It’s all about the money

Just as I am lamenting about the cost of competitive swimming for parents, I come across this open letter that one of my most admired athletes Katinka Hosszu has published, which I found to be endorsed by Adam Peaty:

Dear Fellow Swimmers,You might be reading these words in the middle of the night or just before dawn. I am not sure when you find the time, but what I do know for sure is that from all of the elite athletes in the world, swimmers get up the earliest and go to bed the latest. This isn’t exactly by choice. Most of us have to live two lives. While we strive for greatness in the pool, we must also manage our lives outside the pool. While the Iron Lady is preparing for Worlds in Budapest, Katinka prepares for her life after swimming. Although the World sees us, swimmers, as one of the most hard working and determined professionals, our leaders seem to think our sport is amateur, therefore we are amateurs, and that is exactly the way they treat us.

If swimming is still not a professional sport, then that is a reflection of the work FINA has been doing for the past few decades, not a reflection on the sport that is one of the fundamentals of childhood athletic development. There is a reason why many children  do not stick to competitive swimming; it is extremely challenging. If you want to be a swimmer in 2017, you can know one thing is for sure, if you are not in the top 5 in the World, you will invest more than you will make. Does it sound attractive? Not really. Could we make it more appealing? I am certain that we can, so long as FINA helps us, instead of holding the best athletes back.

First of all, they should reach out and listen to us, the swimmers. They should hear us out and not decide upon major rule changes without our input on the topic. If they would have asked for our opinion, we could have told them that the World Cup has huge potential, but the planned new rule changes are destructive and hypocritical.

Everyone thinks that the new World Cup rule changes are against Katinka Hosszu. That can be partially true, because they definitely screwed me over. Imagine, I’m like one of those students that got straight A’s in every class, plus took-on drawing and chorus as extra curricular activities. Then, the next year I’m told I cannot do extra curricular activities because my success was bothering the rest of the students. The real truth, however, was that it was only the teacher who was bothered.

I could view myself as a victim, but, on the other hand, I get advantages from FINA that I never requested. I don’t want to automatically advance to the finals of the World Cup competitions based on my previous results at international competitions. I want to race for the final spots with young talents, like Iwasakis or Egerszegis, and if they are better than me at the age of 14, let them show their talent. With the new World Cup rule changes they have to start from a disadvantage—they have to wait until the sport’s top athletes get old or finish their careers before they can have the advantage of automatic advancement to finals. This is just not fair.

According to the new rules of the competition, every event won’t be offered at every stop. Now, for example, a top German swimmer might not compete in his own country because his main event (or events) will only be offered in Moscow or Eindhoven, but not Berlin. Why does FINA make rules that are harmful for the athletes, the organizers of the competition, the World Cup itself and swimming as a whole? These rules are risking the future of our sport, which I am not willing to support with my silence.

How can a sport label rules “innovative” when they are actually destructive, limiting the participation of the sport’s top athletes? Will the NBA limit one of its biggest stars, LeBron James, in his eighth participation in the big final next year? Will the ATP try to remind Nadal and Federer that their time is over? As one of the current faces of swimming, I should be focused on preserving and extending my career by not taking on too many events and not having my image being overused. Instead, here I am fighting to be allowed to swim as much as I want and to continue to popularize my sport.

Please don’t think that the leaders of FINA don’t know all of this. They are desperate to keep the importance of the World Championships alive and thriving – an event in which the revenues and profits do not get shared with the athletes – by destroying the World Cup, an event that could be in the future a more lucrative opportunity financially for many swimmers. FINA clearly sees that they could lose their complete power over the sport if even a few of the athlete’s images were to grow bigger than FINA’s. My story is not about Katinka Hosszu but about all the professional swimmers who have already realized they have enough power to influence the sport’s future.

I strongly believe that swimming can be a real professional sport, but for that we need to break the sport’s previous decades long mentality, which is based on the idea: everyone is equal, but among equals there should be more equals. FINA’s leaders have already decided: they do not want to treat the swimmers as equal negotiating partners, and instead they created destructive rules which are specifically limiting our opportunities. Instead of representing the sport and the swimmers’ interests, they focus exclusively to please their own business interests while they operate as if it were 1989 rather than 2017.

