Legendary swimmer Kieren Perkins is the next president of Swimming Australia, according to a report from The Australian on Friday.
Swimming Australia sent out a press release Friday evening.
The path for Perkins to become president started in June of 2019, when he was named to Swimming Australia’s board as a non-executive director.
“I have a strong desire to maintain swimming’s position as Australia’s most successful Olympic sport and with only a year out from Tokyo it’s important to keep a level of stability and focus,” Perkins said. “We need to keep building momentum and heading into an Olympic year there is no better opportunity to bring the sport and the country together and inspire future generations.
“More broadly, I would also like to work on connecting the dots within the sport’s wider community – bringing more people to our sport and growing and nurturing the stars of the future through our pathway to the elite.”
This is yet another big change for the organization in the pre-Olympic year, as former head coach Jacco Verhaeren opted to not seek a contract extension, and then CEO Leigh Russell announced she would be stepping down at the end of November.
Russell says its a promising move for the organization to have Perkins take over this role.
“I think Kieren’s swimming pedigree speaks for itself, but he also has incredible business acumen that will be vital to the role as we look to navigate in a post COVID environment.” she said.
“He has spent a huge portion of his life in the sport and has that great blend of understanding the nuances of swimming and strategic experience from the corporate sector.”
Perkins is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, winning the men’s 1500 freestyle at back-to-back Games in 1992 and 1996, and then added a silver in the event on home soil in Sydney four years later. He also was the Olympic silver medalist in the 400 free in Barcelona.
When he joined the organization’s board last year, Bertrand spoke about the impact Perkins has had on the sport in Australia.
“Kieren is one of our greatest ever athletes and his sporting achievements speak for themselves,” Bertrand said in 2019. “Since he retired from swimming, he has held numerous positions in the corporate sector, and I have no doubt he will bring fantastic business acumen and skills to the boardroom.
“His legacy in the sport embodies our values to enrich and inspire the nation and I know he has the best interests of our sport at heart.”
Perkins enters his post with a variety of immediate challenges that go beyond the usual job description.
It was announced Friday that three-time Olympic medalist Brenton Rickard tested positive for furosemide retroactively from 2012, when he helped the Aussie men win bronze in the 400 medley relay. Along with that, Swimming Australia is still mourning the death of coach Don Talbot earlier this week, not to mention the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In regards to COVID-19, Perkins spoke about how SA needs to shift its strategy to prevent membership numbers continuing to fall.
“Learn-to-swim operators haven’t been able to continue, kids haven’t been able to swim at school and participate as they would normally,” he said. “And so membership are threatened by that because those people who are passionate part of our system, their lives have been so disrupted.
“If we keep doing what we’ve done, we’ll die. It will be a slow death by a thousand cuts as we watch member bases erode. Families have a lot of options these days for sports and sport participation. They’re very busy, both parents work, kids have got full plates with school and other activities and the idea that we can continue to expect the vast majority to give up all of their free time to be involved in swimming is not realistic long-term.”
In speaking with The Australian, Perkins also joked about how his 20-year-old self would’ve responded if he found out he would one day become president of the sport’s national governing body: “What’s gone wrong in my life that I would want to do that?,” he said.
“No, I’m only kidding. I think I would have been surprised and honoured and quite anxious about what the responsibility means and my capacity to deliver it. The old Kieren has the same response. This is a huge honour. I feel an incredibly deep sense of obligation to the sport that has given me so much in my life.”