World swim body ends threat to ban breakaway meet athletes

GENEVA (AP) — In a standoff about the right of swimmers to compete for improved prize money, governing body FINA on Tuesday lifted its threat to ban those taking part in independently run competitions.

FINA has been criticized in recent weeks by top swimmers who want more say in how their sport is run and more opportunities to be financially rewarded.

Olympic and world champions filed an antitrust suit in California last month after FINA’s threats to ban swimmers who competed in a December meeting linked to the proposed International Swimming League.

“FINA acknowledges that swimmers are free to participate in competitions or events staged by independent organizers,” the Switzerland-based swim body said after consulting with national federations.

However, results and records will be unofficial if ISL organizers fail to get FINA’s approval, including fitting into the official events calendar and running an approved doping control program.

FINA has countered the ISL with a proposed three-meet series starting in March and paying $3.9 million in prize money. It also topped up the prize fund by almost $1 million for the short-course world championships held in China last month.

Conflict between FINA and swimmers increased before the scheduled privately run meeting in December in Turin, Italy. It was canceled amid the threatened bans.

“ISL takes swimmers seriously, not like FINA,” Hungarian swim great Katinka Hosszu said in December, joining American swimmers Tom Shields and Michael Andrew in filing the class action suit in California.

The proposed ISL also filed a separate suit against FINA in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It is backed by Moscow-based businessman Konstantin Grigorishin, who met a group of top swimmers in London last month.

In a similar case, Dutch speedskaters won a European Commission ruling in Brussels in 2017 against the Swiss-based International Skating Union. They had wanted to compete in a South Korean-organized event in Dubai but were threatened with bans.

The revised FINA policy followed advice from its legal counsel, Francois Carrard, who is a key International Olympic Committee adviser after being its long-time director general.

“FINA’s business is not to punish athletes,” Carrard said in the FINA statement. “FINA recognizes the right of athletes to participate in any swimming event. However, this participation should respect the frame of sport structure.”