ISL: FINA Delaying Agreement ‘Because They Know Time Is Critical’

Sources say the current conflict between FINA and the Energy for Swim 2018 meet is the next step in a conflict between FINA and the International Swimming League (ISL) that has lasted more than a year, and that FINA is purposefully delaying an agreement between the two parties.

The ISL is a body that envisioned a series of swim meets it says would focus on financial benefits to athletes. But the organization has had an ongoing conflict with FINA, the international federation governing aquatic sports. ISL officials say they have been trying to approve a December meet with FINA for more than a year.

One Year of Negotiations Misses Six-Month Window

“We started to negotiate more than one year ago,” said Dmitriy Kachurovskyi, an ISL official and organizer of the Energy for Swim 2018 meet. “And we’re still in the process of negotiations and we still have no agreement. They are playing with us because they know time is critical.”

The conflict went fully public in June, when FINA sent an open letter to its member federations announcing that it would not recognize the ISL nor any event the ISL organized. Kachurovskyi says that when FINA made clear it wouldn’t approve an ISL meet, the meet changed to a form not officially connected with the ISL (though it’s still organized and funded by many of the same groups and people).

The meet is now being hosted by the Italian swimming federation, whose president, Paolo Barelliran against current FINA president Julio Maglione in a very contentious election last summer.

When Barelli and the Italian federation stepped in, the meet was framed as a national-level competition that could be hosted by the federation and wouldn’t need special FINA approval. But FINA contacted federations with a stricter interpretation of its rules classifying “national” or “international” meets, ruling that Energy for Swim would be an “international” meet because it was designed to have a “majority of foreign participants.” This requires the Energy for Swim meet to get FINA approval, but the approval must be obtained six months before the meet. Because FINA’s interpretation was publicized only recently, that requirement is impossible for organizers to meet – even though meet organizers say they’ve been trying to get approval for more than a year.

“They decided to destroy this event,” Kachurovskyi said of FINA’s rule interpretation.

We’ve repeatedly asked FINA for comment on the subject, but have not received an official response. SwimSwam has obtained documents that spell out at least some of the federation’s case. FINA contacted members of its bureau to clarify the rules interpretation, and the Russian federation recently published in full the October 30 memo FINA sent to its member federations to reiterate that the Energy for Swim 2018 event is not recognized by the international federation. That letter, which you can see in full here, references General Rule 4, which spells out bans between 1 and 2 years for “any individual or group” who “have any kind of relationship with a non-affiliated or suspended body.”

ISL: Prize Money Increase A Win For Athletes

Kachurovskyi also said that FINA’s recent decision to increase prize money for the Short Course World Championships is a direct response to the ISL format, which has focused heavily on athlete compensation.

“We created competitions to give swimmers more advantages,” Kachurovskyi said. “This is the first win for athletes, and ISL is happy to be part of that.”

Kachurovskyi said the timing of the prize money increase raises questions about why FINA wasn’t previously offering athletes as much prize money.

“Why did they decide to do it right now?” he said. “Nothing changed in their income, as far as I know.”

Kachurovskyi says the ISL has created a budget in which nearly half of funds go back to athletes in some form or another. 20% of ISL money goes to prize money for athletes, 15% to participating clubs and 12% to a combination of medical insurance for athletes and appearance fees. The remainder of the budget (roughly 53% based on those numbers) goes back to the ISL to fund future events. In our interview, Kachurovskiy questioned what FINA’s budget breakdown looks like; we asked FINA for more information but have not yet received a response.

A Waiting Game For Athletes & Federations

Kachurovskyi says meet organizers are currently waiting for a decision from the Italian federation on whether the meet will proceed. For now, athletes who compete at Energy for Swim could face bans between one and two years, though legal precedent suggests those bans may not hold up legally. FINA rules stipulate that national federations hand out suspensions. We haven’t received confirmation that federations would or wouldn’t comply with those rules, but federations themselves could be sanctioned by FINA for disobeying standing FINA policy.

We talked to USA Swimming about the possibility last week and were told the decision would actually lie with United States Aquatic Sports, the umbrella federation governing all aquatic sports in the U.S. When we requested comment from USAS president Bill Smith, we weren’t given official comment but were directed back to USA Swimming.

The threat of suspension hasn’t stopped athletes from signing contracts to swim in Torino, though there’s no guarantee all the contracted athletes would compete if the meet proceeds as an unauthorized competition. (Additionally, Energy for Swim has said it will still pay 50% of appearance fees to contracted athletes even if the meet is cancelled). A number of athletes have signed since FINA’s rule interpretation went public.

