By Duncan Scott
PHOENIX, Ariz., January 20. REACTION has been reported from around the world to the FINA decision yesterday to pull July’s multi-sport championship event from Montreal. SwimInfo gives just a short summary here.
FINA has established a period of January 20-28, 2005, to take bids for cities to be substituted in Montreal’s place. FINA then has allowed itself up to February 15, 2005 to select the new site.
Australian sources report that Australian Swimming feels it has taken on a big enough bite in hosting the event in Melbourne 2007. The swimming organization is discouraging any Australian city from submitting a bid.
Some sources around the world have assumed that Long Beach, California is a likely choice, suggested apparently both because it was second choice at the time the bid was granted to Montreal and because of the wonderful show they organized in multiple aquatic sports last summer, including the US Olympic swimming trials in a temporary pool in a Long Beach parking lot. What those in far flung news reports have apparently failed to understand was reported on SwimInfo last week and confirmed in local Long Beach news outlets yesterday. Despite great attendance and a wonderful show, the Long Beach events from last summer currently show a $1.7 million loss, including about $75,000 still owed by USA Swimming which discouraged that town from even putting in a bid for the 2008 Olympic Trials.
Another logical site in the US, Indianapolis, has apparently chosen not to pursue a bid. David Woods of the Indianapolis Star reported the director of the IUPUI facility in Indianapolis, site of numerous major swimming events including Olympic Trials, sees the event as too large an undertaking to pursue on such short notice. In related considerations, however, the Indianapolis group sees no changes to the US World Championship Trials presently scheduled for this spring in Indianapolis, reasoning that even in the worst case scenario – full cancellation of the FINA meet – USA Swimming would still want a spring national-type meet and is also selecting a squad for the FISU World University Games.
Not everyone is resigned to the finality of the FINA decision. British swimming authorities have issued releases pleading that FINA re-think its decision. Montreal itself has not given up hope of a return of the event. CJAD, a Canadian news outlet, reports that the mayor of the city, Gerald Tremblay, has vowed to get the event back. Montreal is clearly angry and embarrassed by loss of the event which, when coupled with other losses such as the flight of the Montreal Expos professional baseball team, cause concern over Montreal’s credibility as a viable host in bids for all sorts of future events.
"We cannot allow our international reputation to be tarnished," a seething Tremblay said after FINA, the world governing body for water sports, announced its decision to withdraw the championships from Montreal due to financial problems. "I will not accept the decision," said Tremblay. "I will do everything in my power to make sure the event can take place as scheduled."
The mayor said he would set up a committee to find companies willing to fill a roughly $10 million shortfall in sponsorship revenue, adding that Montreal would "guarantee" that the event's $36.5 million budget would be met. He and the co-presidents of the organizing committee, Richard Pound and Roger Legare, were also lobbying FINA to reverse its decision.
CJAD also reported that many Canadian athletes were upset, having been looking forward to a world competition on their own soil. Defending world diving champion Alexandre Despatie voiced despair that the athletes and coaches are the ones hurt. Other athletes are known to have extended their careers by a year just to be able to compete in this meet with the pride of being on home turf.
Some sources have suggested the German federation will put forward two cities with Olympic or World Championship hosting experience – Munich, host of the 1972 Olympics or Berlin, host of the 1978 FINA competitions.
And finally, SwimInfo and AP reports reflect that after so recently hosting an event of major scope, Athens has reported not only that it is interested in hosting the event, but that it has been approached by FINA to throw its hat in the ring. Greek federation leaders say they have passed on the proposal for consideration by the Greek government and that they are prepared to host the event if not in Montreal. They are, after all, just a few months separated from having all the venues necessary for the FINA event operational in the Olympics.
So, who knows what happens next?
The swimming world loves watching Grant Hackett, Michael Phelps, Laure Manadou and their ilk slice through the water in the highest competitions. We are now seeing some of the background efforts, politics and financial realities necessary to pull these and similar events together that are more commonly unseen by the average observer. The privilege to see races like the men’s 4 x 200 freestyle relay from Athens, now knowing better some of the logistics necessary behind the scenes for the event to even occur, will hopefully be even sweeter in the future for this knowledge. We just hope those with the power to make the decisions affecting these events will keep in mind how much we enjoy and look forward to these opportunities for displays of true excellence.