With so much hype around the International Swimming League over the past couple of months, it can be hard to make sense of all the news and results that go along with it. After all the ISL is in its pilot year, so naturally there’s a few questions that need to be answered. Here’s a summary of all the basics you need to know about all things professional swimming:
1. What is the ISL
The International Swimming League was established in 2017 by Russian businessman Konstantin Grigorishin. Before then, the only annual swimming event was the FINA Swimming World Cup [FINA is the world governing body of water sports].
The ISL was set up to create greater visibility for the sport and uses a team-based format. There are eight teams in total, four European: Energy Standard, Aqua Centurions, London Roar and Team Iron, as well as four American: DC Trident, Cali Condors, LA Current and NY Breakers.
The teams are split into groupings and race each other over the course of six matches. The final two matches feature an American Derby where all the US teams compete, and a European Derby where the euro teams face-off. The two winning teams from each of these meets then progress to the final, which this year is held in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas on December 21st and 22nd.
2. What do the athletes get?
Athletes receive prize money in relation to how many points they earn. A breakdown of this can be found in the table below:
These points correlate to a dollar amount, $300 for any points won in the six matches and $1000 for points gained in the final. On top of this, athletes get 25% of their team’s total points.
3. What is the format of an ISL match?
The format is very different to a standard swim meet, which consists of heats in the morning and finals in the evening. The ISL has adopted a short, snappy lineup which includes just two hours of racing with three short breaks throughout (per day). This format has proved to be much more engaging for the audience.
With very little time between races (approx. 25 seconds), the atmosphere is undeniably more electric. The fact that there’s no races over 400m and the inclusion of skins events* within the programme also contribute to this.
Another interesting feature of the ISL is the ability for each team to alter their entries during the three breaks throughout the session. This allows for more tactful decisions to be made with the hope of maximising the amount of points gathered from each event.
4. FINA Dispute
ISL was originally meant to debut in 2018 under the name ‘Energy Swim Meet’ but was pulled by FINA. The ISL is seen to be a competitor of FINA and has garnered support from many of the top athletes in the sport.
FINA originally threatened to ban any athletes who signed contracts or partook in competition that was not affiliated with them. They later retracted the threat, but stated that no records set at an ISL meet would not be recognised (they later changed this to certain matches).
In response to the ISL, FINA has planned to launch their very own ‘Champions Swim Series’, a league which will have a prize money pot of $3.9 million. The reaction to this has been mixed, with some national federations getting behind it but the ISL themselves criticising it for “shamelessly copying” their initiative.
5. What does the next season hold?
Although the ISL only debuted this year, founder Konstantin Grigorishin has already announced his plans for next season. It’s set to include a whopping 27 meets and run from September to April. Next year is an Olympic year, so it will be interesting to see how many athletes take part and to what extent.
Presumably, the idea behind having more matches is to give swimmers the option of racing at whichever meets fit into their schedule. More flexibility will more than likely mean a higher number of athletes take part.