The roaring success of the European short-course championships, which had insurers crying over their policies, may have jeopardized any future hope of funding big prize money through brokeraged deals, according to fears expressed by the European Swimming League (LEN).
Speaking after the event in Sheffield, England, where a far greater number of world and European records fell than had been predicted, let alone financially calculated on, Alessandro Sansa, director of LEN, said: "Now, of course we have a problem. The first day of records I was really happy; the second day I was happy but cautious; the third day I was almost crying-and they (the insurers) were crying."
Sansa would not reveal the identity of insurer or broker on the grounds that he neither wanted to "upset them" nor point a signpost in their direction for every other sport competing for funding to follow.
He acknowledged that the insurer was "concerned" that so many records had fallen and was investigating every avenue to make sure that the standards set in Sheffield were genuine. "This is natural," said Sansa. "You know, if you had a Picasso in your house, you insured it, then it got stolen, then the insurer would investigate very thoroughly whether the Picasso was actually stolen before giving you your money."
"It's like this with all these records, they have to make sure that everything was okay. They have a big loss so they want to have everything in order," Sansa added in tones intended to reassure.
If there is one area where LEN and others will have difficulty in terms of brokeraged funding of prize money in future, then it has to be in the way the risk for Sheffield was assessed. LEN effectively used 10 years of results from World Cup events, World Short-Course Championships and European sprint championships to assess the likelihood of Europeans setting world and European records.
However, two critical factors were missing from the equation: that European swimmers had rarely (in some cases never) tapered for a European short-course event, but would do so for Sheffield precisely because of the prize money; and that the team events in particular are swum once in a blue moon, never on a world stage, and were therefore ripe for removal from the record books. There is, of course, a further point of debate relating to the relays: none of the times were world records, merely best times in the eyes of FINA.
In spite of all the difficulties that brokeraged deals have brought to LEN's door, the governing body is considering introducing prize money to its summer long-course championships. This would take the whole sport into a new realm of financing, where money takes the lead over medals, where purse wins over prestige. For if LEN goes down that road and sees swimmers attend the 2000 championships in the same summer as the Olympic Games, then FINA may follow suit.
It is unlikely that the sport will swim too far down that particular lane before the competition to introduce ever-bigger prize money heats up. And where there are such incentives, prospective cheats tread water and the fight against drugs will have to grow stronger still in the face of officials exhausted by the whole issue.
Beyond that, there is much more food for thought: What becomes of the meets that cannot afford or do not want to offer prize money? Do they become second-league events that never attract the big names? If that happens, then a whole generation of swimmers may spend much of their careers never coming into direct competition with the big names. Would this lead to a sort of super-league of 100 elite paid swimmers, a community alien to the bulk of the swimming world?
Officialdom must consider such matters with a level of care and intellect well beyond those that serve self and parochial interest. Sheffield was indeed a success for LEN - but at what price?