The World Swimming Coaches Association released a statement Monday formally opposing the newly-announced FINA Champions Swim Series, citing the stress its format will put on athletes in terms of travel, training disruptions, and event options.
Per its constitution, the WSCA represents “the interests of the world’s swimming coaches towards any other national and international body or organization, including FINA,” and is the international parent organization of many national swimming coaches associations, including prominent American Swimming Coaches Association. In fact, ASCA Executive Director John Leonard also heads up the WSCA.
As announced in December, the Champions Series is a long course, 3-leg competition with athletes participating on an invite-only basis, and will include a team scoring format. The first leg will be in Guangzhou, China, April 27 to 28, 2019. The second meet is scheduled for two weeks later, May 11-12, in Budapest, Hungary. The third meet will be in the United States, scheduled for May 31-June 1 in Indianapolis at the IUPUI Natatorium.
The competitions will lack longer distance events, with each meet including timed finals of just 50, 100, and 200m races in freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly, as well as a 400 free and a 200 IM.
In the editorial, WSCA says that it believes that “travelling to more than one meet a month” breeds PED usage. “Shorter races, more frequent competitions, less training and long travel are all factors that increase PED usage,” the editorial reads, though it doesn’t cite any specific research on the topic.
The WSCA calls for all professional sporting leagues, including naming the upstart International Swimming League, to limit pro competition seasons to November through March to ‘preserve significant training blocks.’
The FINA series will award over $3.9 million in prize money, making it the richest swimming event in FINA history, and FINA will also cover athletes’ travel costs and provide them with appearance money. Athletes will be grouped into teams – on a continental or sponsor basis – with each team comprising 24 athletes (12 men, 12 women).
WSCA’s full statement on the FINA Champions Series:
“Approximately 18 months ago, the World Swimming Coaches Association (WSCA) surveyed our board and membership to answer the question, What is your preferred timeframe for a professional swimming season? The answers were both overwhelming and clear on two points. First, the recommended timeframe was November through March. Second, no more than one meet per month.
The reasoning was as deep as the unanimity of the responses. Athletes from all over the world have experience with professional competition in the November through March timeframe. After March, however, the world’s coaches felt quite differently.
April begins the time for serious, focused preparation for the primary, long course competition of the year. Long travel and high-intensity meets distract from and disrupt the preparation needed for high-level international performance.
Further, travelling to more than one meet a month, on different sides of the world, is inviting Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in to our sport. Shorter races, more frequent competitions, less training and long travel are all factors that increase PED usage. All of these are being added to our sport with the FINA Champions Swim Series.
The WSCA has communicated to the WSA, the ISL and to FINA the findings of the coaches’ survey. This was done both via email and face-to-face. We are again asking FINA, their member federations, the ISL and any future professional swimming organizations to protect the integrity of our sport by preserving significant training blocks and confining professional leagues to the November through March timeframe.
We applaud FINA’s intent to invest more in professional swimming, however, rather than disrupt preparations for the World Championships, invest in the World Championships. Invest in appearance fees for the top 24 in each event. Create the first level bonus for the semi-finalists in every event and the second level of bonuses for the finalists. Finally, add to the “medal money” in every event. This would distribute funding to many times more swimmers, while maintain focus on the – your – primary event of the season.”
Before the FINA series was announced, the ASCA told SwimSwam that “making this sport a truly professional opportunity for our athletes to make a sustainable living is incredibly important,” and that International Swim League was “the best opportunity EVER for elite athletes to earn what they are worth.”
The Champions Series is presumably a direct response to the ISL, which is planning a series for 2019 that FINA has continually made efforts to block. The FINA series was announced a week after Katinka Hosszu, Michael Andrew, and Tom Shields filed a proposed class action lawsuit against FINA for violating U.S. antitrust laws. However, last week, FINA announced it would no longer block the ISL or ban participating athletes, but would not sanction ISL meets.