6,8 billion. According to FINA this is how many times people switched to the TV broadcasts of the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia. These same people, who are bragging about these amazing broadcasting numbers, dare to tell us that there is no money in swimming, making it an amateur sport. If this is in fact true, why can’t we see how much revenue was generated from the broadcasting rights? If all swimmers are blocked from wearing headphones from one of their own personal sponsors, since one of FINA’s sponsorship contracts specifically blocks this, then why can’t the swimmers see exactly how FINA is benefitting from this partnership? Why can’t the swimmers benefit from the sport’s most popular international events? This is not even mentioning logos on apparel.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that FINA is in chaos. There is the lack of transparency in the financials, the constantly changing rules, and leaders with no vision. At first it may seem a bit scary, but this is the time for us, the swimmers, to do something about the future of our sport. We wouldn’t need to be pioneers; there are so many inspiring examples from other sports before us.

Based on regulations in the NBA, the league has to give more than half of the yearly profit to the athletes; exactly 51% goes to the athletes as salary, not more, not less. Therefore both the league and the athletes have the same motives. This system is transparent and fair. Do you know why the league is set up this way? Not because the leadership of NBA was so generous and offered a percentage of the profit as a gift. It’s because the players recognized the power of being united and the NBA had to realize that without the players the league would be worth nothing.

In 1973, Nikola Pilic, the best Yugoslavian tennis player of his time, was banned by his federation because instead of playing for the national team for free, he participated in a Canadian prize money competition. When the organizers of Wimbledon told Pilic that because of his sanction he couldn’t compete, he was furious.

Tennis was on its rise at this time: businessmen, agents, and broadcasters were all waiting to come in for their cut of the big money that the players could make with their performances. The athletes knew that they had to be prepared for this change, so a year earlier they established ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals). Pilic told the president of the players association about his ban, who then convinced the 50 top tennis players to sign a petition which said, If he won’t play, we won’t either.

The international federation, the media and the public laughed at the athletes for their weak attempt unify and everyone was sure that when the biggest tournament was about to start the athletes will change their mind. On the day of the draw, out of all the biggest stars, there was only one English and four East-European players set to compete. (The English player was there for patriotic reasons and the other four players because of their communist country’s pressure.) The other 81 players left united. And what was the result? The most awkward sporting event of all time, where the 300,000 fans could watch amateur third class players compete. It became clear, even the biggest, most prestigious event is worthless without the best athletes.

The international federation was forced to realize, the power was in the player’s hands: they immediately cleared Pilic’s ban, gave the athletes the freedom to choose where and when they want to play and to let the athletes have a say on the most important decisions and rule changes of the sport’s future.

From that point on there was no stopping: in the next 10 years the prize money increased tenfold and tennis has become one of the most profitable sports of all time, and not just for the organizers or the players, but for everyone involved.

We must learn from the boycott of Wimbledon, because without them there wouldn’t be greats like Agassi, Federer, or Djokovic. Their message is crystal clear: we have to stand up for ourselves, we don’t have to let them decide without us, when and where we compete and for how much money. If the rules – which they create without asking for our opinion – are harmful, illogical and pointless, we have to stand up for what we believe in because that’s our responsibility!

I’m 28 years old. I’ve won 21 gold medals in the Olympics, World and European championships, and I’m sure I am already in the back half of my career. I could put my head in the sand, compete a little longer and then live comfortably for the rest of my life. Believe me, I am not writing these words for myself, but for the younger swimmers and those generations who come after them.

Isn’t it amazing when 8-year-old kids are running up to us with awe and asking for autographs? Isn’t it amazing when successful adults look at us as their role models? Aren’t you proud when you hear a grandpa tell his grandchild that we should be their heroes? For them and millions of people, we are the sport of swimming. This is why it is our responsibility how we change the future of swimming.

The opportunity has always been right in front of us. But it is up to us to take the chance. Just like in any performance, we all have to start this together, but instead of us competing against each other, this time we have to fight together as one. Letter-to-Swimming-Hosszu


Perhaps it is one of the most potent reasons why there is little sponsorship for young swimmers available, why the government won’t sponsor it and why parents and swimmers get fed up with it, this is because swimmers cannot go professional and here in Britain cannot even get any prize money for winning medals.

Madison is only at the beginning of her swimmer’s journey and I often thought, where does all the money go that I spent? Will we ever see a reward?

Perhaps it would be easier to finance swimming clubs and training, if there was a professional scheme in place that offered financial rewards at the end.

White Currants

Swimming, especially as school sport seems to be the white currant of sport. To explain, there are black currants, red currants and white currants, we all can buy the red currants, know the black currants from jam, cheese cake and juice but the white currants are hardly known. In the school sports world, here in London, swimming is hardly known to exist.

What really is important to introduce swimming as a sport to schools and having looked at the Sport England Website, they have some very good headlines like: “Swimming – Health benefits proven“, Core market – people who already play sport are hugely valuable”, “Local delivery“.

