By Wayne Smith
BRISBANE, March 20. NOT content with being Australia's No.1 Olympic sport, swimming is planning to dive into the mass entertainment market to challenge football, cricket and basketball.
Australian Swimming Incorporated president John Devitt announced yesterday Australia would host one major
international meet each year, starting with this year's one-off Goodwill Games in Brisbane.
It is bidding, through Melbourne, for the 2005 World
Championships but if necessary it plans to invent entirely new competitions and already has held preliminary negotiations with the USA and China about
holding dual meets against the two nations.
"A dual meet against a world team is not impossible either," said Devitt, who indicated the new meet would be scheduled in the last quarter of the year.
In a wide-ranging interview, Devitt committed Australia
over the next 10 years to reclaim the position of world's leading swimming nation, a status it had hoped to enjoy after the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
He said Australian Swimming also needed to become
financially secure and to carve out for itself a strong niche among the most popular spectator and television sports in Australia.
"We'd be happy, initially, to be on the lowest rung of
that ladder," said Devitt, who succeeded Terry Gathercole as ASI president after the Sydney Olympics.
"But when swimming reaches 95 per cent saturation with
Australian viewers for the Olympic 1500m freestyle final, as it did last year, we clearly have a public that knows and follows the sport – and we want to grow that."
Devitt claimed Australian Swimming was operating on the
biggest budget in its history and now enjoys its greatest support ever from the corporate sector.
Telstra, the major sponsor for the past eight years,
announced last last week it entered into a new four-year deal while Channel Nine and Foxtel have signed on for eight years.
With the ASI planning to throw its support behind a One
Summer-style concept and to create a Tri-state series,
indications are the nation's top swimmers will need to be contracted – much as the Australian Cricket Board does with its top players.
However, Devitt said it was not yet ASI's plan to have the swimmers on year-round contracts
"We will be having talks with the swimmers over the next two to three months," he said.
His fear is that an increase in the number of major meets might devalue them in the eyes of swimmers and, as happened when cricket was flooded with meaningless one-dayers, leave them vulnerable to approaches from bookmakers.
"The sport is very strongly against betting but so far New South Wales is the only state that has indicated it doesn't want betting on swimming," he said. "That whole scenario (of betting on swimming races)
ASI also will look at the vexed question of how
elite-level coaches can properly be remunerated, with a number of coaching identities complaining earlier this year they were barely making ends meet while their swimmers were on their way to becoming
Devitt said his personal view was that the Australian Swim Coaches Association should investigate means of ensuring coaches received a percentage – "say, five per cent" – of their swimmer's earnings.
Wayne Smith covers swimming for the Brisbane Courier.