After working as an investment banker on Bay Street for 25 years, former U of T swimmer Robert Kent is getting back into the sport — now as the general manager for the Toronto expansion franchise in the International Swim League (ISL).
The second season of the ISL starts in September, and Kent is looking for top talent, both from Canada and abroad, to compete in one of its newest franchises. “I was talking to the owner of the ISL in Rome in November, and we got to talking about the global swim series and one thing led to another,” Kent recalls in an interview with The Varsity. “He asked me if I would become the [general manager] of the new expansion ISL team.”
The two new franchises in Toronto and Tokyo will have exclusive rights to negotiate with swimmers from their respective countries until February 15. “They’re actually down in Knoxville today at a big swim meet down there,” Kent said about the Canadian swimmers he hopes to secure a contract with.
“When they get back I plan on approaching them and offering them a contract with the ISL.”
Toronto will have negotiating rights with Olympic phenom Penny Oleksiak, and former U of T swimmer and Olympic bronze medalist Kylie Masse, among other top Canadian swimmers.
Historically, university swimmers had few options to continue competing, unless they were lucky enough to graduate in an Olympic year. Kent said that he wishes the ISL existed after he graduated, and recalls his experience training in between his graduation and the next Olympics. “When I graduated from U of T, and in 1986 I got a silver medal at nationals,” says Kent. “’86 was not an Olympic year, ’88 was the Olympic year, but I was close enough that I took the next two years off and just trained exclusively to try and make the Olympic team.”
He continued, “If there had been an ISL back then, I would have definitely loved to have done that because instead of being a professional athlete I lifeguarded at U of T, and was a swim instructor there. Up until this October, that’s what any of these prospective Olympians did in between Olympics.”
Kent is focussing his efforts on recruiting top talent from Canada, but is looking at international swimmers as well, many of which will be student athletes. “I plan on getting a core group of Canadian athletes on the team and I have exclusive rights to do that for a little while,” he added.
“Some of them are student athletes and some aren’t, but beyond that, of course the whole team won’t be made up of Canadians. There will be swimmers from all over the world.”
He continued, “Then there’s the [National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)] issue… and then take it one level down from there, is the U SPORTS issue where they’re all Canadian student athletes.”
Currently, the NCAA does not let its athletes compete in the ISL, while other Canadian student athletes and international student athletes can. However, Kent is still keeping a close eye on the NCAA swimmers, as the situation is evolving, and may choose to compete in the ISL after they graduate.
In addition to acquiring talent, Kent is also responsible for the business side of the competition, including branding and revenue. “On the business side, there’s everything from silly things that are really important, like establishing a name and then incorporating, getting a franchise, getting the domain, the website, accounting, hiring a staff, all that kind of stuff. And then getting sponsors and broadcast rights and stuff like that. All of which I’m kind of juggling right now two weeks into it,” Kent said.