Someone’s got to say it. The “Freediving World Champs” has lost its charm.
There used to be a time, in what seems like a different age of freediving, when there was a single Depth World Champs: it was just called “the world champs”, without need for any designation of AIDA or CMAS. It happened every two years, on odd-numbered years from 2005 to 2017, and there was great excitement and anticipation when it was a ‘world champs year.’ Athletes would plan their training for the whole year, and sometimes even the previous season, around that event. ALL the top athletes were there. You just couldn’t miss the world champs.
The 2015 World Champs in Limassol, Cyprus from left: Alexey Molchanov, William Trubridge, Rachel Cat, Aolin Wang
There were 3 disciplines, meaning 6 potential world champion titles (3 of each sex) up for grabs every 2 years. The gold medal truly meant something.
Nowadays in the same period there are no less than 32 potential world champion titles. That’s because there are two different world championships, and they each happen every year, and we have an extra depth discipline…
More than 5 times as many titles and gold medals means 1/5th of the value of these titles and medals. And it shows. Top athletes choose not to attend, in preference of other events where they can perform more dives for less cost. And those who do attend are mostly split between one of the two choices, meaning the field is effectively cut in half.
There is little anticipation or build-up of excitement, especially when dates/venues are announced only a couple of months beforehand. Livestream viewer numbers for world championship events are less and less every year, despite Diveye technology improving. There hasn’t been a world record attempt in any world championship event since 2013.
The 2017 World Champs in Roatan, Honduras
This is in no way to criticise the organisation of this year’s events. By all accounts, the AIDA WC in Roatan was run very smoothly, and the best since 2017 (the last time it was in Roatan). Likewise athletes are satisfied with the organisation of the CMAS WC in Kas.
Those who attend are doing great performances. It is no easy feat to do a deep dive when you get one shot at it, and they deserve the honours earned. But they also deserve the opportunity to compete for a more definitive prize, one that doesn’t come with an asterisk, and isn’t going to be eclipsed a few short months later.
The 2013 World Champs in Kalamata, Greece
from left: Jonathan Sunnex, William Trubridge, Alexey Molchanov
The event organisers and athletes are not at all at fault in this - it’s the central organisations and the models they use that are fundamentally flawed. CMAS decided to do a World Champs every year because that’s literally the only event it runs. AIDA got FOMO about not doing as much as CMAS and so blindly followed suit. CMAS sinks huge amounts of funding into its WC because it doesn’t have anywhere else to spend the money that comes to it from national bodies. AIDA sinks over €200,000 into its WC to try and keep up, and most of this is funded by student registration fees from the teaching side of AIDA International, which is a contentious issue amongst its instructors.
The best possible outcome is that the two organisations split the pot, and the sport languors in confusion, like boxing in the 90’s when everyone was a world champion.
The worst outcome is what we are currently seeing, with this battle over World Champs turf causing the public and the media (and even some freedivers) to lose interest in the sport altogether.
What needs to be done in order to escape the slide into repetitive dullness? Please let us know if you have any ideas!
The 2015 World Champs in Limassol, Cyprus
From left: William Trubridge, Mateusz Malina, Miguel Lozano
Above: the 2009 World Champs in the Bahamas Below: Natalia Molchanova and William Trubridge