S.O.S.: Save Our Sport! A Call to Action

(The following Call to Action is adapted from Editor Phillip Whitten's "Editor's Note" in both the May/June issue of SWIM and the May issue of SWIMMING WORLD.)

By Phillip Whitten

At last year’s Olympic Games in Sydney, the U.S. swim team performed magnificently. Even while competing in Australia–in the land of The Thorpedo, in the very lair of the world’s most rabid aqua aficionados—our swimmers left no doubt that the United States is the world’s leading swimming power. Numero uno.

Despite superb performances on the part of the Aussies, the Dutch, and others, our kids came home with no fewer than 33 medals — 14 of the golden variety. That was fully 35% of all the medals — and all the gold medals — the USA won in all Olympic sports combined.

Those figures are no aberration, no blip on an otherwise unremarkable graph. In fact, they are entirely typical. Since the modern Olympics began in 1896, swimming has been the number one Olympic sport for the USA. Over the last century, athletes from our sport have won one-third of all medals won by American athletes in the Games.

So you’d think that swimmers would be lionized on their return. You’d think that schools and universities would be rushing to enhance their swim programs, or to start new ones. Especially when they saw the types of men and women our swimmers are — few whiny, spoiled brats among them. Especially when they learned how swimmers routinely score highest in the classroom — not only higher than athletes from all other sports, but higher than nonathletes as well.

If that’s what you thought, you’d be wrong. Dead wrong!

What’s been happening in the last few months is nothing less than a nationwide attempt to kill collegiate swimming. Particularly, men’s swimming.

Crassly waving the holy banner of Title IX and chanting the magic words of "cutting costs," cynical Athletic Directors across the nation have announced proudly that they were cutting men’s swimming. The one percent of the budget thus saved could be used for something "useful" — like padding the basketball coach’s salary, hiring an eighth assistant AD, or adding to the bail fund for errant football players.

The hypocritical abuse of Title IX is nothing short of breath-taking. That law was meant to enhance opportunities for women, not take away opportunities for men.

Swimming is not alone; other sports, such as wrestling and gymnastics, have been hurt more. But there is absolutely no doubt: we are being targeted. Just this year alone, men’s programs at the University of Washington, James Madison, San Francisco State, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa State have been put on the chopping block. Last year there were others. Some Ads, such as the incumbent in Nebraska, have gone from university to university, cutting the men's swim program.

In some cases, the swimming community has been able to reverse those decisions. But we’ve lost a few too —programs that may never be restored. Make no mistake about it: the events of recent months constitute the most serious threat ever to college swimming—and to the continuing dominance of the USA at the Olympic Games.

That’s why we need to act. Now! We–the swimming community, coaches, the Masters, the parents of today’s age-groupers, those of us who know what a wonderful sport swimming is, who have seen the and experienced the lifelong benefits it conveys. We need to act.

Right now I am putting together a "How to Save Your Swim Program" brochure, which will be ready in September. It draws on the experience of dedicated swimmers, coaches, parents, alums, business execs and politicians who have devoted their time and energy to saving collegiate swim programs.

What we need now are professional people — lawyers, political figures, business people, Masters swimmers, etc. — willing to volunteer their time, expertise and a few dollars to save programs that may be threatened next year or the year after. We need to be so well organized – as a national swimming community – that it would be too politically costly for any school to drop its program. And we need to forge alliances with other threatened Olympic sports.

If you’d like to assist in this vital effort, please e-mail me at: philw@swiminfo.com

The future of our sport depends on you!

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