Two-time Olympian Conrad Francis on his University of London experience
Two-time Olympic swimmer and a three-time competitor at the Commonwealth Games, Conrad Francis speaks about his remarkable career and what he’s gained from studying at the University of London.
What did you do before deciding to study at the University of London?
Before I started doing my Postgraduate Certificate, I was Head Coach and Aquatics Director at Jakarta Intercultural School in Indonesia and a professional athlete. I joined the national team for Sri Lanka at the age of 16 and committed almost 15 years to swimming, which is a long time to be a professional athlete.
I am a two-time Olympian: I performed at the Sydney Olympics and in Athens in 2004. I was based in Melbourne, training full-time and studying in high school, and then attending the Swinburne University of Technology.
Being an athlete on a national team has been an awesome journey — travelling around the world, competing with the best of the best and making friendships along the way with athletes from different continents. Swimming has taken me places, and as a result I've been in the sport for such a long time that I decided to be a head coach, or high-performance coach.
My first Olympics was in Sydney in 2000. I was still a rookie — from 1996 right up to 2000, I worked so hard to be an Olympian, without taking even two weeks off for the entire four years. That's a lot of hard work and it was quite a journey, getting to where I wanted to be and, of course, being there for my country.
What influenced you to study this degree programme?
They put out this scholarship programme three years ago as part of the World Olympians Association, and I applied for it because sports management has always been in my blood, and I studied it back in Melbourne. I thought that this programme could be something different, something new and challenging. It would go hand in hand with my sports, with my professional work, my coaching and being in education.
At the end of the day, it's all about learning new skills, learning the methodology of how you run international sports organisations and the structures. And what better way to study it than at the University of London, right? It's well recognised, and I've heard before about the high quality of the faculty staff.
The programme director [Dr Oscar Mwaanga] is absolutely awesome. He supported me a lot during my studies — he's like a mentor to me. He has always guided me the right way, and actually he's that one influential person who sparked my interest in the International Sports Management programme.
Why did you decide to study through the University of London's distance and flexible learning programme?
Having a full-time job, coaching and being an administrator, distance learning was the only way that I was able to give everything I could to my studies. That flexibility gave me the opportunity to take it on and study on my own schedule. Being an athlete, you're always on a schedule, so time management wasn’t an issue for me. I knew if I set aside between minimum 4 to 8 hours a week, I was good. At the end of the day, it’s about committing yourself and making it happen, balancing professional work with family.
Once I started the programme, it was about meeting all these other athletes, ex-Olympians and coaches, managers from different organisations, and coming together on one platform.
I thought I knew everything, but when you start listening to everybody else speak, you realise that there's a whole bunch of ideas — how they think, how they explore and how they use the system. It's all about sharing knowledge and at the same time, having a good laugh, getting the experience and using it to my advantage.
I've taken so much out of the out of the programme and used it not only in my professional life, but in my day-to-day life, which has had a big impact.
What would you describe as the most rewarding part of your studies?
I remember one of the assignments had something to do with Covid-19. None of us had anticipated the pandemic, so when Covid hit a lot of sports organisations, there was no backup plan.
Thinking out of the box is what sparked me. Thinking about what the next step would be if something went wrong. That's something that I never thought of before, and now everything I do in my work, I question myself: why am I doing it? That was the key essence of the entire programme, what the University said we’d get — it’s the critical thinking.
Do you have any advice for current or prospective students?
I think it's a good programme when you're in high school, especially when you're in your last year of studies and you're an international or national athlete. This programme gives you the flexibility to move forward and pursue your dream in sports, and at the same time continue to study. This programme was built to support the athlete, not the other way round.
Having the materials online gave me so much more flexibility to study in my own time. The programme will help athletes to understand how sports management is structured, how the organisations think, and even how the Olympic Games are run.
If you want to be in the sports industry and you want to reach the top, you need to know the grassroots of how we run things and how management is structured.