Tremble With Indignation

The title of this post is a quote from a hero of mine, Che Guevara. The full quote says, “If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.” Among many other famous quotes Guevara also said, “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.”

New Zealand swimming needs a Che Guevara, not only for his revolutionary skills but also because, in his youth, he was a good competitive swimmer and rugby player. It seems he would have been right at home in New Zealand. I’d love to know what Che Guevara would have made of the Cotterill, Johns and Francis un-holy alliance. I suspect he would have sussed out and sorted out that weak kneed lot in a heartbeat. Including them in the same paragraph as Che Guevara is farcical. A bit like comparing three Jellyfish to a Tiger Shark

However I have strayed from the point of the post. This week in London some exceptional swimmers and their supporters were in the FINA orchard making the apples fall. I wish I could have been there. Here is what the press release, before the meeting, had to say.

A galaxy of stars, including 11 Olympic and 18 World champions from 10 of the world’s leading swimming nations, will gather at a brain-storming summit in London to help launch a new era for their sport.

The International Swimming League will host a two-day event at Stamford Bridge. The aim is to provide athletes with “the tools to build a brighter future for their sport in a professional environment”, starting with the creation of a global Swimmers’ Association.

Having a collective voice will help swimmers create the foundation for a better future, both during and after their sports career. This is the moment when athletes can make history as the pioneers who changed their sport for the better.

The League, led by financier Konstantin Grigorishin, intends to launch a swimming series of professional team matches starting from next year. Efforts to establish the League have so far been blocked by FINA, threatening suspensions, but waves of world-class swimmers, have urged the global body to think again.

While global sport is a lucrative business worth billions and swimmers generate hundreds of millions in revenue for FINA, swimmers work and compete as professionals but have, as Grigorishin puts it, “no salary, social guarantees, no welfare, no medical and life insurance, no pension rights”.

The League has pledged to change all that, starting with the creation of a Professional Swimmers Association that will represent athletes to build a fair partnership with regulators and event organizers, the welfare of swimmers and their rights to earn a living from their work will be paramount.

Two days later and the meeting has come and gone. Craig Lord has written an excellent report on the Swimvortex Facebook page. Of critical importance is the realisation that every FINA point made at the meeting is equally relevant to Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). Here is a summarized version of Craig Lord’s report.

Financier and ISL backer, Konstantin Grigorishin, explained the steps swimmers have to consider to convert swimming into a professional sports that would pay them regular wages, unlock their market value and deliver rights and responsibilities.

The monopoly run by FINA is not only past its sell-by date but is out of tune with national and international laws.

FINA’s monopoly includes governance that locks athletes out of the decision-making process. In response swimmers are talking to experts with a view to forming a Professional Swimmers’ Association.

Swimmers needed to recognise that their power rests in their right to withdraw from competition that did not agree to a fair share of revenue and consult over other aspects affecting athletes, including image rights and race formats.

Konstantin Grigorishin, delivered a simple message to athletes: “This is your mission. We can help you with the knowledge and point you to the great opportunity on offer. It is not our ambition to bring down FINA. We can co-exist if they understand that their role is that of a regulator of rules not people; if they understand that athletes have a right to share 50% of all revenues they generate as the stars of swimming.”

The mission for swimmers who wanted to raise their earning power in a competitive trillion-dollar global sports industry was to:

1. Establish their true market value

2. Determine how to unlock it

3. Build professional representation

FINA shares less than ten per cent of its revenue with swimmers that do not stretch to pension rights, insurance and other standard rights of employment. In contrast, ISL has pledged to share 50% of all revenues generated by its proposed series of team matches and has suggested swimmers accept nothing less from any competition organisers.

“Our goal is to promote swimming, expand its fan base, and create opportunities for swimmers and the sport. FINA’s apparent goal is to maintain an iron grip on its unlawful control of the sport at the expense of swimmers and any would-be competitors.”

What a breath of fresh air all that is. Of course FINA and SNZ provide those who earn their income with next to nothing. Of course their monopoly control is wrong and illegal. Of course change is well overdue. However the point made in the London meeting, and a point that I have been making in Swimwatch for at least ten years, is the argument made by Konstantin Grigorishin that the role of FINA (and SNZ) is to be “regulators of rules not people”.

Where SNZ has consistently failed is every time they attempt to get involved in managing the affairs of swimmers. Training swimmers has not worked. SNZ teams have consistently failed to perform. The teach learn-to-swim teachers program is a failed joke. Undeterred by a perfect history of disaster SNZ now want to take on para-swimmers. For all the reasons the other “people” escapades have failed, para-swimming will also founder and drown.

As recently as this morning I watched Gary Francis taking the World SC Championship team for a training session at the Millennium Pool. In my opinion he is ill-equipped for that job. It was a case of SNZ repeating the mistake that has ruined New Zealand swimming for the past 3650 days. In business school parlance it is called “sticking to your knitting”.  SNZ should regulate the rules of the sport and let others better equipped guide the careers of the athletes.

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