Yesterday, May 30th, FINA released what the organization calls ‘improvements’ to the annual World Cup Series format, including changes to event line-ups and prize money. Amid the ‘innovations’ presented to the aquatic community, with additional details to be provided later, are the following:
- Olympic and World medallists will have direct access to finals;
- Maximum of 25 events per leg – over a three-leg cluster, each event (i.e. 50m breast, 200m back, 400m IM, 1500m free…) is swum twice and up to six times during the Series;
- Increased awards for each race, with the first six ranked swimmers getting prize money (total per race: US$ 3’900). Relays will also be entitled to prize money. The overall amount for prize money will ascend to over US$ 2 million;
- Maximum of four individual races (plus relays) per swimmer/per leg;
- Enhanced sport presentation and TV production in all legs;
- Additional promotional activities on-site, involving the participating Stars;
- The medal ceremonies will be held at the end of each day, in the form of a Parade of Champions.
Immediately after the announcement, the highest profile FINA World Cup swimmer, Hungarian triple Olympic champion Katinka Hosszu, took to social media to express her disappointment with the changes. Hosszu takes particular issue with the maximum number of 4 individual events per swimmer per World Cup stop, given the fact that this is a severe drop in racing appearances for the Iron Lady. It was not uncommon in 2016 for Hungary’s biggest swimming star to enter every event for almost every leg of the tour.
With the specific prize money awarded as follows, we can compare a 2016 FINA World Cup stop for Hosszu against a potential 2017 stop in terms of how her earnings would potentially differ in this new environment.
– First place: US$ 1,500
– Second place: US$ 1,000
– Third place: US$ 500
– Fourth place: US$ 400
– Fifth place: US$ 300
– Sixth place: US$ 200
Last October in Hong Kong, for example, Hosszu won gold in 10 events, raking in $1500 for each win. She also earned silver in two additional races, earning $1000 each. All told, just at the Hong Kong stop alone, Hosszu brought in $17,000.
Compare this to a 2017 stop where the Iron Lady would be limited to just 4 individual events. Yes, FINA’s new rules allow for additional relay appearances, but Hungary rarely has enough World Cup swimmers to patch together a relay, let alone one that could potentially take gold. Just using $1,500 per gold for 2017 as an example, knowing that FINA hasn’t released the specific per-place prize money for the now-top 6 finishers, if Hosszu were to win 4 individual events, she would be held to $6,000 in this scenario.
In another scenario, given that $3900 is now divided among 6 swimmers, if just $1,000 is given for gold, Hosszu winning 4 events would total $4,000. In either case, to come close to her $17,000 total from the Hong Kong example, Hosszu would need to notch at least one World Record every stop, assuming the $10,000 WR bonus still stands in 2017.
Within Hosszu’s Facebook comments, of which you can read her entire post below, the world record holder states, “Innovative idea from FINA???! AT MAXIMUM 4 start per swimmer at the world cup??! Congratulations Fina, so you managed to ensure that I can’t swim and win so much.”
One could argue it’s more than just money that’s involved with an event-limiting rule and that keeping a swimmer to just 4 events is simply a performance-killer. In a sport that rarely grabs headlines in the general media, if Hosszu, or anyone else, wants to race more than 4 events and he/she is good enough to win them all, one may argue that the athletes should indeed have that chance.
Another question gets raised concerning the new rule that Olympians and World Champions are immediately guaranteed spots in the final. This implies that there will be a select number of open final slots available to non-Champions, based on the make-up of the contestants, but that the number will vary by event per stop. It also means that ‘open’ swimmers battling for a final slot will not have to race the very best to get there. They’ll have to wait to compete against the top athletes in just the final alone, in most cases.
Subjectivity may also come into play when determining the actual event schedule per stop. FINA’s new rule of only contesting an event twice per cluster, with a maximum of 25 events per leg, means that someone will be making the decision. But, who will make this decision and how far in advance will the event schedule be made public is not yet known.
Although the FINA Technical Committee is the group responsible for developing the new World Cup rules, it is interesting to note that Tamás Gyárfás, former Chief of the Hungarian Swimming Federation, is a Vice President on the FINA Bureau. Gyárfás resigned from his post in November of 2016 after facing highly publicized criticism from Hungary’s top swimmers, including Hosszu.
Overall, Hosszu makes it clear the FINA changes are ‘keeping swimming as an amateur sport’, which ‘never gets more attention.’ She rhetorically asks, ‘Swimmers shouldn’t swim more, right? God forbid swimming world get too much attention….unbelievable.”
Update: The Hungarian Swimming Federation has released the following statement concerning the new FINA World Cup Series rules:
Updated with FINA prize allotments since original publishing.