TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis is advocating for the inclusion of the 50m distance of three other strokes in the Olympic swimming programme.
Up to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, no 50-metre distance was included in the swimming programme. That changed in the 1988 Seoul Games with the introduction of the event that would take over from the 100m freestyle as the blue riband event in the pool; the 50m freestyle.
But none of the remaining three swimming strokes — backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke — have been included at any edition of the quadrennial summer Games hosted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
So that freestyle is the only discipline to have a 50m competition at the Olympics, with breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly contested over 100m and 200m only.
The IOC introduced the 800m freestyle for men and 1500m freestyle for women at the Tokyo2020 edition, a change from previous Games, when women could compete over 800m in freestyle, but not 1500m, with men contesting 1500m events, but not 800m races.
However, the International Federation for Swimming (FINA), the world governing body for aquatics, introduced the 50m distances of the additional three disciplines at their World Championships -- which debuted in 1973 -- at the 2001 edition in Fukuoka.
FINA’s application/request to have the 50m of each stroke included in the Olympic programmes has been rejected by the IOC for four Olympic editions; the 2012 London, 2016 Rio, 2020 Tokyo, and 2024 Paris swimming programmes. But the Daily Express understands FINA’s request for the three 50’s — back, breast, and fly — is likely to be renewed for the Los Angeles 2028 Games.
Lewis believes the addition of these events will be a catalyst for increased diversity and inclusion in the sport of swimming.
“The 50s are on all the FINA programmes in long course (50m), Commonwealth Games, and other Continental Game programmes and of course, I believe that the demographics of the 50s at the highest level would encourage greater diversity in the context of the world championship and even Olympics and it would suggest that the reason why it is not in the Olympic programme is an IOC-related issue,” said Lewis, the president of the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC).
Pillars of the Olympic movement
Lewis said the considerations for more inclusivity and diversity — pillars of the Olympic movement — far outweigh the concerns about limiting the number of participants with quotas per sport.
“While I can understand that there may be a view in terms of the number of events and the IOC trying to manage numbers and adjust the programme. I can see that the addition of 50s to the programme would also enhance the attractiveness of swimming and bring additional excitement to, just as the 100 and 200m does in track and field,” Lewis said.
“I also think that it could really create an opportunity of the Caribbean, my focus is the Caribbean in the sense of the development of various sports in the Caribbean and not just from a TTOC perspective but a CANOC perspective.”
Lewis said swimming is one of those traditional sports throughout the Caribbean and there is a real opportunity to expand its appeal and bring even more widespread participation in the Caribbean.
‘An amazing spectacle’
“It would be really interesting and exciting to see the 50s at the Olympics and what it can do for swimming…It would be an amazing spectacle. I really believe that having the 50s can really enhance swimming and make it even more diverse across not just the global aquatics world in terms of swimming here.
“It is just something, to me, it is sort of an obvious gap in the programme, the fact that FINA has it on its World Championship long course…it suggests very clearly that FINA understands the importance of 50s to its global programme and development programme.”
Asked about the likelihood of the IOC acquiescing to the FINA request at future editions of the Games, the outgoing TTOC boss said: “Essentially, where there is a will there’s a way. It would require the IOC to take on board why FINA has seen the 50s as an important element of its global programme.”