ISL keeps door open for absent Australians at Budapest event

LONDON (Reuters) - International Swimming League (ISL) founder Konstantin Grigorishin is keeping the door open for Australia's top swimmers despite most pulling out of season two of his pro series due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ten teams will be competing behind closed doors at Budapest's Duna Arena from Friday, leading to finals on Nov. 21-22 at the same location.

"Of course, we understand the health situation is quite tough and especially for Australians with the long trip," Grigorishin told Reuters on a Zoom news conference on Thursday. "We respect their decision.

"They are always welcome. Maybe some of them will join us in the later stages of competition when they will realise that it’s not so dangerous."

The swimmers each have their own rooms at isolated hotels on Margaret Island, under strict health protocols with regular testing.

The ISL, which has been at odds with governing body FINA, issued a statement last month accusing some national federations of "knowingly and cynically" using the pandemic "to intimidate athletes who wish to participate in other competitions".

It did not mention any federations and Ukrainian energy tycoon Grigorishin said the statement "was just to help swimmers to understand that ISL is supporting them in their efforts to compete".

Grigorishin said he hoped Swimming Australia would take the same care of its athletes as the ISL when the Tokyo Olympics take place next year, suggesting they be provided with single rooms and business class tickets.

Olympic 100m freestyle champion Kyle Chalmers, who swam for the London Roar, pulled out due to injury while travel restrictions -- Melbourne is still in hard lockdown -- and health concerns meant most Australian swimmers stayed home.

Only three, including five-times world champion and double Olympic gold medallist Emily Seebohm who swims for defending champions Energy Standard, appear on team rosters.

"She had a 37-hour flight to get here," said head coach James Gibson. "She’s in good health, she’s had all of her COVID tests, two before she left and two after she arrived.

"She's looking in great shape as well and we’re really pleased she made the decision to come."

American Caeleb Dressel, who won six golds at last year's world championships and is expected to be a star of the Tokyo Games, is one of some 320 swimmers to have made the trip in a year in which most events have been cancelled.

"We’re looking forward to racing, it’s something all of us have been hungry for since March," he told reporters. "I know it’s going to be a lot of back-to-back racing but that’s what we want.

"I’m also very much looking forward to being surrounded by team mates again, having camaraderie, competition."

The ISL launched last year as a fast-paced league and features a cast of world and Olympic champions swimming for teams from Europe, the Americas and Japan.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)

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