Swim star’s switch to AFL

JESS HALLORAN

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SPORT -

Olympic swim cham­pion Kyle Chalmers wants to be­come an AFL foot­baller. It’s been a dream for a while now but the 100m freestyle king is set to lace up the boots sooner rather than later. In an in­ter­view that ap­pears in Stel­lar mag­a­zine to­day, Chalmers has made it clear he will most likely have a tilt at play­ing AFL af­ter he has an­other shot at Olympic gold in Tokyo in 2020.

The reign­ing 100m freestyle cham­pion doesn’t want to switch to the sport just be­cause of the earn­ing po­ten­tial in AFL.

It is hard to ig­nore the fact he trains from dawn to dusk funded by a $26,000 grant and still lives at home with his par­ents.

The av­er­age wage for an AFL foot­baller? It’s $371,000.

Mack Hor­ton, an­other Olympic gold medal­list I also in­ter­viewed re­cently, is in the same predica­ment as Chalmers — liv­ing with his par­ents and be­ing funded the same amount.

“I can’t af­ford to move out,” Hor­ton said. “I live in Mel­bourne!”

It’s not break­ing news there’s lit­tle money to be made in the pool these days. In the sport’s glory days, swim­mers such as Ian Thorpe and Grant Hack­ett earned more than $2 mil­lion a year. Just days af­ter Stephanie Rice won three gold medals at the 2008 Bei­jing Olympic Games, she signed an $800,000 deal with Chan­nel 7.

Those rivers of gold have well and truly dried up.

Fel­low Olympic cham­pion Cate Camp­bell last week re­marked that very few swim­mers these days re­tire with sav­ings in the bank.

The prob­lem starts at the top of the sport. World swim­ming gov­ern­ing body FINA has been dogged by cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions. It re­cently threat­ened to ban swim­mers from com­pet­ing at Tokyo 2020 if they join the In­ter­na­tional Swim­ming League, a break­away pro­fes­sional league of­fer­ing a $US2.1 mil­lion prize pool.

Camp­bell didn’t hold back about FINA and said the sport needed to “evolve with the times”.

“The world gov­ern­ing body is do­ing a dis­ser­vice to the very peo­ple they are sup­posed to ad­vo­cate for and pro­tect,” Camp­bell told The Daily Tele­graph’s Ju­lian Lin­den.

“FINA is not sup­port­ing us, they are putting swim­mers at the bot­tom of their pri­or­ity list. they are just lucky they have a group of ex­tremely pas­sion­ate ath­letes who will do any­thing to rep­re­sent their coun­try and swim at an Olympic Games.”

Olympic cham­pion, Bri­ton Adam Peaty, joined the cho­rus in crit­i­cis­ing FINA’s gov­er­nance.

“It feels like we’re still in 1970,” he told BBC Sport.

Kon­stantin Grig­or­ishin, the fi­nancier and brains be­hind the new league, went fur­ther in an in­ter­view with The Sun­day Times, de­scrib­ing Olympic bu­reau­crats as “par­a­sites”. He said there are “100 times more bu­reau­crats in Olympic sport than there are in the world of pro­fes­sional, com­mer­cialised sport.”

The Sun­day Times cal­cu­lated the top five Olympic sports, in­clud­ing swim­ming and track and field, are run by about 80,000 bu­reau­crats, and the rev­enue is about $4 bil­lion.

“The 1000 best ath­letes, in this case, have an av­er­age in­come from their work of $25,000,” The Times wrote. And as the big footy codes and cricket be­come fi­nan­cially stronger in this coun­try, es­pe­cially with bil­lion-dol­lar TV rights deals, the Olympic sports have be­come weaker. w The best emerg­ing ath­letes are a pick­ing footy codes and cricket.

But for­mer Olympic swim­mer turned t suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man Mark Stock­well, the CEO of the Aus­tralian Sports Foun­da­tion, which sup­ports sports from the grass­roots up, says sport should not be about money.

“Where is it writ­ten that ath­letes have to get a ca­reer in sport, make all their money and never work again?” Stock­well said.

“I want sport to be part of peo­ple’s lives. For peo­ple to be ac­tive. It’s very ther­a­peu­tic, it’s great to chal­lenge your­self.

“I had a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity; which is to test your­self against the best ath­letes in the world on an Olympic stage.

“To me, money can’t buy that. Has that helped me in my busi­ness ca­reer? Yes. Has that helped who I have be­come to­day? Yes. How do you put a price on that?

“I don’t sit there and go, ‘the poor old ath­letes aren’t mak­ing enough money’. I think, ‘hang on, we didn’t get into it to make money. To some ex­tent, the NRL, the AFL, that’s more about en­ter­tain­ment.

“What is wor­ry­ing me is we are be­com­ing a na­tion of sports watch­ers and con­sumers rather than par­tic­i­pants in sport.”

For Chalmers, play­ing AFL would ful­fil a child­hood dream and em­u­late his dad Brett, who played 75 games for Port Power and Ade­laide Crows.

The Chalmers fam­ily nat­u­rally has close ties with Port and it is un­der­stood he even for­mally met Power chief David Koch and of­fi­cials sev­eral years ago about play­ing at the top level be­fore the Rio Olympics.

“It’s some­thing I would love to do and, be­cause it is my dream, I would give ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing to see if that dream would take off,” Chalmers tells Stel­lar.

It is very clear Chalmers is chas­ing his dream for the love of the game.

Kyle y Chalmers at his fam­ily y home in Ade­laide this week and (in­set) af­ter win­ning g gold g in the 100m fi­nal at the RRio Olympics. y p Main pic­ture: Matt Loxton

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