ISL plans five-week race camp in Budapest for season two

LONDON (Reuters) - The professional International Swimming League (ISL) will hold five weeks of racing behind closed doors in Budapest in October and November before a possible final in Tokyo in December, organisers said on Wednesday.

The league, bankrolled by Ukrainian businessman Konstantin Grigorishin, launched last year with a cast of world and Olympic champions swimming for teams from Europe and the Americas.

Japan now also has a team, the Tokyo Frog Kings fronted by retired four-times Olympic breaststroke gold medallist Kosuke Kitajima, among 10 competing in season two.

Hubert Montcoudiol, head of ISL’s commercial department, told a Zoom news conference that 320 athletes would take part with racing broadcast live to more than 80 countries.

There will be 10 matches from Oct. 16 to Nov. 15 before semi-finals from Nov. 19-22. Four teams will qualify for the final.

“We are discussing very closely with Japan, in Tokyo, to organise the final,” said Montcoudiol.

Hungary has been closed to foreigners since Sept. 1 to curb a rise in coronavirus cases but Montcoudiol said the swimmers would enter under a medical protocol.

Britain’s Olympic breaststroke champion Adam Peaty hailed the announcement.

“One thing people have missed is sport so I think it’s a great opportunity for the ISL... getting everyone together in the same camp, doing loads of matches,” he said. “It’s going to be a nice stepping-stone to the Olympic championships next year.”

Australian Kyle Chalmers, the Olympic 100m freestyle champion who swims for Peaty’s London Roar, said it had been a challenging year having the Tokyo Games postponed and being unable to race.

“To be given the opportunity to travel internationally and race against the best athletes in the world and be back reunited with my team mates, it’s going to be exciting,” he said in a video message.

“I’m counting down the days until I get over there and get stuck in again.”

ISL technical director Apostolos Tsagkarakis said everyone would have to undergo two COVID-19 tests prior to departure and another on arrival. More tests would be done 48 hours later and then every five days.

Swimmers will stay in single rooms at isolated hotels on Margaret Island.

Budapest had been due to host the European championships in May but they were postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic.

Tsagkarakis said the ISL would also implement a VAR (video assistant referee) system for matches with each coach able to challenge a disqualification.

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar