International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame honouree Joe Grossman documented the history of the International Long Distance Swimming Federation, a group that briefly governed the emerging sport of professional marathon swimming in the 1960s.

In April 1962, the International Long Distance Swimming Federation (ILDSF) published a magazine-like bulletin, printed in both English and Arabic. 9 individuals were listed as members including swimmers, race promoters and administrators.

The ILDSF was formed in 1953 in Paris when it selected the Maratona del Golfo Capri-Naples race as its world championship. When FINA decided to put its imprint on open water swimming in 1985, the ILDSF ceased to exist after FINA organized its its international competition in 1986.

Concurrently, the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation was a swimmer-oriented and -run organization started in 1964 in Chicago, Illinois. The swimmers wanted their own way to decide a world title and they determined the number of points per event. It was clear to everyone involved that there would never be an amicable merger between the International Long Distance Swimming Federation and the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation.

The initial ILDSA members included Lars Warle, a Swedish swimmer who finished 9th in the 1951 Daily Mail English Channel race and a 15th place in the 1954 Maratona del Golfo Capri-Naples, Dutch swimmer Jan Von Hems Bergen, who finished 15th 1951 Daily Mail race, International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer Alfredo Camarero, Aleksandar Radec, director of the Yugoslavian club that organized the Ohrid Lake Swimming Marathon, and individuals from England, France, Iraq, Italy, Libya and Lebanon.

By 1964, the ILDSF elected His Highness Prince Abdullah El Gaber El Sabah of Kuwait as a lifetime Honorary President and underwent a reorganization. Vice Presidents for 5 continental regions included A. Barone of Il Mattino for Europe, A. Abou Bakr of the U.A.R. for Africa, George Duthie, director of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto for North America, Eugenio Guiscardo of Argentina for South America, and W. Agouz of Lebanon for Asia. Representatives of the Maratona del Golfo Capri-Naples, Ohrid Lake Swimming Marathon, Suez Canal and Seida-Beirut marathon races were also included in the new administration.

Grossman writes, “By far the most interesting member in the new [executive leadership] was His Highness Prince Sabah. The oil-rich prince was a marathon swimming aficionado who came to Italy with an entourage each year, installed himself in a Bay-front villa, and grandly dispensed a purse – literally a sack of money – to the winner of the Maratona del Golfo Capri-Naples.”

With an increasingly uneasy alliance among the Federation members in 1966, some of the top professional marathon swimming races started to shift over to the upstart World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation.

George Duthie’s hope that the two rival professional marathon swimming federations would merge as early as 1964. He proposed to Major General Ahmed Zorkani, one of the ILDSF founders, that one united global marathon swimming organization be formed by the merger of the two federations, with the presidency rotating between individuals from the Middle East and those from the rest of the world.

Isaak Helmi remained the Honorary President between 1962-1970 when swimmers from Egypt, France, Italy, Kuwait, Sweden, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Argentina, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, England, Australia, Canada and Syria participated in the races.

Eventually, the professional marathon swimming circuit was governed by the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation that later turned over its governance to the International Marathon Swimming Association that subsequently turned over its role and responsibilities to FINA in 1991 where it remains today.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source