Olympic heroine Belmonte in limbo after club funding spat

London 2012 double silver medalist denies financial greed and disrespecting colleagues

Mireia Belmonte shows off her silver medals at the London Olympics.
Mireia Belmonte shows off her silver medals at the London Olympics.MARCEL-LÍ SÀENZ

Two-and-a-half months after becoming the first female native Spaniard to win an Olympic medal in swimming, Mireia Belmonte finds herself without a club after CB Sabadell failed to reach an agreement over the renovation of her contract. Belmonte and her father, on one side, and Sabadell president Miquel Torres on the other all declared themselves open to negotiation but the writing was already on the wall.

The club, one of Spain's most successful and which counts the European women's water polo champions among its number, said that Belmonte's financial ambitions were "a little exorbitant," but Torres was still willing to seek a deal. Belmonte said she gets paid 2,200 euros a month by the club, on top of an 18,000 annual subsidy from the Spanish Association of Olympic Sports.

According to some sources, Belmonte asked for a five-fold increase from Sabadell, which had offered her a four-year contract, up to the Rio Games in 2016, and a job at the club afterward in view of her studying for a Business Management degree.

On September 20, the relationship between club and double-silver medalist deteriorated at a dinner organized at its installations by the town council for 16 athletes and paralympians who participated in London. Belmonte, accompanied by her parents, surprised everyone when she arrived. She did not speak to any of colleagues, simply approaching Torres and saying: "Miquel, I'm not staying."

As of today I have no club and will not be going to the world championships"

Five minutes after arriving, she left the building without speaking to anyone. Even the intervention of her coach, Fred Vergnoux, the architect of her rise to the Olympic podium, could not smooth the situation.

On Tuesday, Sabadell announced it would not be renewing Belmonte's contract or her federation license. "It is no longer a merely economic question - something that can always be discussed - but one of dignity and of contempt for her colleagues, her club, its members, her coach and the Sabadell town council. Her attitude is arrogant and offensive toward those that have looked after her career," said Torres.

On Thursday, Belmonte spoke of her surprise and disappointment at the decision: "The ridiculous amounts that people say I asked for are completely false," the 22-year-old said.

"I went to the club because I believed I deserved a pay rise for the results I achieved. I did not ask for a millionaire's salary. The club said it was in economic crisis, like the rest of the country and I accepted a salary of 2,200 euros a month, but there were still a few loose ends.

"I had hoped to continue with the club and the decision not to renew my contract has upset me a little because I have been there for some years and I have come to love the place. The decision was so categorical and made through a cold statement."

The impasse has caused consternation in Spanish swimming, with the 2013 Fina World Championships in Barcelona approaching. As thing stand, Belmonte, the country's most marketable and successful swimmer, will not compete on her native soil.

"At the moment I don't have a club, so as of today I will not be able to go to the World Championships next year," Belmonte stated.

Responding to Sabadell's version of events regarding the celebratory dinner earlier this month, the swimmer said: "I arrived late because my parents were working and I wanted them to share the moment with me. We went to the dinner at the club but I couldn't stay - not because I didn't want to but because I had to get up early because I have started back at university. I did not want to offend the club. I did not act with any bad intentions."

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS