By Phillip Whitten
MONTREAL, January 18. TODAY is D-Day — Decision Day. Time to fish or cut bait. Today FINA and Montreal 2005 meet organizers will decide whether or not there will be a FINA World Swimming Championship meet — in Montreal, at least. FINA will follow with an official announcement tomorrow.
Officials from the Canadian city will meet representatives from FINA, today, hoping to convince them they have locked in enough money to keep their end of the hosting contract.
Lack of support from sponsors and poor ticket sales have meant funding for the championships, scheduled for July, has fallen $Can18.2 million short of what is required under contract by FINA, despite the Canadian federal, Quebec provincial and Montreal municipal governments putting in $Can44 million.
Canadian Swim Group Offers $1/2 million
In a largely symbolic, last-ditch effort to keep the meet in Montreal, scheduled for July 17-31, Canadian swim organizations have offered $500,000 of their own money to encourage sponsors to get involved. It is almost certainly a case of too little, too late. FINA meets today in Frankfurt, Germany, to make a final decision on whether to let the cash-starved championships take place in Montreal in July or to try to send them elsewhere.
"My gut feeling about this is going up and down with every hour," said Linda Cuthbert, president of the Aquatics Federation of Canada, which put $500,000 on the table. "I certainly haven't given up hope."
The AFC decision came at an emergency board meeting on the weekend, as a show of faith in the event to "stimulate other stakeholders to come forward to eliminate the current $12.2-million revenue shortfall," an AFC statement said.
That contribution is actually legacy money, staging fees that were to come to the AFC for the five-sport championship event, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail.
"The money was to be spent to send the next generation of Canadian athletes to other competitions. Instead, that future may be mortgaged to try to keep the world championships alive in Montreal's newly built pools.
"Cuthbert told Canadian media: 'Our enemy is time. No one wants to go first. The $500,000 is not significant in the big picture in terms of what is needed. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have the championships in our own country, before our own fans. We recognize it's a crisis, but we wanted to take the initiative and step up to the plate.
"'The job now is to convince FINA that all the [Canadian government] partners are very committed, and to find a solution and make it happen.'
"Cuthbert said: 'To lose the world's most important amateur sporting event of the year would be an embarrassment for Canada and could jeopardize our relations with FINA, as well as other sport-hosting opportunities for Canada into the future.'
"Richard Pound, co-president of the Montreal 2005 organizing committee, said on Sunday the odds have increased that FINA will pull the plug on Montreal.
The decision will likely depend on whether there are other sites available, Pound said. The Canadians have suggested Long Beach, California, on several occasions, but that has never been a realistic option. It became even less likely yesterday when it was pointed out that $75,000 worth of bills from the 2004 US Olympic Trials still have not been paid, a situation that does not set well with Long Beach taxpayers.
One possible solution might be to split up the sports instead of having all the world's aquatic athletes in one place, an option FINA is loathe to take.
Another possiblilty is to stage the event in one of the oil-rich Arab emirates, a solution that likely would generate more problems than it solves.
Perhaps the most likely solution would be a return to Athens, the scene of the 2004 Olympics. Indeed, informed FINA sources indicate that the Greek capital is the only serious candidate that has emerged to replace Montreal as host of this year's world championships.
SwimInfo will keep you informed of developments on the World Championships as soon as they take place.