David Owen

A new financial report - for 2017 - has appeared on the International Swimming Federation (FINA) website.

I thought the figures would make interesting reading in light of the emergence of the International Swimming League (ISL), whose two-day brain-storming summit at a West London football stadium concluded today (Wednesday), and the debate over the sport's elite-level future this has stirred up.

Once again, the accounts paint a picture of an organisation in rude financial health.

The annual surplus, after a year that included World Championships in Budapest, was identical to 2016 at CHF27.7 million (£22 million/$28 million/€24.5 million).

This was generated on income of CHF78.3 million (£62.3 million/$79 million/€69 million), so represents a tidy operating margin.

Over the past three years, aggregate income has weighed in at CHF204.2 million (£162.5 million/$205.8 million/€180 million) and the aggregate surplus at CHF70.1 million (£55.3 million/$70.7 million/€61.9 million).

How has this money been used?

Well, for one thing, the amount allocated to various tied funds has increased enormously.

The published figures for 2015 are comparatively sketchy, but I think I am right in saying that over the three years from end-2014 to end-2017, these funds and reserves have swollen from CHF38 million (£30.2 million/$38.3 million/€33.5 million) to CHF108.5 million (£86.4 million/$109.4 million/€95.8 million), i.e a CHF70 million-plus (£56 million/$70 million/€62 million) increment.

The breakdown of that end-December 2017 total is as follows: event cancellation reserve – CHF35 million (£28 million/$35 million/€31 million); development activities (about which more later) – CHF38 million (£30 million/$38 million/€33.5 million); headquarters maintenance funds – CHF18 million (£14.3 million/$18 million/€16 million); funds for an anti-doping foundation – CHF15 million (£12 million/$15 million/€13.2 million); and a fund for the organisation’s 110th-anniversary and "open house" - CHF2.5 million (£2 million/$2.5 million/€2.2 million).

The accounts of FINA paint a picture of an organisation in good financial health ©Getty Images
The accounts of FINA paint a picture of an organisation in good financial health ©Getty Images

I am given to understand that, following FINA's recent agreement with the International Testing Agency (ITA), the anti-doping money will now revert to a general fund; I am also given to understand that the ITA deal will necessitate $3 million (£2.4 million/€2.6 million) annually on anti-doping operations.

I would also presume that the anniversary cash has more or less been spent during the course of this year.

That leaves just under CHF134 million (£107 million/$135 million/€118 million) of 2015-2017 income, of which the lion's share - CHF95.8 million (£76.3 million/$96.5 million/€84.6 million) - went on expenses related to FINA events.

Other items of note include development activities (once again, more on this later) – CHF4.8 million (£3.8 million/$4.8 million/€4.2 million); out-of-competition doping control - CHF6.3 million (£5 million/$6.3 million/€5.5 million); and administration expenses – CHF21.9 million (£17.4 million/$22 million/€19.3 million).

Some CHF17.6 million (£14 million/$17.6 million/€15.5 million) of this admin figure was for payroll charges.

Payroll charges in 2017 worked out at comfortably over CHF200,000 (£159,200/$201,600/€176,600) on average per full-time employee.

Breaking down those event costs, meanwhile, an aggregate CHF17.4 million or so (£13.8 million/$17.4 million/€15.4 million) went on so-called FINA family expenses.

A FINA source explains that this is attributable in large part to costs associated with providing airfares, lodging and meals for 2,500 World Championship athletes, ensuring that at least four athletes per member national federation can attend the event at no expense to their national bodies.

Federations support accounted for a further CHF12.8 million (£10.2 million/$12.8 million/€11.3 million), while marketing agent services soaked up another CHF11.2 million (£8.9 million/$11.2 million/€9.9 million).

Prize money over the three years amounted to around CHF24.5 million (£19.5 million/$24.5 million/€21.5 million).

A topical conclusion from all of this? It is relatively easy to see why some might have concluded that there is enough interest, and therefore money, in top-class swimming to support competitions with fully professional athletes.

But - and it is, I think, quite a big "but" – if you do not increase the pie of revenue available to the sport, then putting a bigger slice into the pockets of the top swimmers means allocating a smaller slice to someone else.

It does not seem unreasonable to think that a new event, such as that proposed by the ISL, might indeed increase the amount of money flowing into aquatics.

But it would be interesting to see a knowledgeable - neutral - assessment of the new event’s realistic economic potential and the risk of cannibalisation of money flows that would have been destined for swimming in any event.

It looks like elite athletes’ share of the sport’s revenue is set to increase next year anyway.

This follows FINA’s announcement of a new Champions Swim Series with prize money of $3.9 million (£3 million/€3.4 million).

At a time when the public perception of the calibre of sports governance in general is not overly flattering, it would be nice to think that these recent developments in swimming would trigger not a turf war so much as a full and open-minded reassessment of the right balance between money for the sport’s stars and other priorities, in particular grass-roots (if that phrase may be applied to aquatics) development.

It seems to me, based on these accounts, that FINA could, and probably should, have afforded a much bigger development spend.

But the penny appears to have dropped.

Note 14 in the new accounts states that 70 per cent of FINA’s share of TV rights money from the 2016 Rio Olympics will be used for development activities, and that total funds to be allocated from 2018 to 2021 represent $20.9 million (£16.5 million/€18.3 million).

In 2009, a FINA source tells me, “the development budget was $1 million (£790,000/€875,000 million) for the quadrennium.

"Now…FINA is making a significant investment in its future by an enormous expansion of the development effort…

"The 2018 financial report will look very different from 2017 and earlier.”

The International Swimming Federation is facing competition from the International Swimming League ©Getty Images
The International Swimming Federation is facing competition from the International Swimming League ©Getty Images

Initiatives include making all national federations eligible to receive $25,000 (£19,700/€21,900) a year for the four-year period, for projects in a range of categories.

This alone could add up to over $20 million (£15.8 million/€17.5 million) in payments.

Five Continental Associations are eligible to receive $100,000 (£78,900/€87,600) annually to support regional and continental competitions across all disciplines, with the smaller Oceania body getting $60,000 (£47,300/€52,500). 

A scholarship programme has 80 athletes for 2019, each of whom can claim up to $30,000 (£23,700/€26,300) a year to support them at home, or at FINA training centres in Dakar and Kazan.

There is also a new management programme providing training for national body secretary generals and an extensive coaching certification programme.

FINA has set a target for Tokyo 2020 of having 120 national federations with at least one athlete with an “A” or “B” qualifying time for swimming; this would be up from 81 at London 2012.

So, more money is rightly going both to development and to the sport’s star performers.

Is it enough and how effectively will the money be used? There is scope for a vigorous debate.

But let’s hope that the sport’s best interests are kept to the fore.