For school sport however, here in Greater London especially, there is no funding available for schools to make it a permanent feature as a school sport. Primary schools get funding for 2 years to take primary kids to swimming once per week for 45 minutes. It is actually enshrined in British law that school must teach children to swim.

Madison, who attends secondary at Bishop Challoner Girls now gotten taken swimming for one half term, that is around 6 sessions for 1 hour each per year. Madison’s PE teachers think she is not athletic enough to be put into the set 1 for PE ‘because she is only a swimmer and that is not a school sport’. [sic]. Though her school is very supportive of her swimming club lessons, starting at 6am on some mornings.

All the swimming that Madison does with her swimming club is privately funded. Parents have to pay for club membership, for ASA membership, competitions and travel there, costumes and equipment are also dear. Parents even need to volunteer to keep the clubs running, to man competition officials. For being an official parents even have to purchase their own stop watches and whites to wear and other equipment. often at competitions it is hard to get the core amount of officials needed to run the competitions.

I think that structurally swimming is chronically under-funded.

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that especially in London schools usually do not have pools inside the school compound.

Swimming has become a private sport that has to be financed with money that people earn and is manned with swimmers whose carers/family can afford to bring them to lessons, especially when they are younger.

As already mentioned in the previous post top coaches earn a good salary that an average club cannot afford. Swimming generally gets funded by lottery money or many athlets depends on GLL funding, clubs depend on the hugely important Jack Petchey foundation.

British swimming has established two British Swim Centres in Loughborough and Bath, four top coaches are employed to train there and coach Olympic teams but London, that actually has the Olympic pool has no such scheme; we merely have a Beacon program.

The Beacon program is a huge and very important step forward to get competitive swimming established and furthered in all regions of Britain. London’s Beacon program is delivered by the LACPP at the London Aquatics Centre. With the UEL running the LACPP and top coaches’ careers being at jeopardy at present because of a funding problem, we are really on edge about the future of our swimming club.

I do understand that UEL and Swim England are currently negotiating the situation and I have no complete insight how the funding works but obviously from the £100.000 Lottery funding that Sport England gives the UEL to run LACPP over 4 years, (according to the Minister for Sport), there is a doubt that the coach, who delivers the Beacon program and excellently so, can stay in post because of a lack of funding.

Swimming is chronically underfunded. In school sports’ teachers minds, swimmers are not atheltic and the ethos of swimming seems centred around those who are already famous and made it to the top. 84900739_84900738We all love Adam Peaty. But getting there literally needs years and years of almost daily training and when at the top often training twice per day. Adam is extremely athletic.

To get swimming more widely established, schools should get funding to make swimming a school sport as it would cut the health care costs that the NHS is so worried about. So the government should fund more  swimming in schools as they would save the money on NHS costs.

Parents are already investing a large part of their salaries into the swimming sport of their children, many parents simply do not have the money at all to allow their kids to swim as a sport. Recently, through cut-backs, some local councils stopped funding their local swimming clubs and that has a huge effect on clubs. Many club coaches have to work during the day and coach in the evenings to help kids into competitive swimming, they all do their utmost.

Swimming is probably the most undangerous sport that has the most health benefits and should make Britain a healthier nation, so the Sports Ministry should invest more into it.

I also think that swimming club membership keeps children off the streets and helps reduce crime.

 

 

 

 

The good people of Britain

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Keep calm and carry on
Keep calm and carry on

Just received a reply from the Department for Media, Culture and Sport, showing that my communications where not put before the minister but answered by a member of the Ministerial Support Team, telling me that Sport England invested £400.000,– of Lottery funding between 2015 – 2019 (this works out as £100.000,– per year).

Sport England works with the University of East London to make the program sustainable. This means they can’t spend what they don’t earn.

Running a swimming club is very expensive. A top coach receives around £60.000 per year in wages. The more swim classes, the more coaches you need. Of course learn-to-swim coaches are not quite so dear but the Living wage, goes up and up.

Some clubs, that do not receive any prop-up funding constantly scrape their financial barrels, kids are seen spending the weekends fund-raising.

Clubs which can manage better usually have rich sponsors, either because the Billionaire parents can afford to bolster their club’s spending or because a club is fortunate enough to get charity funding. Many clubs increasingly rely on Jack Petchey support.

Whichever way you look at it, fact is top performance needs top coaching but there are coaches who need to work in day jobs and who coach after work in the evening, sufficiently tired. Nevertheless it must be said that most coaches I ever dealt with where very passionate about their swimmers and always wanted their best.

