Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Is the International Swimming League what the sport needs?

Posted on 19 December 2019 by Muireann Duffy

For a sport that boasts some of the highest participation levels around the world, swimming’s attempt to claim their part of the sporting market has been pretty abysmal.

Although swimming’s two major competitions, the Olympic Games and the biannual FINA World Aquatic Championships pull in huge viewership figures, very little had been done to fill the void between major competitions until now.

The arrival of the International Swimming League has been long overdue, and its success could earn the sport the annual recognition it deserves.

The ISL finishes for 2019 in Las Vegas this weekend, with four teams having qualified. LA Current and Cali Condors represent the USA, while Energy Standard and London based team, London Roar represent Europe.

Although its maiden season has proven there is still a lot of work to be done, the six meets to date have given a glimpse into what the future of swimming may look like and how the ISL’s format, with a little bit of work, could benefit swimmers, fans and sponsors alike.

The biggest change that ISL has brought to swimming is the idea that swimming need not be an individual sport.

People, be them fans or sponsors, find it much easier to buy into a team as opposed to an individual. David Beckham may have brought some new fans to United, but you can be sure they didn’t jump ship to LA Galaxy when he ventured across the pond.

A team structure provides longevity which London Roar’s Cate Campbell supports: “It gives audiences an opportunity to get behind a team, like a football team, which is something that we have not had an opportunity to do as swimmers.

“Most people will buy into a team because it has a group of athletes they like, but hopefully they’ll continue to follow through even after those athletes have moved on,” added Campbell ahead of the London meet in November.

The ISL’s other unique selling point is the events are organised to be more viewer friendly. The league has admitted that this year’s television coverage failed to capture the atmosphere felt by the live crowd.

Similar to T20 Cricket, the league is trying to make swimming easier to support. It’s trying to get people to meets and experience how exciting swimming can be, but if they really want to grow the league the television coverage must act as the gateway drug.

The biggest question surrounding the ISL is how it will fit into the existing swimming calendar.

While it seemed like a risky move for swimmers to added extra competitions to their schedules in the run up to an Olympic year, this only seems to be a problem from the outside looking in, if Katinka Hosszu and Chad le Chlos are anything to go by.

“I’m happy that a lot of swimmers have to swim a lot of races now. I think swimming is going to be much faster than it has ever been. When they see that they can [compete in more races], their fitness will be higher, and they are going to push swimming to a higher level” said Hosszu.

If the athletes believe that more competition will lead to a better standard, who are we to argue with them?

While its’ first year has not been without fault, the promise which the International Swimming League represents is immense.

The league has come into a sport which had become too comfortable with the way things were and providing exactly what the sport needs: more swimming.