US great Biondi: Olympics risk becoming just another meet for swimmers

US great Biondi: Olympics might no longer be seen as main event for swimming

Matt Biondi won 11 Olympic medals, including eight golds, but the American can see a day when they are no longer the main event for elite swimmers.

The American, 55, says it all depends on the business model, and how much world governing body Fina and Olympic organisers are prepared to embrace change and bring swimming into a professional era.

He cited the examples of tennis, golf and football as Olympic sports that have their own showcase events of far greater importance for athletes.

"They see the Olympics as entertainment, as kind of an amusement park, something fun to go to but it's not their career," the California-based Biondi, who won his golds at the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Games, told Reuters in a video interview.

"If the Olympics (do) not embrace professional swimming, it will take time. But, at some point, the swimmers will butter their bread elsewhere and the Olympics will be just another meet on their schedule.

"They (the Olympics) take time away from their families, time away from training, time away from their sponsors. So it's possible- and I hope that it doesn't happen."

Biondi has over the last two years recruited 120 world-class swimmers from 31 countries to an International Swimmers' Alliance that was announced last month and that he chairs.

The 10-member board includes Hungary's Katinka Hosszu, Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands and South African Chad le Clos - all Olympic gold medallists.

The aims of the Alliance include pressing for financial rewards for competing at the Olympics, where swimming is the major sport for the first week of competition, and for success.

Many of those involved compete in the professional International Swimming League, which Biondi is also close to and which aims to make swimming a year-round sport for television.

"We see the money that's on the table at the Olympics, we see the role that swimmers play in the entertainment value and excitement value at the Olympics, especially in the first week," said the American.

"We've heard estimates of how anywhere between 10-15 per cent of the Olympic fans put swimming number one.

"So prior to the pandemic, you've got an over US$7 billion (S$9.5b) industry and swimmers can account for at least 10 per cent so that's US$700 million.

"Our proposal initially was to have a portion of that money allocated for swimmers that appear in finals and semi-finals."

Biondi accepted that the pandemic had changed things, but there were also social issues around healthcare and retirement benefits to address.

"If the Olympics had been cancelled, what safety net is there for the athletes? They... would just be cut loose with no compensation or anything," he said.

"So this is how it has evolved over the last year, and the goals are to maintain a positive relationship and have swimmers with a voice at the table and then to be able to share in the economic benefits of what we all are able to create." - REUTERS