It was arguably one of the great Australian swimming performances of all time – and most Australians missed it because of a World Championships’ broadcasting rights debacle.
Ariarne Titmus mowed down American Katie Ledecky in the 400-metre freestyle on the opening day of the FINA World Championships on Sunday night (AEST).
But unless you were in tune with the machinations of TV rights there was no finding it on your television.
Then, Australia’s Mack Horton renewed his feud with China’s Sun Yang, refusing to share the podium with the winner after the 400m final.
Yep, and most of us missed that one too.
The impasse between Australian broadcasters and the swimming world governing body FINA means that for the first time since the mid-1980s there is no free to air or cable coverage of swimming’s big lead in to the Olympics.
The dispute came down to money, with Channel Seven baulking at what it considered to be the high cost of the rights to broadcast the event in Australia.
That amount has been reported at $400,000, although it was claimed that it would cost that much again for the network to get its staff to put the coverage together.
The fiasco is the subject of much behind-the-scenes debate in swimming circles and is at odds to the effusive comments made by Channel Seven in 2016 when it secured the rights to swimming until 2025.
To much fanfare, the network said it would become the home of swimming for nine years.
But that deal only included rights to the 2016 and 2017 World Championships.
“Swimming has a rich and proud history in Australia and is part of our country’s DNA,” then CEO of Swimming Australia Mark Anderson said at the time.
We are delighted that this long-term deal will ensure that our sport will be shared and enjoyed by all Australians as Swimming Australia and Channel 7 aim to further expand our sport’s reach and popularity and build the profile of our great Australian swimmers and role models.’’
With the broadcasting impasse failing to be resolved, last week Swimming Australia moved towards providing a live stream on its iSwim app, but many Australians were unaware of the arrangements that were only put in place at the last moment.
“Understanding that a broadcast deal couldn’t be reached in AUS for the Worlds, we were working to get a livestream up through our iSwim app. Unfortunately, we can’t complete technical requirements in the tiny timeframe given,” Swimming Australia CEO Leigh Russell tweeted on Friday.
“Australians can still view the racing through by downloading the FINA TV app and keep up to date with our Dolphins results via @DolphinsAUS”
On Sunday, Swimming Australia finally confirmed it had secured the right to stream the championships live on the app, but not on its website.
This led to Ms Russell all but pleading for Australians to download the app and tune in.
It was mostly too late for many Australians to tune into the opening night, with the brilliance of Titmus’s swim being lost among the headlines for Horton’s stand.
It’s a bad look for Australian swimming, and one that has not gone unnoticed by fans or commentators, with many expressing disgust on social media.
The Korean city of Gwangju where the World Championships is being held is just one hour behind the Australian east coast, making it even more perplexing as to why the titles could not find a home on Australian television.
Still, after much confusion there is finally a way to watch the World Championships.
Download the iSwim app and dive in.