Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Slavery" = Professional Swimming? Hmm...

No athlete should ever refer to his/her professional situation as "modern slavery." Because, at least to me, being a "professional athlete" means you've had a pretty damn good life, up until now.

This morning, I read an article on in which international superstar and World Championship gold medalist Paul Biedermann said that FINA's treatment of its athletes was on par with "modern slavery."


Really Paul Biedermann? Your first-world problematic life is really that tough as to equate it to "slavery?" You swim between two concrete walls as a lifestyle, choice, and potentially, a job. And that's not a rip on competitive swimmers, because I've been one... but seriously. Let's just take a step back for a second. It wasn't long ago that "professional swimming" was an oxymoron. I'm not defending FINA, but I certainly would encourage this:

Let's get some perspective, guys.

Bad things happen in life. Being a professional swimmer is not one of them. Is it really that tough being an international sporting celebrity? Relatively speaking to, say, Ugandans? You all live privileged, healthy lifestyles. There are millions of actual "modern slaves" who would gladly change lives with you. Even just for a day. 

I understand Biedermann is upset with FINA. A lot of people are. I also understand Biedermann wants to raise awareness, and sound off, about how he feels athletes are being mistreated by swimming's governing body. That's fine.

But to actually insinuate that professional swimmers' struggles are on-par with real worldly struggles is just absurd. Let's change our wording here. Let's realize that if you have the ability to participate in a sport for the majority of your life, relatively speaking, at no point should you refer to yourself as a "modern slave."

You're actually pretty damn lucky.

If this was just a "lost in translation" mix-up, I apologize to all. But then again, this reminds me of a month ago, involving another high-profile athlete: Adrian Peterson. We need to eliminate this latest trend of "modern slavery" rising from the vocabularies of professional athletes, like when Adrian Peterson was lambasted in the media for using those exact words -- "modern slavery" -- to describe his relationship with NFL owners. Because making millions of dollars for catching a ball is such a grievance.

So please. Gain some perspective, pro athletes. You can complain, and oftentimes justifiably so -- again, I'm not defending FINA -- but don't overstate your plight. You've spent your entire life participating in a sport. If only the entire world was that lucky. 


  1. I think Biedermann is not an Olympic gold medalist. I apologize in advance if I'm wrong.

  2. No problem. Biedermann's choice of words is questionable but he has some sort of point if he by 'slave' means someone who works very hard and gets very little for his effort, while someone else takes all the benefit and profit out of it. What's exactly 'little' for someone is also questionable. Biedermann's appetite and ambition have grown a lot since he took down Phelps in 2009, he probably expected more opportunities coming his way. You have to agree that even in USA swimmers are underpaid, can you imagine what swimmers in other countries have to go trough? My comment would be much longer than your entry if I had to talk about situation here in Serbia, where officials fly first class while athletes don't have basic equipment to work with (I'm talking about swimming, water polo is in much better place).

  3. Thanks for asking. The situation could and should be much better. We have many talented kids but, unfortunately, they rarely blossom into successful competitors. Combination of factors, I guess. We need a)better coaches, b)better environment for kids c)infrastructure ie pools, training facilities, clubs, d)financial and every other support/help for swimmers and e)right people who can make all those things happen. We don't have to look up to US (because we'll never be able to achieve your standards) - our neighbor Hungary has had great results with the way they do things. So, the main problems are lack of money and people who run our Swimming Association and have power to do something for swimming, but they prefer to do something for themselves. Čavić openly criticized officials in Serbia for their irresponsible behaviour, because he's the only one who is financially independent and isn't afraid of consequences. To cut a long story short, Biedermann was just brave enough to talk about something that has been a major problem in most countries...