The International Swimming League will add teams in Tokyo and Toronto in its second season, expanding the league to 10 teams, the organization announced at a press conference Saturday following the inaugural ISL Grand Finale in Las Vegas.
Four-time Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima will head ISL Japan and the yet-to-be-named Tokyo team. Global Swim Series president and CEO Robert Kent will serve as the general manager of the unnamed Toronto team.
“I am delighted and truly excited to be part of elevating the value of the sport of swimming in a global context,” Kitajima said. “The opportunity for swimmers to succeed in the professional arena is something that most of us have only dreamt about.”
The 2019 ISL season saw just two Asian swimmers participate: Japan’s Daiya Seto, who debuted at the finale and set a world record, and Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey, who is based in the United States. Thirteen Canadian swimmers participated in the first season – including Olympic champion Penny Oleksiak and multi-time world champion Kylie Masse – and the league struck a deal with CBC Sports in Canada to provide broadcast and streaming coverage throughout the season.
“The International Swimming League must be a truly global one but our development needs to be sustainable, so we are delighted that we are able to announce that one of our two new clubs for next season will be in Tokyo – the global capital of sport in 2020,” ISL founder Konstantin Grigorishin said. “Japan is one of the world’s leading swimming nations with a large fanbase so we expect to see a very competitive team be developed there and many fans excited to learn of our plans.’’
“This is only part of our development strategy, though, as we also see our responsibilities and opportunities in the areas of sustainability, inclusion, integration and the green environment by working together with our new franchises, including in Toronto, in the area of mass participation,’’ Grigorishin added, regarding the Canadian expansion.
New teams will have a priority recruiting window on natives of their home nation.
The second season is scheduled to see the number of meets nearly quadruple from the first: the 2020-21 calender will feature 27 meets running from September to April, according to the ISL. The expanded format will include a regular season, playoffs, and a final. Teams will be split into two regions: Euro-Asia and America. The league is considering advancing the top four teams to the final, regardless of which region they’re based in.
Though no venues have been named, that timeline falls just after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which will feature the brand-new Tokyo Aquatics Centre — slated to have a capacity of 15,000 and be used to host “domestic and international competitions” following the Games. Toronto is home to the five-year-old Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, which features two Olympic-sized pools and seats 6,000.
Interestingly, ONEflow, the second-ever ISL team announced, will not be included in the 2020 expansion — despite indicating in April it would be. The league announced ONEflow in January when all indications were that it would attempt a 12-team league (six in Europe, six in the United States) for 2019, but ONEflow later posted on Instagram that its launch would be postponed because of “strategic and financial reasons.”
As of Saturday’s announcement, ONEflow’s Instagram bio still read “more coming in 2020.”