Coronavirus: Cheers for International Swimming League funding its athletes up to delayed Tokyo Olympics

The Tokyo Game been postponed to 2021 because of the coronavirus crisis. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS, AFP) - The professional International Swimming League (ISL) will fund its contracted athletes to the tune of £15 million (S$26.5 million) until next year's rescheduled Tokyo Olympics with monthly payments from September, the series announced on Friday (April 3).

It also plans a five-week combined training and competition event from Oct 14 to Nov 17 this year at a location to be decided and subject to developments in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Swimmers have overwhelmingly given the move the thumbs up.

Hungary's 2016 triple Olympic gold medallist Katinka Hosszu told Reuters the "Solidarity Programme" would provide peace of mind for many swimmers at a time of uncertainty, with some countries in lockdown as they battle the coronavirus pandemic.

"For us athletes, it's really important to get over this period of time and everyone will be able to prepare for next summer," she said.

"They have some security as well as some racing and training camps to look forward to."

Britain's Olympic 100m breaststroke champion Adam Peaty has called the fund "huge for the sport" as it provided some assurance at an unpredictable time.

"It's an uncertain time for us all at the moment so this much welcomed financial grant will assist swimmers as everyone prepares for 2021," the 25-year-old told BBC.

The swimming world website said 320 athletes would get US$1,500 (S$2,153) a month with US$11 million set aside for wages, bonuses and prize money in a condensed season.

The ISL was launched last year as a fast-paced competition with 10 teams from Europe and North America featuring an array of world and Olympic champions and bankrolled by Ukrainian businessman Konstantin Grigorishin.

The Tokyo Games, originally scheduled to start on July 24, have been postponed to July 23-Aug 8, 2021 because of the crisis.

"We have decided to provide support for our athletes in 2020-2021 by implementing the 'ISL Solidarity Programme' during which the ISL will organise a radical swimming event unprecedented in swimming history," the ISL said in a statement.

"Each athlete who has signed or will sign a contract with an ISL club will receive an equal amount of money per month, starting Sept 1, 2020 until July 1, 2021.

"This financial grant shall assist the swimmers during these challenging times to prepare for major events in 2021 and a full ISL season in 2021-22."

Grigorishin, owner and financial backer of ISL, said he had stepped in when several swimmers were debating about whether to carry on after the Olympics were postponed.

"After the postponement of the Olympics, some swimmers came to us and said they would now probably retire because they could not afford another year," he told the BBC. "So this is why we decided to take action."

He said the monthly amount paled into significance when compared to what other athletes earned in some sports.

"We aren't talking about the wages of soccer or basketball players but for these swimmers we hope it will make a real difference and allow them to continue in the sport," the 54-year-old Ukrainian billioniare said.

The ISL said it had listened to coaches and athletes and respected the need for a full training preparation running up to the Olympics.

It added that all expenses would be paid for the training and tournament.

The pandemic has put the sporting calendar on hold, with many athletes forced to train at home. The European aquatics championships scheduled for Budapest in May have been postponed to August subject to review.

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