Commentary: How to Organize Swimming for Professional Athletes’ Best Future

Venue Panoramic View . Athletes warm up Copenhagen 10-12-2017 Royal Arena LEN European Short Course Swimming Championships - Campionati Europei nuoto vasca corta Foto Andrea Staccioli / Insidefoto / Deepbluemedia
Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Insidefoto / Deepbluemedia

Commentary on Professional Athletes by John Leonard, ASCA

USA Swimming reorganized itself into a “governance board” model in 2018. I believe that is the model of the future for a part of our sport…the part that serves many hundreds of thousands of developmental athletes.

Is it the Best for the hundreds who declare themselves to be “Professional Athletes?” I suspect that question will now occupy us for  the next decade as we sort out what that “best model” looks like.

My friend Ira Klein got it right 15 years ago when he asked “should our age groupers be governed by the same body that governs our Olympic Team?” The implication then, and the played-out reality now, is that no, it should not.

I have no issues at all with USA-Swimming running our Olympic Team operation. But our athletes may. And they may well be taking things into their own hands at this present moment, with an Association supported initially by the International Swimming League.

Like golf pros and tennis pros, swimming professionals have now realized that it’s not FINA that makes them, it’s them that makes FINA. And the athletes are not getting their fair share of the pot of gold, and their fair results in an Olympic Sports world tarnished with drugs and other forms of corruption, via FINA and the IOC.

And they are taking their future and the future of their sport into their own hands. And coaches, as the people who support and encourage athletes from bubble blowing and first strokes, through to Olympic Gold, should all support the athletes taking charge of their own professional future.

Let’s look briefly at the “real” successful professional sports. The NBA and the NFL are those two leagues. Each have the strongest unions and the strength of collective bargaining. The NBA by rule, provides 50% of the ALL league revenues into the pockets of the athletes, exactly as the ISL proposes and great British Olympian Adam Peaty has recently asked FINA to do.

According to World Swimming Association President George Block, “Bill Belichick and Greg Popovich are the models of coach leadership of their respective teams and their “coaching bloodlines” are sought after by every team looking for a new coach. Successful ownership of teams leave the coaching to the professional coaches. “

Meanwhile the “Boards” of each league are made up of owners. The owners focus on the business side of the sport,  and leave the coaching to the coaches. We are all familiar with the continuously failing model of the interfering owner. They are Cliché.  We know what works and we know what doesn’t. Stick to the knitting!

For USA Swimming, ownership is the Board of Directors. Coach leadership cannot overcome ownership that doesn’t respect is boundaries. Coach leadership thrives, and athletes thrive, where each sticks to the knitting.

If the athletes stick together and they follow through and form the association and the money of the International Swimming League helps them achieve that, the athletes will earn a professional living and can dictate to the IOC and FINA the conditions under which they will compete in the great show of the Olympic Games and World Championships. That will likely include REAL anti-doping efforts so all professionals can compete without potentially compromising their health AND compromising the integrity of the pool where they earn their living. They have every incentive to do so, as opposed to the IOC and FINA, who have every incentive to “use” the athletes to fill their bank accounts, without regard to the real welfare of the athlete. History shows that to be the absolute truth.

A Professional Swimmers Association serving their constituents, is the Best Possible Service to the Sport of Swimming.  Good on all of ya!

A better world of Olympic Sport is within sight for the first time in any of our lifetimes.

Go Get It!