British breaststroker Adam Peaty publicly supported the event when he signed last week. He told the BBC that he believes in the ISL format, and that “it’s what the sport needs.”

Peaty, one of the top few swimmers in the entire world right now, has been a public critic of FINA and a supporter of unionizing professional swimmers.

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He said what?
4 years ago

If FINA was to follow through with threats of suspension, this is all that would be needed to put the final nail in their gold and diamond coffin. The international media would have a field day with this and make FINA look like greedy little You-know-whats and then the Emperor woulds finally be seen in the full light of day. DON’T BACK DOWN! FIGHT FOR YOUR FREEDOM! DOWN WITH FINA!

4 years ago

Don’t hold your breath for the national federations to stand up to FINA. If USA Swimming, Swimming Australia, British Swimming etc. flexed their muscles FINA wouldn’t be the undemocratic, non-transparent mess that it is. Solidarity by the swimmers is the key here. If they do what they signed up to do and compete what will their national federations do, disown them? And would FINA actually ban them for 1-2 years? No way. The athletes are bigger than the petty politicians and bureaucrats. There cannot be a show without the athletes and everyone knows it.

Reply to  straightblackline
4 years ago

You are not exactly correct: there’s no show without spectators. The swimmers’ solidarity is no questions important factor, but it is in the same time the most uncertain one. At some point ISL will demand from swimmers same dedication and loyalty as FINA demands now from national associations. And from this point on there would be not much ideological difference between current days FINA and future ISL.
ISL can win against FINA if it wins spectators by running more efficient show business that pro swimming actually is. And that can happen only when money behind ISL are comparable with FINA’s budget. I don’t know who stands behind ISL financially and if they have enough power to take from FINA… Read more »

4 years ago

What is the main difference between let say Mare Nostrum or PSS and Energy for Swim meets? All of them are international competition. Is it that they have to pay to FINA substantial part of the profit or that FINA puts some restrictions on the size of prize money that shouldn’t exceed FINA’s established level? If it is the question of money then it will be wise for ISL to pay now what was asked even if it makes this meet low level profit event. To have a successful start is more important. They can negotiate more favorable conditions later.
But I have the feeling that that is not about money now. The involvement in this conflict of Paolo… Read more »

Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

I can’t speak to sports outside of the USA, but I can say that the major sports in the USA have the following breakdown:
NFL – Players receive 58% of the revenue
NBA – Players receive 57% of the revenue
MLB – Players receive 53% of the revenue
NHL – Players receive 50% of the revenue
The actual amount of the percentages is closer 50% for the 4 major sports.

Reply to  SwimCoachSean
4 years ago

SwimCoachSean – here’s a 2016 study that discusses what’s actually going out, like you said, it’s just below 50% –

According to their audited financials, FINA gave out $10 million in prize money in 2017, out of $40 million in total event expenditures, and $72 million in total events income. That’s probably the best comparison, though the total FINA revenue is $78 million.

The structure isn’t exactly the same, because money is funneling to the athletes via other avenues (through USA Swimming) so it’s never going to be a perfect comparison, but it should be better than 12.5%. I would say that if FINA’s books showed closer to a 30 or… Read more »

4 years ago

So fina is not allowing the meet because the majority of participants are international? Can they just make this a longer meet, and run age groupers from Italy either at the beginning or end of the meet? I know it’s a little late in the game to attract club teams to meet in December, but it may still be possible.

Legal owl
4 years ago

I don’t understand why the lawyers are holding off from a legal challenge now or whether maybe tbey are preparing one or at least talking to the competition authorities. I guess they know what they are doing but I’m intrigued to know what the strategy is!

4 years ago

Thank you Mr. Anderson for this much needed clarification.
I don’t see how this conflict can be resolved. Both parties are not looking for compromise. FINA’s rules were created long time ago and are approved by all national associations. The fact that FINA won’t tolerate any other organizations that represent swimmers at International level is not a new point. The purpose and reasoning of it have been clearly understood and accepted by all federations that constitute FINA. I don’t think that some swimming federations suddenly change their opinions about this point and break up with FINA because of that. At the end that is what guarantees financial stability of FINA as an organization. That puts one of the most… Read more »

4 years ago

Lack of leadership from FINA and from the national federations. Where is USA Swimming? Underwater? A deal needs to be hammered out sooner rather than later. The consequence of no deal will only harm the athletes.

Needless to say that FINA’s adding prize money in its events just proves it could have been done before.