I think here at LACPP, the future of the top-coaches is very uncertain.

I therefore invite anybody interested in supporting the future of the LAC as a National

Olympic Park
Olympic Park sign near the LAC

Swim Centre, which would attract funding for top coaches to approach Sport England about this. Now is the perfect time to achieve improvement for the LAC as things are getting settled at the moment.

It would be great for all local clubs, here to London to get the LAC as National Swim Centre because our local swimmers could continue to train locally if they make it to the top.

On balance…..

There are several parts of a successful swimming environment:

  1. The team
  2. the coach
  3. the pool

Neither of those three can function to full fruition without the other. There is a fourth part that has not been mentioned and that is the facility environment. I would love to see the London Aquatic Centre being made a British National Centre for Swimming. It is the ideal Competitive environment and simply asks for British Swimming to make it the third British National Centre besides Bath and Loughborough.

I am fighting tooth and nail for this to happen.

Current plans to downgrade the LACPP to a learn-to-swim facility with a Development Squad simply cannot have been properly thought through.

I am currently lobbying the Minister for Sport to get involved and avoid a national scandal around the use of the London Aquatics Centre.

An Olympic Pool is the ideal place to coach an Olympic team or part thereof.

A beautiful pool alone doesn’t make champions, it is the whole buzz around the facility that spurns swimmers on to do better.

One can see quite easily that since training with LACPP Madison has achieved a greater improvement rate than with her previous club. Click on any of her recent Personal Best Times on her records and see how the improvement curve becomes steeper since July 2016, when she first started swimming with LACPP.

Angharad Evans achieved record speeds in the national arena after having trained regularly with the LACPP team and the national coaches there.

The presence of such wonderful swimmers like Aimee Wilmott, Michael Gunning, Jarvis Parkinson and others have a great part to play in the desire to swim faster. If that top set of swimmers is no longer there then the biggest assets of the pool are missing.

There are many great British clubs who regularly participate in British Championships without having a permanent 50m pool to train in, just to mention Chelsea and Westminster and Camden Swiss Cottage, Barnet Copthall to name a few. Hackney Aquatics now has swimmers in the national summer champs. Such teams only train a couple of times per week in a 50 m pool. It is because of their team spirit and presence of long-standing swimming aces, that these clubs achieve so much.

The LAC has the ability to make the pool the greatest national swimming legacy by training national swimmers and Olympic swimmers there. But to ‘only’ use an Olympic pool for learn to swim and development sessions is a travesty.

We’ll consider our options if Swim England and UEL decide to down-grade the club because I think swimmers swim faster if they swim with other fast swimmers; fast championship swimmers in 25m pools are faster than leaner swimmers in 50m pools.

Thurrock golds

Thurrock yesterday saw Madison smash her 100 freestyle PB by ~ 4 seconds to win gold and her 100 fly PB to win gold too.

In total Madison had 6 races and won 6 medals, 2 gold, 2 bronze, 2 place.

It was a 12-13 age group and Madison beat a strong field of older competitors to get

  • 50 free – 5th out of 26 competitors with 31:07
  • 100 fly – 1st out of 5 comp with 1:19:21
  • 100 back – 4th out of 18 comp with 1:17:37
  • 50 fly – 3rd out of 15 comp with 35:57
  • 50 back – 3rd out of 19 comp with 36:07
  • 100 free – 1st out of 18 comp with 1:07:57

The 100 freestyle win gives Madison 514 GB points, breaching the 500 mark for the first time. Madison improved her PB by ~ 4 secs. Full results

This was an aged 12-13 age-group and Madison was still 12 yesterday and won against older competitors, edging more closely to the regions top swimmers.

Tower Hamlets’ swimmers needed

Tower Hamlets Youth Sport Foundation is recruiting swimmers for

  • the London YouthGames swimming, 8. July 2017
  • Aquathalon (swim and run), 9. July 2017

both at Crystal Palace.

Every swimmer counts but it will be very competitive, so being a competitive swimmer helps. All those residing in Tower Hamlets or attending a school here can take part.

please apply without hesitating to Richard.arlett@thysf.org.

The club is it

After long and laborious deliberations whether or not to change club, it was decided to stay at the LACPP. It isn’t so bad after all.

Sometimes it helps a lot of look around though and go through the motion of the fictional change, calculate travel time, look at training schedules and see how that would work with the usual routines.

Changes can be dramatic when changing club. Madison was at her first club for 7 years and recent uncertainties at our new club led us to seek out other clubs but what the heck, why change things that do not need changing.

