By Lia Neal, Captain of New York Breakers and Rio 2016 Silver Medalist
Opinion Article Exclusively for Around the Rings
Lia Neal won silver at Rio 2016 and bronze at London 2012 (Getty Images)
Yesterday, I was delighted to be named captain of The New York Breakers, the newest Professional Sports Team in a city renowned for its world-famous sporting clubs. As a Brooklyn girl, a New York native, this announcement was all the more special for me as it meant that swimming really has come home and my new team becomes the city’s ninth Professional Sports Team, joining an elite cast of names including the Yankees, Mets, Knicks and Rangers and other sporting greats. It marks a hugely exciting time for me, the team, and the great city of New York increasing the sport’s popularity in the city, across America and internationally, too.
To me, and the many others on the Breakers’ roster, this is no ordinary announcement. The start of the International Swimming League marks the start of a new chapter for swimming as a whole, and one in which the sport could well fulfil its untapped potential and really be catapulted into the mainstream for the first time ever. The future is incredibly bright, and I feel humbled and privileged to be part of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to be part of history.
Whether it be its promise for greater media exposure or to help swimmers gain a proper stake in their sport and gain greater earning potential, boosting our commercial prospects, the teams’ gender-equal rosters or the zero-tolerance approach to doping, the ISL is a bright new horizon for ambitious swimmers like me who want to make our sport a more attractive and inviting place to be. So many people tune in to watch swimming at an Olympic Games – more than any other sport in fact – but that’s not continued during the intervening four years, which to me shows the huge untapped potential of the sport. Swimming cannot and must not remain the same – it’s time for change.
Neal competing at 14th FINA World Swimming Championships in December (Getty Images)
As me and my fellow swimmers at the Breakers try to help swimming change for the better, I know we feel a true sense of belonging to a team that will in each and every way exude a distinctive New York character. We’re all driven by high performance, but equally we are a team that wants to be known for its human and personal approach to engaging with fans, a team with a mission that far surpasses just clocking the fastest lap in the pool. We have a higher purpose than just winning; we want to show that being a 21st century professional athlete means far more than wooden phrases and marketing slogans, it means unleashing our personalities, being fearless, giving back to the sport and shaping its future so that larger numbers of people from the next generation are enticed to get into the sport of swimming. It means being bold.
As New York’s team, yes we’re driven by achieving highly in competition but we also want to be part of a sport that five or 10 years down the line makes it financially attractive for people to get involved in swimming, that this becomes a sport that people associate as ‘cool’ and that it gets the media attention it deserves. They may have many decades’ head start on us, but we want in the not too distant future people in New York, the USA and across the world to be thinking of the New York Breakers as one of the city’s most renowned sporting brands alongside the Yankees, Rangers, Mets or Giants. As a team and as a league, we want New York sports fans to engage with swimming, to want to follow, watch, take part and have a go just like they do with (American) Football, Baseball, Soccer, Track and Field or any other sport. I also believe that with the Breakers arriving on the New York scene, and through the “pay it forward” work I do for foundations speaking to audiences, I’ll be able to play my part to raise public awareness of swimming in an urban environment; particularly I hope to make swimming a more accessible sport amongst kids so that they want to get involved. Swimming is also a life-saving sport, and that’s why I hope to bring to people’s minds the importance of water safety in urban communities – this is something I’ve been working on with my own “Swim Brooklyn” initiative.
The arrival of New York’s newest Professional Sports Team marks a hugely exciting moment for the city and for international swimming, and as someone that is proud to have achieved highly in the pool and won Olympic medals I look forward to using my profile to raise the profile of the Breakers and the sport of swimming as we head into this new era.
Watch this space.
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