Last week, FINA addressed a longtime wrong in the swimming world, adding the women's 1500 to the program (as well as a men's 800 and a mixed relay). But it seems many in the swimming community were less than satisfied. "Where are the 50s?" they cried.
Since then I've seen a lot of squabbling about the change. There seems to be broad consensus that adding a women's 1500 is a really good thing, especially since the original reason for it not existing was so blatantly misogynistic that it was very embarrassing to still have on the books.
Two major criticisms have emerged. One is that the distance events are not in of themselves additive to the growth of swimming, particularly pro swimming in between Olympics. The second is that the 50s would be. I think both these arguments miss the point.
Let's take distance races, for example. American audiences are never shown 800s or 1500s in their entirety on broadcast TV. I've seen worse sins in Europe, where many meets go to the extreme of droning pop music over races 200 and above. They seem to have given up on developing any true fandom with this strategy.
Why do they cut away from distance races? Because Americans find them boring. Do you know what else Americans find boring? 1-0 Soccer matches. The rest of the world, however, has managed to find them absolutely thrilling.
We have a responsibility to educate and bring in new fans to our sport in both distance and sprint swimming. Sports are no fun when you don't know what is going on. Which is why whenever possible you should have an announcer at your meet, especially for the distance races, to give context to the people watching.
The 50s are marginally more exciting to an uneducated audience, and you can count me among the many who would love to see them on the Olympic stage. But the quick splash and dash nature only papers over the same problem we have with growing our sport- even some people who should be top fans of swimming have little context for what happens during a fifty.
Swimming's biggest problem right now is that we are not an inclusive sport. We make many decisions without empathy for wide swaths of people involved (or potential people involved) that haven't been fully converted to rabid fandom. If we want a true professional sport, we're going to need a lot more than me and some other bloggers in the basement to do it.