By Carlos Rodríguez
As a prominent 10-meter diver, Diego Balleza is used to wearing small swimsuits that show off his body. Now, desperate because of a lack of financial resources ahead of next year's Paris Olympics, the Mexican is making a leap to a different platform in which he also wears few clothes: OnlyFans.
Balleza is one of several Mexican athletes who have been affected by a dispute between World Aquatics and Ana Guevara, the head of Mexico's national sports commission that, since January, has stopped providing monthly payments for aquatics athletes. World Aquatics suspended the president of the Mexican federation, Kiril Todorov, and appointed a commission to take charge while new elections were held.
Todorov was suspended for the failure of the Mexican Swimming Federation to comply with the governing body's good governance standards. But Guevara refused to recognize the commission even though the Court of Arbitration for Sport confirmed the change.
Diego Balleza, a 10-meter Olympic diver, trains in Monterrey, Mexico, Tuesday, June 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Jorge Mendoza)
Guevara, a runner who won a silver medal in the 400-meter race at the 2004 Athens Olympics, cut the allowance to all aquatics athletes. So they are now trying to find ways to support themselves.
Balleza, who was fourth in synchronized diving on the 10-meter platform at the Tokyo Olympics, chose to join OnlyFans, a site where content creators upload images and videos, some of them explicit.
“It occurred to me to open it because you are always looking for a way to make income. I support my house and my mother, and I have bills to pay, and you can upload whatever you want in there, it's a valid content,” Balleza said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I am happy that the people who are in my page have been very good and respectful, I hope they continue like this.”
Balleza charges a monthly fee of $15 to access his content but offers quarterly packages for $40.50. As of Monday, he had uploaded 136 images, 26 videos, and had more than 14,000 interactions with fans.
With the money he gets from that website, the 28-year-old diver seeks to replace the little more than 30,000 pesos (about $1,708) that he received as a government scholarship.
“The money I now receive (from OnlyFans) is very volatile, but it has served me well so far,” he said.
Jose Balleza Isaias and Kevin Berlin Reyes of Mexico compete during the men's synchronized 10m platform diving final at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, July 26, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
Balleza said that in addition to OnlyFans, the government of the state of Nuevo León, where he lives and trains, supported him and he has also received money from the private sector, although he did not elaborate on the amounts he received.
But Balleza is not alone in his struggle for economic resources. His partner on the 10-meter platform in Tokyo, Kevin Berlin, chose another route to continue his preparations for Paris. Berlin, with help from his relatives, created a coffee brand called “Olimpiada Café,” or Olympic Coffee.
“At first we thought we would only sell it to family and friends, but then it started to go viral, and it reached more people,” Berlin told the AP. “You have to see the positive in things. Thanks to all the problems I had, we created a business that is doing well and perhaps it will be useful for the future. In sports you don’t know if an injury ends your career quickly.”
Berlin and Balleza will compete together in July at the world championships in Fukuoka, Japan, seeking to give Mexico spots for the Paris Olympics.
To travel to Japan, World Aquatics provided them with plane tickets, although apparently not all athletes got them because high diver Jonathan Paredes requested help on Twitter to get a ticket to Japan and Aeroméxico eventually provided it.
“This situation is a bit tedious because in the end you are not 100% focused on what you have to do. But nothing is impossible, we already have flights and logistics for the world championships. Now we have to train hard and go a get those Olympic spots,” Balleza said.
Mexico's Jose Balleza Isaias and Kevin Berlin Reyes compete in the synchronized 10-meter platform diving final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, July 26, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
In addition to Balleza and Berlin, the artistic swimming team was forced to sell swimsuits and towels on social media.
“There are 14 of us in the team so we need a lot of money to travel, but it all adds up. The swimsuits gave us an opportunity, but our parents still support us, there are donations, and, in the end, everything adds up in the fight for us to go to the Olympic Games,” said Jessica Sobrino, a member of the team who came up with the idea of sell those items.
The artistic team recently won a legal battle and a judge ordered Guevara to restore the scholarships. But the director of the national commission said that is not a permanent measure.
The issue has even been discussed by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who said he would try to see how to help the competitors.
While that happens, aquatics athletes in Mexico will have to keep looking for ways to make money, even if that means selling clothes or taking them off.