By Robert Griswold Swimming World College Intern.
At the beginning of every Olympic and Paralympic four-year cycle, both international and national federations alike evaluate the successes and failures of the previous four years and plan for the future.
World Para Swimming as a whole has accomplished a lot in the past four years in terms of competition level, athlete development and media attention. In order to build on the successes of the last four years, World Para Swimming must address the following topics: classification, endorsement and emerging athletes.
As World Para Swimming garners more spectator and media attention, the issue of classification must be addressed. At the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it was painfully obvious that some athletes almost magically appeared out of nowhere to win medals and acquire records in massive numbers. It was also embarrassingly obvious that there were athletes placed in the wrong classifications who went on to win medals and break records.
This controversy has unfortunately turned many potential spectators and fans away from the sport. At the beginning of this year, World Para Swimming decided to significantly reduce the amount of meets where classification occurs and is currently conducting classification research in conjunction with many national federations. The hope from these changes is that a solution will be found which will allow a greater transparency amongst classifications.
2. Endorsement of the Elite Sport Aspect
Para Swimming has come a long way in the last decade. There are an increasing number of athletes making a living off of competing every year. These athletes have made up to seven figures annually. World Para Swimming has decided to include a five-stop World Cup Series to its schedule for 2017. With stops in Copenhagen, Sao Páulo, Sheffield, Indianapolis and Berlin, the goal is to increase the level of media coverage for Para Swimming as well as give athletes a platform in which they compete all year long.
Another measure that the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has taken to increase media coverage is to host Para Swimming and Para Powerlifting World championships in Mexico City from September 30 to October 6, 2017. Having World Championships later in the year will allow World Para Swimming to establish itself as its own entity instead of being drowned out by FINA World Championships earlier in the year.
3. World-wide Emerging Athlete Development
World Para Swimming has put a great deal of effort into developing talent across the world. In response to limiting the number of international classification opportunities each year, World Para Swimming has decided to give greater autonomy to each National Paralympic Committee (NPC) in regard to nationally classifying their athletes.
What this means is that countries now have been given the means to classify their swimmers so they can compete at a national level in their respective country. This compromise allows athletes to plunge into the sport and hone their skills without having to travel across the world to get classified.
Another example of how World Para Swimming is attempting to grow the sport is by affording international competition opportunities for junior athletes. This year, São Paulo hosted the Youth Para Pan-American Games. Competitions like this expose junior athletes to international competition and therefore prepare them to compete at the senior level. A full implementation of a youth system is likely years away since many of these athletes are already competing and winning at the senior level. As the level of competition rises, however, there will be a demand for junior level international competition.
“Grooming the next generation of Paralympic athletes is vital to the continued success and growth of the Paralympic movement,” Paralympic medalist McKenzie Coan said. “Emerging Athletes who embody determination, courage and sportsmanship continue the mission of elite competition for persons with disabilities in Para Sport.”
In summary, World Para Swimming is on the right track to address these aspects of the sport and to improve growth and opportunity for athletes across the world. This is just the beginning, but one can only hope that the next four years will be looked upon as an even greater success than the previous four years.
The author of this article is a 2016 US Paralympic swimmer and draws his opinions from personal experience and observation. His views do not necessarily reflect those of governing bodies associated with Para Swimming. The outcome of any proposed legislation by governing bodies is yet to be determined. All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.