Following the disappointing results of Australian swimmers at the 2012 London Olympic Games, the governing body of swimming in Australia and the Australian Sports Commission commissioned a comprehensive and independent study chaired by the Hon. Warwick Smith AM to see how athletic performance, decision-making process and investment in the sport can be improved.

It is a lengthy, thought-provoking 66-page document with data and a plethora of recommendations.

Chairman Mr John Wylie AM summarized their efforts, “The recommendations of the review panel will be fully considered by the Australian Sports Commission Board. I’m encouraged by the thorough analysis of the issues which have confronted swimming and common themes in this report create opportunities for all sports to benefit from lessons learned.”

The panel received 30 submissions and met 94 individuals as part of its study of leadership, governance and administration, culture and declining achievement issues confronting the swimming-mad nation of Australia. After the Olympic performances of swimmers from Murray Rose to Ian Thorpe, from Dawn Fraser to Petria Thomas, the expectations of Australia are nothing but golden.

Simon Hollingsworth, chairman of the Australian Sports Commission, welcomed the recent changes. “The panel chair noted that Swimming Australia has already made some encouraging progress in becoming more accountable and transparent under its new leadership. I am particularly pleased that the panel has made some clear recommendations around governance as this is an area that the ASC is placing significant focus on as part of its new strategic direction in Australia’s Winning Edge. Swimming is an important sport to Australia and is a key contributor to the goals set out in Australia’s Winning Edge launched by the ASC last year. This report is a clear message to Swimming Australia to continue its reforms to enable it to return to the top table of international swimming.”

The independent swimming review of Swimming Australia is posted here.

While the study was a high-level review of the sport of swimming, we found very little information or specific recommendations on the discipline of open water swimming. In fact, on page 56 of the sport, the panel completely overlooked the Olympic 10km Marathon Swim. We find this oversight surprising for the following reasons:

1. A vast majority of Australia’s population resides near the coastline.
2. 40% of Australia’s population swims weekly.
3. Australia has a tremendous ocean swimming and surf life saving culture.
4. Australia has hundreds of well-organized, competitive and popular open water swimming events with a long and proud history.
5. Australia has a long and proud history of producing great freestyle pool swimmers.
6. Australia has recently produced a number of great triathletes.
7. The discipline of open water swimming has never been more popular and well-received among the public.
8. Australia has one of the longest serving members on the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee, Shelley Taylor-Smith.
9. Australia has arguably the greatest number of available training venues (pools + open water) in the world.
10. The 2016 Rio Olympic Games marathon swim will be held in Copacabana Beach where the course may be rough and ocean skills will be highly valued. If there is any venue that is well-suited for the stereotypical Australian swimmer with their advanced ocean skills, the 2016 Rio Olympics marathon swim course presents it.

Most surprising (to a certain extent) was the fact that the report pointed out that expenses of the open water swimming program accounted for only 1% of the total swimming expenditures in fiscal year 2012. These expenses related mainly to national camps and tours.

This level of expenditure is undoubtedly disappointing to the elite open water swimmers of Australia for the following reasons:

1. Of all the swimmers in the world, the Australian swimmers have to travel the furthest distances to compete in elite competitions around the world.
2. There are 18 total events in the Olympic swimming program. If each event were allotted equal percentage of the total budget, each event (100/200/400/800/1500m freestyle, 100/200m butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, 200/400m individual medley, 400/800 relays) would receive 5.5% of the budget. But open water was allotted only 1%. Imagine if breaststroke, individual medley or any other specific event were allotted such a low percentage of the budget – those swimmers and coaches would complain about the unfair distribution of funds.
3. Australia is currently represented in the open water swimming world by some of the most personable, humble, attractive, down-to-earth ambassadors and role models possible: Melissa Gorman (shown above), Ky Hurst, Trent Grimsey, and Rhys Mainstone.

We are hopeful this review will stimulate discussions and decisions that will positively benefit the Australian swimming community. For if the governing body and the athletes rise to the occasion, we fully expect to see the green and gold of Australia on the Olympic podium in Copacabana Beach in August 2016.

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