FINA has announced the launch of a new Champions Swim Series following criticism from the likes of Katinka Hosszú ©Getty Images

The International Swimming Federation (FINA) has announced the launch of a new Champions Swim Series event as the governing body battles a backlash after blocking athletes from taking part in rival competitions.

Three legs of the new event will be held between March and May with FINA promising an "innovative format aimed at creating a world-class platform for elite swimming".

Approval of the event, which offers a total prize purse of nearly $4 million (£3.1 million/€3.5 million), by the ruling FINA Bureau can be seen as a direct response to criticism from athletes who were barred from taking part in new International Swimming League (ISL) competitions.

Olympic champions Adam Peaty, Chad le Clos and Katinka Hosszú have been among the most vocal critics and have accused FINA of a lack of opportunities to compete at a high level and earn prize money.

An ISL event was due to be staged in Italian city Turin on December 20 and 21 with a full circuit due to be launched as a direct rival to FINA's World Cup.

Eight international clubs, each made up of 12 male and 12 female swimmers, were due to feature but the Turin event has since been cancelled.

FINA refused to sanction it and threatened swimmers with bans of up to two years should they take part.

This would mean they would be ineligible for events such as the World Championships and Olympic Games.

The Turin event was being funded by the Energy Standard Group, backed by Ukrainian businessman Konstantin Grigorishin.

Julio Maglione believes the International Swimming League should be considered a threat to the sport ©Getty Images
Julio Maglione believes the International Swimming League should be considered a threat to the sport ©Getty Images

Hungary's Hosszú is among three leading swimmers to have filed a proposed class action lawsuit in the United States against FINA after she was blocked from taking part.

They have claimed that FINA has violated antitrust laws while the ISL have lodged a separate case.

FINA's Champions Swim Series will, like the ISL, involve a team format.

Swimmers will be grouped together on a continental or sponsorship basis, with each team comprising of 12 men and 12 women as the ISL had also planned.

The Series will be "an exceptional showcase for the sport and its top swimmers, that combines pure competition, together with innovative sports presentation and entertainment", it is claimed.

Only invited athletes will be able to compete and only finals will be held. 

Just four swimmers will compete in each race - with the Olympic champion, world champion, world record holder and world ranking leader all invited.

Events will be held in a 50 metre pool with 50m, 100m and 200m races taking place in freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly.

The 400m freestyle and 200m individual medley will also be contested alongside four relays, although no venue has yet been announced.

Swimmers will receive both "unprecedented" prize money and appearance fees to take part, FINA said.

Their accommodation, travel and meal expenses will all be covered.

"In its constant effort for innovation and providing new opportunities for the stars of our sport, FINA is very pleased to launch this new competition," said FINA President Julio Maglione, who believes the ISL is a threat to the sport.

"It will complete in the best possible way our swimming calendar throughout the year: firstly, this Champions Swim Series, then our World Championships and finally our Swimming World Cup circuit, as the year progresses.

"By creating this additional elite competition, FINA will generate a true swimming show, where sport presentation and stars' promotion are key concepts for a successful meet."

Adam Peaty has been among the most vocal critics of FINA ©Getty Images
Adam Peaty has been among the most vocal critics of FINA ©Getty Images

Hosszú, who won three Olympic gold medals at Rio 2016, had previously said that the "ISL takes swimmers seriously, not like FINA".

Britain's Peaty, the 100m breaststroke champion in Rio and a double world record holder, claimed the cancellation of the Turin competition would "galvanise" swimmers.

However, the new event has been backed by Penny Heyns, chair of the FINA Athletes' Committee.

"We strongly support this new concept, as the stars of our sport are always happy to have additional opportunities to shine," the 44-year-old double Olympic champion from South Africa said. 

"We will present swimming under a new perspective, and I am sure that spectators on site, TV viewers and digital users around the world will greatly appreciate this outstanding show. 

"Finally, with this unprecedented level of prize money, our swimming stars will definitively be attracted by this circuit."