We could not wish for a better coach, we could not get a better pool, we could  not get better training.

It is just much easier if a swimmer qualifies for the top tournament and goes on tour to swim with a team, like the European Champs, World Champs or Olympics; then one doesn’t need to ponder which club to swim with at all. Instead we just amuse ourselves with the achievements of others and dream to do better next season.

Ultimately all a competitive swimmer wants to do is to swim faster and looking at the Personal Best Times should be the best reward possible.

If PB’s seem to stall then a change of club could be a solution but in our case, Madison has had a lot of PB’s since joining the LACPP and made a lot of progress.

It’s always good to keep the important objectives in mind and not to get lost in little frustrations. Things like rumours or assumptions coupled with insecurities can make a  person think another club would be better.

Especially smaller children can often admire other clubs that seem happier or better organised and moan that ‘they get the sweets and we don’t’ but nice looking pictures are not everything. Happiness is our fulfillment in our achievements and trying to strive to the ultimate best time.

No more excuses

Whilst I was sitting around, being a bit bored, a link from British Swimming to the ‘progressive age-group records‘ came up.

I saw, to my total amazement that Francesca Halsall actually achieved her first recorded British age-group record on this list aged 13 in the 50 free, on 7 April  2004 in 26:43. Born on 12 April 1990, this happened just 5 days before her 14. birthday.

I find this completely amazing because Fran is relatively short, she even joked about  her height in one of her recent interviews saying it would help her being a bit taller. The current Wikipedia profile list Francesca as 1.71m height.

This just puts fire into the flames of those who argue they could never win against all those tall people who turn up at age-groups.

I think Francesca should become a real trend-setter for swimmers because she achieves and swims with longevity and now aged 27 has again been nominated to the British Olympic team.

Apparently I show YouTube videos of Fran’s sprints to Madison to show her the technique; recommend this to all who want to be good at freestyle sprint.

Uncertainties

Apparently in high-performance programs things work from year to year, the season as it is called. In the average swimming club, you can sign up for continuous training but now we have learned that the LACPP training may change.

We pondering whether to find another club or just wait and see what happens. The life of a swimmer is full of surprises.

Whilst we are signed up for competitions we have something to aim for. The calender was rolled out till the end of July this year and then we just don’t know yet.

Whilst Madison has already achieved a few Essex county times for next year, a new club might not be Essex but Middlesex again.

Onward forward and swimming can only get better. Our next meet is in Thurrock’s 25m pool. And as life has it, the competition is on 17 June but it’s age as on 18 June. What a difference a day makes, it makes a whole year’s difference age-wise. No worries, it is a challenge to be had.

We are still fighting to save the National Senior section of LACPP

I cannot help commenting on this awful situation that has developed around the LACPP’s senior program, that saw many swimmers move to London to take part.

It includes national, international and 1 Olympic athlete. This athlete, Aimee Wilmott, incidentially also is the Commowealth Games Ambassador for England for the next term. Considering that there was a hot article in the Swimming Times about this new hot club LACPP that also is the only club in London that has been awarded Swim 21 ASA competitive swimming environment status, it is hard to belief that those e-mails and messages from UEL to swimmers shall be final.

It beggars belief that a swimmer who needs to take part in the 2020 Olympics, the World Championships in Budapest and the Commonwealth Games in Australia, gets told suddently that their training program will be taken away. SwimSwam has published an article about the situation which is quite bizarre. Apparently senior swimmers did a job to attract younger swimmers to the club and are now no longer needed as the younger swimmers have now joined?

Cost-cutting measures never improve a service, what needs to be done is to make the service more attractive to make it pay.  I do not think that the tactic saying that perhaps in a few years time the senior program will start up again will make swimmers trust into the program again. They would naturally be afraid that it will be taken away again after a short while.

I am sure most club members will not accept this as final. There will be many complaints because also the parents of the lower squad members want the Senior swimmers to stay at the club to give the younger swimmers an aim. A good club has a mixture of younger and older swimmers, they compliment each other and make the club wholsome.

I am hopeful that there will be a reversal of that decision by the UEL and Swim England.

Just to calculate the cost of this proposed UEL scheme in that Senior Squad swimmers should find another club and only come part-time to training sessions at the LACPP. Currently a full-time swimmer at senior section pays £120 per months for 24 1/2 hours training per week. If swimmers need to join another club because LACPP wants to reduce senior swimming sessions to 16 hours per week then the swimmers would have to pay the full club fee for their new club at probably £95 per months and the LACPP fees at probably £100 per month. That would double their costs.

This is more than unreasonable from just this point of view alone.