However, the outcome of this can already be envisioned. A road cycling like world-tour model, with a majority of races in the geographic region where the media and the public are willing to pay money to watch swimming, and where advertisers will open their wallets.

USA Swimming seems to be in dire fear of this model because it may end up: a) Being Euro-entric; and… Read more »

Reply to  swifter
4 years ago

Plus, FINA’s threat is actually illegal in Europe.

This is what the European Commission did to the International Skating Union when they made the same kind of threat – labeled it illegal and ordered them to fix it and withdraw the threat within 90 days, or else –

Reply to  Jared Anderson
4 years ago

So my interpretation is that USA Swimming is more interested in serving FINA than serving their athletes.
FINA can’t ban athletes from the Olympics so all they can really do is World champs. Are the US and Europe not capable of inviting all the best swimmers to a meet themselves? Really? Or better yet the Pros run their own champs!

Reply to  JimSwim22
4 years ago

USA Swimming is trying to not have to make that decision.

USA Swimming formally separating from FINA creates an incredibly-complex legal situation for them, and almost guarantees that one of two things happen:

1) The organization dissolves and is replaced by the USOC in the short term who falls in line until they can replace USA Swimming
2) The Americans are almost definitely guaranteed of not having a team at the World Championships.

Neither is an ideal scenario for USA Swimming.

I think USA Swimming wants this to happen. If this happens, that gets the pros off the USA Swimming books. USA Swimming makes most of its money from age group athletes. Post-grad swimmers cost USA Swimming… Read more »

Years of Plain Suck
Reply to  Braden Keith
4 years ago

Well laid out, Braden. We don’t usually get so much swimming drama in November. Question: if US Swimming gets the pros off its books, what happens to the “marginal” members of the US National team who’ve gone pro in terms of their financial support? Is a different support fund set up? Do they just have to scrounge harder?

Non-Bureau puppet
4 years ago

Time for the Federations to step up and do what is in the best interests of the sport and the swimmers. Tell the Bureau that the meet is to go ahead under the Italian Federation and refuse to consider sanctions against your own members.
The ISL is a breath of fresh air and should be supported.
The real gem was how they found the money down the back of the couch to increase prize money which would have never occurred until the Bureau was challenged.

Reply to  Non-Bureau puppet
4 years ago

Somebodies have been asked to give back parts oh their “gifts”.

Old Man Chalmers
Reply to  Non-Bureau puppet
4 years ago

It’s not just money, it’s the appeal. Swimming is one of the biggest sports in the olympics, but every other year, virtually no one watches the sport. ISL has the potential to remedy that problem and FINA is opposing it.

Years of Plain Suck
Reply to  Old Man Chalmers
4 years ago

NCAAs are a hoot to watch — especially when “LiveStream Andy” is calling the action!

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Years of Plain Suck
4 years ago

Andy is indeed great, extremely knowledgeable, not presumptuous, & with great manner

Justin Wright
Reply to  Non-Bureau puppet
4 years ago

I’m loving that my peers are bold enough to call Fina’s bluff. How could Fina possibly ban all of these swimmers committing to their cause? If Fina is really serious, then at worst I could see the Energy for Swim guys catching a ban from Worlds.

Even if Fina follows through, the banned swimmers just become martyrs and Fina would run into serious issues from the rest of the swimming community.

Can’t see this working out well for anyone unless Fina either allows ISL to operate without hinderance, or restructrues to accomadate athletes growing demand for more professional opportunities.

Siphiwe Baleka
Reply to  Justin Wright
4 years ago

Question: If the world’s best swimmers are banned from FINA Word Championships, doesn’t that hurt FINA? If a significant number of the world’s best swimmers don’t show up, is it really a world championship? I don’t think FINA can win here. Swimmers need to sink or swim together now….

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Siphiwe Baleka
4 years ago

Gotta get the federations on board…

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Non-Bureau puppet
4 years ago

FINA is still operating under an outdated “amateur” model in which swimmers were not particularly paid for much of anything until first, Mark Spitz & then Matt Biondi & Tom Jager raised the bar, at least in the USA. It would be good if swim historians from other parts of the world could & would weigh in on some history in their areas; as an avowed swim nerd, I would welcome knowing. Because FINA was receiving & handling all the funds they got habituated, stagnant, indulgent & fat (does it look & sound like an addiction here?). ISL is a kick in their complacency & “prestige”. A relevant quote from Princess Leia Organa in Star Wars – A New Hope:… Read more »

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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