Wayne’s World, Jerry World, Murphy’s New Law & The Brains Behind World-Class Braun

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Ryan Murphy - Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Swimming Brains Behind World-Class Braun

Should athletes have influence in society? Should they have a say in the way their sports are run? We take a first look, with contributions from Wayne Goldsmith and sportswriter Sabrina Knoll. 

Should elite athletes be spokespeople for things they feel strongly about or should they just stick to sport? That was the question put to Wayne Goldsmith, a member of the Swimming World team and lateral thinker on sports culture, performance, mentoring and how those splice with the wider world.

Good question.

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Wayne Goldsmith

Athletes, says Goldsmith in his commentary, have “got the potential to sell some wonderful stories … in places where people have no hope” and little chance of speaking for themselves in the expectation that their voices will change things.

The voice of the household name in sport can change things, especially at a time when the Athletes’ Voice is being heard above the noise of status-quo politics at such combined volume that those at the helm of governance are no longer in a position to treat this generation in the way that Dawn Fraser and others were treated in their era.

There are prime examples of where it all goes wrong when athletes stray beyond their reach in sport. Not of which shuts down the ability of many more athletes to have a positive impact and influence on debate and discussion in realms far and wide.

Listen to Wayne Goldsmith talk to RadioSport New Zealand about the position athletes hold in society and whether they should have as much influence as they do – and how they should act as a result.

The Frasers of the world are the exception not the rule, both in terms of sports performance and their outstanding ability to harness the power of their achievement and their competitive spirit to take on fights beyond the lane they excel in when the  big crowd tunes in.

For some athletes who are world-class but spend their careers just falling shy of the medals that would give them a platform, their skills beyond the pool, track, piste, field and court can translate to this, says Goldsmith: “What they have to offer is bigger than what they have to give in sport.”

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Game-changing at the International Swimming League – Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

That does not mean giving up on their sport but it does mean making more of their careers, raising their profiles – in swimming through such forums as the International Swimming League – and bringing their knowledge and fight to the top table of governance in sports that have too often made a masquerade of athlete representation when and where it most counts.

Konstantin Grigorishin, the founder and funder of the ISL, has made no secret of his wish to see athletes voice their feelings on whatever it is they feel passionate about. Only then will we get to know the personalities behind the fast times and medals and goggles and fast-fire quick quotes in the mixed zone. Only then will the wider audience better identify with the profiles and personalities behind the blocks. Athletes get that.

Ryan Murphy On The League – “ISL is a kick in the butt for all of us”

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Ryan Murphy on the need to hear the Athlete Voice – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Heading into his first ISL meet three-time Olympic champion Ryan Murphy, of the USA and, in the League, the LA Current Pro Team, spoke to Sabrina Knoll and Craig Lord about what it all meant to him. “This has been a year in the works now. So it’s really exciting that it’s here.”

Way back in London, December 2018, when I raised the matter of athletes have an opinion and a say, Murphy replied:

“Yeah. I mean I think it would be great if FINA started conferring with the athletes over decisions. That’s one of the things that I want to come out of this: transparency. What is actually going on with FINA? What is behind their decisions and where is our representation, so they’re utilizing the athletes, utilizing our opinions on key decisions. Everyone wants to grow the sport: I just think we should be one of the groups of people who are considered on that.”

Turning to boycott, the power of withdrawing labour and the death of a much-missed fellow athlete and teammate, Fran Crippen, Murphy is asked whether he feels governing bodies should embrace the hard and necessary discussions that lead to better times. He replies:

“I don’t think that’s contentious. Nothing we have to say is unreasonable. I don’t think of those conversations as being very hard. It’s just my opinion. So yeah, I would love to be asked more often about that stuff.”

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Katie Ledecky – Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Murphy knows all to well that even with names like Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel or Ryan Murphy, swimming in the USA does not have the profile of big time sports like football or basketball yet.

“There’s so much entertainment competition in the U.S.. You have Hollywood, you’ve got all the movies, music, all that coming out. And then you’v got the NFL, NBA, MLS, NHL.”

Once every four years, the lights come on a little bright in the pool and the world turns its gaze to the water. Says Murphy: “When we get to the olympic cycle, we’re thrust into the same level as those other leagues. But outside of that, up to now, no.”

And Murphy, 24, knows about the attraction of his sport.

“Every time someone goes to a swim meet outside of the Olympics they are like: This is so cool, I wish I actually knew about this stuff in a non-olympic year. A lot of it comes down to a lack of awareness, a lack of viewership awareness and exposure for the athletes. It’s not so readily available on TV as well. This is why I am backing ISL so hard. They are doing a really good job in terms of content distribution. And that’s an area where I’m really excited to see the growth after this first year. Just to put us in front of viewers at all times.”

