The announcement that the discipline of synchronized swimming would be changing its name to Artistic Swimming landed in synchro circles like a bellyflop and was received just about as well. In fact, it has sparked threats of an overthrow of the governing body.
Talk about making waves.
The change was made at the recent International Swimming Federation (FINA) Congress despite vocal opposition from many, including the head coach of the Russian team.
And, as pundits have noted, when you don’t have the support of the country that has dominated the sport for decades, it might just be time to rethink the proposal.
In an article in Inside The Games, it was noted the name change is part of a rebranding designed to boost the popularity of the discipline and bring it in to line with similar events in other sports, such as gymnastics.
“We feel it will be better understood by the public and the media,” said FINA vice-president Sam Ramsamy. "This should help us rebrand and enhance its popularity."
Try telling that to Russia.
"We are negative about the decision," Russian head coach Tatyana Pokrovskaya told Russia's official news agency TASS following the vote. "We were quite satisfied with the former name, because it is primarily a synchronized swimming. I do not know what kind of whim it is, to whom and what the former name was, but it does not change the essence of our sport."
USA Synchro, the governing body in this country, is fully in synch with Russia.
"This change has been made without consulting those involved in the sport and without a proper survey of the impact of the change,” Myriam Glez, USA Synchro's Executive Director and High Performance Director, told Sports Destination Management. “For now, we do not intend to change our name. We have built our brand around USA Synchro, and we want to continue to build on it. We will see what FINA and other synchro federations do."
Through the years, USA Synchro has worked to increase the sport’s visibility with promotions such as the month-long USA Synchro de Mayo, held in (naturally) May. Artistic Swimming de Mayo doesn't really have the same impact.
Synchronized swimming has been included in the Olympics since Los Angeles 1984. Proponents of the sport have long held it does not get the respect it deserves, and that few understand the fitness level required of the athletes. Many have said the sport’s image needs an overhaul.
“People at home don’t realize how physical a sport this is,” noted USA Synchro’s Julie Fabsik-Swarts in an interview with SDM back in 2013. “This is not Esther Williams in an old-time flowered bathing suit and a matching cap twirling around in the water. It is fast, beautiful, athletic and powerful. We like to tell people, ‘If you think you’re ready to do it, let’s see you hold your breath for four minutes while you’re doing jumping jacks.’ It’s that demanding.”
It seems to be the consensus that substituting ‘artistic’ for ‘synchronized’ is a less than impressive stab at changing the sport’s image. In fact, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko has warned the country may ignore the name change and a petition against the switch gained more than 7,000 signatures.
The petition slammed both the IOC and FINA for their high-handed approach and for a campaign that does more harm than good, particularly in light of the fact that mixed duet swimming is now being offered, meaning a need to recruit a male demographic as well.
"FINA has only just recently opened the door for men to compete at [the] Worlds, and this name change will be more of a deterrent to males than a calling card," the petition adds.
However, the petition was unanimously ignored by both the IOC and FINA, and synchro made no bones about its displeasure, calling it “a big middle finger from Cornel Marculescu, Executive Director FINA.”
The next move, the petition organizers noted, was to decide whether to take further steps, or to “continue to let the Old Boys Club at FINA and the IOC make all the decision to benefit themselves, not the athlete, coaches and volunteers who make all sports what they are today.”
The petition further noted, “Athletes and coaches have no say, and if you do speak up, you get ignored and blacklisted. We need a change at the top, we need a coup.”
Whoa. Sounds like plenty of people out there are ready to swim upstream and rock the boat. SDM will continue to follow this developing issue.