World swim body fights back launching new elite series

              Gold medalist and world record holder Russia's Kirill Prigoda poses during ceremonies at the men's 200m breaststroke during the 14th FINA World Swimming Championships in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang Province on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Prigoda broke the world record with a time of 2:00.16 (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Under pressure from a privately run rival competition and a class action suit by Olympic and world champion swimmers, FINA has pledged to start a new elite race series.

The three meetings next March to May will invite Olympic and world champs, world record-holders, and top-ranked swimmers in four-lane races, FINA said on Thursday.

The “FINA Champions Swim Series” will pay $3.9 million in total prize money — almost double the prize fund for the 25-meter pool world championships currently being staged in China.

“By creating this additional elite competition, FINA will generate a true swimming show, where sport presentation and stars’ promotion are key concepts for a successful meet,” its president, Julio Maglione, said in a statement.

FINA announced the plan days after three top swimmers filed an antitrust suit in a Californian court against the Switzerland-based swim body’s alleged anticompetitive practices.

It was filed on behalf of Hungarian great Katinka Hosszu and two Americans, Olympic gold medalist Tom Shields and world champion Michael Andrew after FINA threatened to ban swimmers who compete in events linked to the proposed International Swimming League.

The privately owned league, backed by Moscow-based businessman Konstantin Grigorishin, aims to operate outside FINA’s control, involve athletes in decision making, and pay higher prize money.

“ISL takes swimmers seriously, not like FINA,” Hosszu said last Friday.

In a FINA statement on Thursday, another Olympic gold medalist who chairs its athletes commission praised the new competition.

“We will present swimming under a new perspective,” said Penny Heyns, a double Olympic champion for South Africa at the 1996 Atlanta Games. “Finally, with this unprecedented level of prize money, our swimming stars will definitively be attracted by this circuit.”