world where he doesn’t want to acknowledge the vast number of stakeholders that need to be managed for a professional sports league to be successful.

Feels like a pet project and a billionaire swim fan who is buying access to the athletes he admires.

Which is fine, it’s his money, but the athletes should plan accordingly and not count on the well staying wet forever.

Andrei Vorontsov
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

I do hope so either that both swimmers (and STAFF!!!) will be paid in full. Anyway, desperately want to see a financial report. If any positive sediment will remain? Is it real McCoy or just another bubble…???

Reply to  Andrei Vorontsov
1 month ago

Would also be nice to see the same thing for FINA and take a look at how much they pocket vs what they actually pay out to the swimmers who generate all of the value.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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