Twist In FINA’s Mantra Of “More” At Olympic Games Alive In Plea For Stroke 50s, Bigger 10k Shoal & High Diving

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Ben Proud Blasts From His Blocks - Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

FINA will return to the same thorny issue of a bolt-on diet for aquatic sports at the Olympic Games in its lobbying of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ahead of the Paris 2024 Games.

According to sources close to the top table of the global governance of swimming, diving, synchro and water polo, the IOC will be asked to add six swimming events in the pool, 10 more competitions for the open water marathon events and a whole new sport, High Diving.

Swimming World posed the question – which events would you add? – last week, ahead of considering the Dickens of a Twist in FINA’s eternal mantra: “Please sir, I want some more.”

For Tokyo 2020 in 2021, FINA gained IOC approval for the addition of the 800m freestyle for men and the 1500m freestyle for women, plus the 4x100m medley mixed relay to reinforce gender equality with a matched program for men and women for the first time in Olympic history in the pool.

The addition of 50m stroke events – on backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly – was rejected by the IOC for 2020 but FINA’s leadership is minded to lobby on the same grounds once more, a swimming source confirmed.

The freestyle dash was introduced at the 1986 World Championships and the 1988 Olympic Games, while stroke 50s were tested at the Perth 1998 World Championships and introduced officially at the 2001 edition of the global gathering in Fukuoka, the Japanese city that will host the next World Championships in 2022, COVID-19 having led to a one-year delay.

Stroke dash events would create new medal opportunities for the best 100m racers, such as Adam Peaty and Lilly King on breaststroke, Sarah Sjostrom and Caeleb Dressel on butterfly, while the likes of Ben Proud and Florent Manaudou, who are at their best over 50m could extend their medal shots beyond freestyle to butterfly and, in the case of the Frenchman, backstroke, too, going off previous form, both members of the Energy Standard International Club having been World champions beyond the freestyle dash they are better known for in the Olympic pool.

In addition to the stroke request, FINA is also pushing to add five men and five women to the 10km marathon races, a move that would take each race up from 25 to 30 racers in the water.

On High Diving, the IOC has a big decision to make in terms of what it wants at a time when E-Sports and highly popular street sports are on the rise, another source noted, adding:

“On the plus side, the sport can be spectacular and the extreme nature and potential for using stunning venues in large open spaces can attract large crowds for a show that fits well into the ‘street-festival’ element of a Games.”

The spectacular Olympic Games potential of High Diving – Photo Courtesy: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool

If ticket sales are “tricky” because crowds can often watch the events from a riverside or seafront without being inside a ticket zone, the bigger downsides include the numbers who participate in elite high diving around the world are very low compared to participation levels in swimming, athletics and other key summer Olympic sports.

Just 18 nations and 35 divers represented high diving at the FINA World Championships last year, compared to more than 180 nations and around 1,000 athletes for swimming. There is also no gender parity in high diving: men go from 27m, women from 20m.

There is also safety to consider. While safety issues are a part of the training of elite divers, as it is in gymnastics and several others sports, research suggests that the impact associated with high diving could have negative effects on the joints and muscles of athletes.

The presence of frogmen and emergency medical teams at high diving events confirm a clear risk of injury, the kinds of injuries and relevant issues in law discussed in this paper by Tario Law.

Low participation numbers can at once be a plus and a minus for high diving. At a time when the IOC has its eye on the scale and financial burden of the Games with a view to making the Olympic sustainable, one of the goals is to keep numbers down. On the other hand, the lower the numbers, the weaker the universal nature of a sport is.

High Diving will face strong competition when the IOC considers additional events. Take E-Sports. An IOC summit in October 2017 acknowledged the growing popularity of E-Sports and concluded the genre “could be considered as a sporting activity, and the players involved prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in traditional sports”.

Adding E-Sports, however, would require any games used for the Olympics to fit “the rules and regulations of the Olympic movement”.

On numbers, the issue is a no-brainer: it has been estimated that 106 million people viewed the 2017 Worlds Esports competition, which involved 24 teams of six players each, for 144 players in all.

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The Paris 2024 Olympic Games bid logo projected on to the Arc de Triomphe – courtesy of Paris 2024

Also working against High Diving is Paris 2024’s own plans: among the three sports that will be added to the Games program is another aquatics discipline. One outside the governance of FINA: surfing. Sport climbing and skateboarding, both with participation numbers well in excess of those high diving musters, are the other two Paris 2024 additions.

In negotiations over additions to the Olympic program, one of the questions often asked is “and what will you relinquish”.

For High Diving to make the cut, along with 10 more open water racers and scores of pure sprinters in strokes for six new dash events, synchro, renamed Artistic Swimming by FINA but still widely referred to as synchronised swimming, may be asked to pay a price.

FINA’s goals also include raising the numbers of water polo players. There is no quid pro quo in its strategic thinking as the deadline for submitting any additional-event proposals for Paris 2024 looms: December this year.

Olympic Games Goal Is To Reduce Numbers

What the IOC is likely to want from FINA is the list of events that would have to go to make way for the new. The IOC’s stated aims include:

  • Reducing the number of athletes overall at the Games to 10,500 (more than 11,000 were in Rio and are expected at Tokyo 2020 in 2021)
  • Priority for events that can take place in existing venues
  • Priority for events that can happen within existing quotas (the 50m strokes could be added without adding more swimmers if team quotas are imposed)
  • Priority to sports that demonstrates gender equality in numbers and program

There were 34 swimming events, including the marathons, at Rio 26. That number will grow to 37 in Tokyo. Under FINA proposals, there would be 43 swimming events in Paris.

Paris will state the Games 100 years after its last turn, in 1924, when 24 nations sent swimmers, more than the numbers that sent high divers to World titles in 2019. Back then, there were 11 swimming events, six for men and 5 for women, the program (100, 400, 15000m, free, 100m backstroke, 200m breaststroke, 4x200m free for men; 100, 400m freestyle, 100m backstroke, 200m breaststroke, 4x100m freestyle for women) lasting until the birth of butterfly in 1956. Three entries per nation were allowed in each solo event at Paris 1924 – and that lasted until 1960.


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