According to SwimmingWorld.com, the United States Olympic Committee has rejected USA-Swimmings new Athlete Partnership plan which, among other things, would double the stipend to post-graduate and professional National Team members from $21,000 to $42,000 a year.
The USOC balked at USA-Swimming’s failure to include any contractual requirements for those taking the increased stipend. They did not, however, close the door on any revised plan that included contractual requirements to promote the sport and support the National governing body.
This was a foreseeable outcome. There still seems to be this idea in the swimming community that just because we put in an incredible amount of work in the pool, we deserve recognition and big financial gains. USA-Swimming in general does not seem prepared to commit its athletes to the promotional and competition-related responsibilities that other professional athletes are subjected to.
I, like everyone else, support as many professional opportunities for swimmers as is possible; however, unlike comments made by some of USA-Swimming’s most prominent coaches, I have a hard time believing that any plan which involves swimmers receiving increased stipends without these increased commitments that the USOC wants will fail in the long-term.
Swimming is at a crossroads. If it hopes to get over the hump, “we practice harder than other sports” can no longer be the answer. The contractual commitments that the USOC wants are what is going to destroy the perception that Michael Phelps is our sport, and that the whole thing will fall apart when he retires.
Hard work in the pool doesn’t produce money. It may produce respect, but it doesn’t produce money and butts in the seats. Interacting with fans, meet commitments (which were also pulled from the original athlete plan), and general promotion of the sport produces money. These swimmers can work as hard as they can possibly work, but if USA-Swimming can’t create a commitment to the sporting public beyond 1 or 2 championship meets in August, the grass roots of the sport is what will suffer.
Imagine if we had a similar situation in the NBA or NFL. If on any given night during the regular season, there was only a 30% chance that Kobe Bryant, or Payton Manning, or any other player for that matter, would show up and compete. And yet, at the end of the season, they still got to play in the Super Bowl. The regular seasons of those sports would become meaningless, and the impact of their championships would be greatly diminished. And then imagine if Kobe Bryant asked for a raise. He would probably be flat-out rejected by the league. That’s exactly what the USOC’s thinking was in rejecting the plan.
I think the USOC was exactly right on its decision to reject the plan in its current form. The sport will never grow as a viable post-graduate career without these top athletes promoting it and making firm commitments to meets like the Grand Prix series.
USA-Swimming’s Board of Directors meet next week, where it’s likely that they’ll at least discuss a revised plan.