Murphy, who went with teammates to watch the Dallas Cowboys at “Jerry World” after his first ISL experience, dares to dream big:

“Its exciting to see this project and dream where the ISL could go. I’m not saying we would today be able to build a facility like that and be able to fill it up with 70.000 people. It’s just really nice to have the financial backing of someone that is dreaming big. I’m so thankful for Konstantin and his vision of this. It’s the best opportunity we’ve had to push this sport forward and to kind of break through as a major international sport.”

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Ryan Murphy – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

The swimming revolution is “certainly a kick in the butt for all of us”, says Murphy, adding: “When you’re putting substantial dollars behind something, that is going to get everyone’s attention. And behind those dollars there is also an incredible vision for what he sees this sport becoming. And so I think it’s incredible that he’s stepped up. I think it has inspired the athletes a lot to think bigger and to think differently.

“We’ve kind of been stuck in this same routine: You do the Olympics, take a break after the Olympics and then you kind of build up and you do the Olympics again. You profit in that one year and the other years, a lot of people struggle. So it’s nice that we do have a consistent model in this to earn money outside of the Olympic years.” More than four million US-Dollars in appearance money and prize money for clubs and athletes will be awarded during ISL’s inaugural season, with men and women sharing equal prize money.

Brain Not Just Braun

Athletes like the League for another reason: the ISL takes them seriously. Says Murphy:

“I mean, the athletes did not get to this level by not being thoughtful, right? We put a lot of thought and care into our training and we know what will and will not impact that. For them to take that into account, that is huge. It’s not just empty outreach, asking us for advice. They are actually taking into account what we’re saying. And we all really appreciate that.”

When Athletes Call For A Voice In Setting the Race Schedule

The following press release from Global Athlete today is another example of athletes finding their voice in the realm of governance. The main thrust of the demands below is that athletes be consulted over what events make the starting line and that their views count in the decision-making process. The question that athletes must also ask themselves is whether the broadcasters and organisers of the Diamond League have valid points when attempting to reduce the number of events to make the ‘show’ more digestible and attract a wider audience. The question for governors, organisers and broadcasters is clear, too: what moves are you making to get the athlete representatives beyond ‘in-house’ around the table for proper discussion?

The release:

Global Athlete supports Athlete Groups in their call for World Athletics to rethink decision to drop Diamond League disciplines

Global Athlete supports the Global Throwing community, the USATF Athlete Advisory Committee and the Athletics Association headed by its founder Christian Taylor, with its call for World Athletics to reverse its decision to drop disciplines from Diamond League.

20 November 2019: Global Athlete has today pledged its full support to the Global Throwing community, the United States of America Track and Field (USATF) Athletes Advisory Committee and the Athletics Association’s call for World Athletics (formerly known as IAAF) to reverse its decision to drop key disciplines from its Diamond League Series.

As the custodian of athletics, World Athletics must not pretend to be an athlete-first organization while simultaneously cutting events from its flagship series without meaningful athlete engagement. The fact that World Athletics has justified these changes citing that “we have listened to our broadcasters and fans and made changes” is mind-boggling. The fact that World Athletics has not listened to its number one group of constituents – the athletes – is yet another sign of outdated governance. Athletes are the very individuals that fill the stadiums and bring revenues to the sport, so it goes without saying that they surely should be meaningfully engaged.

“Athletes are not fools, and we join the athletics community in saying that they should not be treated as such. To indicate that World Athletics ‘want athletes to be at the centre of decision-making, which is why we will have two athletes as full voting member of our Council’ once again shows how out of touch the sport is with its people. The World Athletics Council is comprised of 26 members and athletes only fill two places. Simple math proves that when a vote is tabled, athletes really don’t have a meaningful or an equal say at all,” said the Global Athlete Start-Up Group.

“Time and time again, we have stated that athletes want to be a part of the solution – this is not a ‘them and us’ situation, this is a case of collaboration. If World Athletics would have taken the time to engage athletes, you would be surprised how a collective athlete engagement can work together, positively, to overcome these crises and help grow the sport even more,” the group added.

World Athletics has in recent times repaired its reputation and been more in touch with athletes and fans, as was clear through the strong, principled stance the organization took in the Russian doping crisis and with the establishment of the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU). Global Athlete encourages World Athletics not to regress into yesterday’s problems, but to embrace this new era of athletes-first decision making and governance.

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