By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – A new professional league launching this year will reward clean swimmers and see more of them make millions for their efforts, Britain’s Olympic and world breaststroke champion Adam Peaty said on Wednesday.
The International Swimming League (ISL), backed by Ukrainian energy businessman Konstantin Grigorishin, will feature eight teams from Europe and the U.S. initially with matches on both sides of the Atlantic.
The final is scheduled for Las Vegas in December.
Grigorishin told Reuters that the top swimmer on the winning team could earn around $120,000 a year in appearance and prize money — less than a Premier League soccer player might make in a week but substantial for most in the sport.
Peaty, who was announced on Wednesday as an ISL ambassador and member of a planned London team that also includes Australian Olympic champions Cate and Bronte Campbell and Kyle Chalmers, saw that as the tip of the iceberg.
He expected the ISL to raise the sport’s profile globally, with a knock-on effect on earnings for those not in the same bracket as the United States’s now-retired 23 times Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps.
“If you top that onto all the other prize money (from other events) and sponsors then, if you’re lucky enough, you’re looking at potentially millions,” the 24-year-old told Reuters. “For a swimmer that is a ridiculous amount.
“The bigger your image and the more marketable you are, the more money you will earn. And that’s exactly what the sport needs to do.
“We need to build that kind of image and profile and without TV and Pro-league, and relying on Olympics and world championships every two or four years, you’re not going to get that,” he added.
The ISL tried to hold an event last year in Turin but that was canceled after world body FINA said it was ‘non-approved’. FINA then acknowledged in January that athletes were free to compete in events staged by independent organizers.
The world body has also announced a new team event to start this year, the Champions Swim Series, with a reported $3.9 million in prize money.
Grigorishin said the ISL has an initial budget of $20 million, with seven of that going to athletes and teams in prize money.
The Ukrainian is bankrolling it but hopes to break even next year when the league will expand to six teams from America and six teams from Europe.
“It’s the dawn of a new age for many sports, not just swimming,” said Peaty. “Athletes are waking up to their rights, their value. They know how much they are respected and they have leverage.
“As soon as athletes realize they have the leverage, all sports can change for the better.”
Grigorishin said there could ultimately be franchises in Asia, with maybe two there and Europe’s representation reduced to four.
“It’s better to start with two big markets where we understand the legal system, where logistics is easy,” he said.
“We have an interest from Australian teams but Australia in terms of logistics is terrible. It’s better to invite Australians to European and American teams.”
Anyone who has previously tested positive for doping will be barred from entry, unlike in FINA-run competitions.
The International Olympic Committee has tried to implement lifetime bans for proven dopers but that has been prevented by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Peaty said the ‘no dopers’ policy meant the ISL meets could be the cleanest international events of his career to date.
“I think this is the only way to win against doping,” said Grigorishin. “You have to be very strict and athletes have to understand the real risk. It’s not three months suspension or one year suspension. It’s for life.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)