Swimming as a spectator sport? No thanks
Swimming is a crap spectator sport. There, I said it. The sky did not fall and there are no law enforcement officers pounding on my door, ready to drag me away to be tried for treason.
But it is.
In fact, I question whether swimming is a spectator sport at all.
I want to be clear; I am not casting aspersions on competitive swimmers themselves, or on swimming as a participation sport.
At my local pool, there are usually dozens of people cruising up and down the lanes, at all hours of the day and night, enjoying themselves. Fair enough. What I am talking about is racing in a pool, and whether it has any appeal as something to watch.
The London Olympic pool has been full of people cheering during the events. Some of them, amazingly enough, are not members of teams, officials or guests of sponsors or national associations; they are there because they bought tickets. They did so because they want to see the best of the best.
What I want to know is, what happens the rest of the time, away from the Olympics and the World Championships?
Do you know anyone who is a swimming fan? Be honest; not someone who is a family member of a competitor, or a friend, or a coach, or an official, or a former competitor, but someone independent of the sport itself, who spends money to travel to and buy tickets to watch swimming competitions that are not the Olympics, Commonwealth Games or World Championships?
Someone who has posters of Libby Trickett and Vladimir Salnikov on their walls? Someone who knows who Enith Brigitha is, and who will argue about who was greater; Shane Gould or Dara Torres?
I don’t. I know people who do all of those things in other sports; all the football codes, cricket, golf and motor racing. But I do not know one real swimming fan.
And, where are the ‘wow’ moments in swimming? To fairly judge those in sports, I think you need to disconnect the action of the competitors from the actual results, so to avoid national or team biases. Where are swimming’s moments to compare to a Michael Jordan dunk? A David Campese try? Stephen Milne, spinning out of a pack to snap a goal? A Federer-Nadal rally?
Search for a video of ‘Janet Evans Pan Pacs’ and then ‘Tiger Woods The Masters’. Don’t tell me her windmill arm style in the 800 metre freestyle gets as many hits as his chip-in on the 16th green.
The other thing is, most of what little action there actually is in swimming happens under the water, out of the view of spectators and the TV audience, unless there is an underwater camera. As recently publicised in controversial circumstances, not even the swimming officials are interested in looking at that view. So why should we bother?
Ernest Hemingway famously said, “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering. All the rest are merely games.”
If Papa was in charge of swimming, he may well decide to pull down the lane markers and, perhaps, toss a shark or a crocodile into the pool to spice things up for those watching.
Until that happens, there are plenty of real sports for us to watch. But swimming is not one of them.
Follow Phil on Twitter: @philbranagan