Commentary by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, June 16. A lot of things can be taken from FINA’s press release today about the 2014 World Cup, from the new sponsor to the shortened schedule.
As for me, I’m not concerned that Eindhoven and longtime host Berlin were removed from the list of World Cup sites. This is not the first time a city has been taken off the list to be replaced by a new host. I thought it was strange when Durban removed itself from the list a few years back after bringing a good deal of participants to South Africa for a couple of days. Perhaps FINA should rotate the host cities every two or three years, to keep it fresh for those who attend these meets annually.
As I learned in 2012 when talking to USA Swimming Assistant Executive Director Mike Unger, the World Cup hosts make no money, especially because spectator attendance is extremely low. That means we shouldn’t expect a World Cup in the USA soon, no matter the star power that USA Swimming could promise FINA. Berlin has hosted a World Cup meet for many years, and it’s likely not a viable option anymore. Plus, the city will have just completed a stint hosting the European championships, so having a year off might be ideal. I’m betting that Berlin returns to the World Cup family next year.
The Middle East remains a big part of World Cup travel, and emphasizes FINA’s growing interest in that region for top-level swim meets. Remember that Doha is hosting short course worlds in December, and I would imagine the construction of state-of-the-art facilities is helping that city in its quest to get an Olympic bid in the near future. Not sure Qatar is the right place for it, though. Would you want to be a spectator at an Olympics in the middle of the desert in July or August? It will be quite comfortable in mid-December, however, for short course worlds.
I’m happy that Moscow is still on the list of host cities, especially with the recent news that the Olympic pool was bought by a private corporation. I feared either the facility would be razed for cheap housing or the pool remodeled in a negative way.
For many years, the World Cup has been an eight-meet circuit. This year, it’s only doing seven stops. The first thought that crossed my mind was: FINA doesn’t have enough in their coffers to pay the prize money for all eight meets. Sponsors are supposed to help with that, and I suppose Russia’s Mastbank didn’t want to pony up all the money, which amounts to nearly $100,000 per city.
Katinka Hosszu and Chad Le Clos ran away with truckloads of money last year, thanks to world record bonuses and the overall $100,000 check each for winning their gender point standings. Their bank accounts won’t blossom as much this year, and maybe that’s for the best. Everyone needs some time at home to recharge their batteries, and with the World Cup beginning immediately after the European championships, I would imagine Hosszu will barely see the inside of her home in Hungary from August through December. One less weekend of racing won’t diminish her Iron Lady status.
I would like to see more Americans attending the meet. Every year, a squad made of junior national team members takes on a couple of meets to get some international racing experience. As one who was part of such a trip, I know it is an invaluable two weeks abroad. I learned so much about race preparation, met so many friends and talked with some of my idols. But USA Swimming should give their elite swimmers the opportunity to take on this popular meet by paying travel expenses for some. Perhaps for swimmers who won medals at the previous year’s top meet? Or those ranked in the top five in the world? Either way, professional swimmers are strapped for cash, and don’t have the money to pay for three to four months of travel to Europe and Asia. Any money won by the athletes would be theirs, and USA Swimming would likely give swimmers more incentive to swim fast and invest in a future that could pay off with Olympic medals in 2016. Don’t you think the promise of nearly-free international travel for the World Cup would give someone like Anthony Ervin, Caitlin Leverenz, Eugene Godsoe or Tom Luchsinger the motivation to train even harder to meet that standard?
You can reach Jeff Commings at firstname.lastname@example.org.