Brazil‘s swimmers may be forced to race under the FINA flag at the World Championships in Budapest next month unless FINA responds well to a plea from athletes for it to recognise the new leadership of the national federation in the wake of the arrest of the old regime on corruption charges.
Less than a year after racing at a home Olympics, Brazilian aquatic athletes have joined hands with the Olympic Committee and Ministry of Sport to lobby against a the FINA’s leadership declaration that new elections required at the Brazilian swimming confederation (CBDA) are invalid – even though the old regime is behind bars facing corruption charges – because of “external interference”.
However, sources tell SwimVortex that if the leadership of the international federation FINA presses the case they will find themselves back before the Court of Arbitration for Sport defending their own interference in the national laws of Brazil.
The CBDA has been under federal police and public ministry investigation since 2015 as part of “Operacao Aguas Claras” – Operation Clear Water.
FINA Bureau member Coaracy Nunes, the president of the CBDA for many years at the time the investigation began, Sergio Alvarenga, the financial secretary, Ricardo de Moura, the swimming director, and Ricardo Cabral, the Water Polo director, were arrested on April 6 in a series of “preventive arrests”. They remain in custody.
Given their status, the wish of athletes and the threat of stagnation in Brazilian swimming, a judge ordered not only that Nunes be removed from office but that Gustavo Licks be appointed “provisional administrator” of the CBDA and for him to proceed with the busy of necessary elections of officials to run the federation.
By judicicial decree, Coaracy Nunes’ term of almost 29 years in the top seat ended on March 8 this year. Subsequent to his arrest – and those of the rest of his team now charged with corruption offences – an election of CBDA officers took place under civil justice procedures.
The vote, on June 8 last week, was entirely democratic and supported by athletes, coaches, clubs as a way of making a solid new start at the troubled federation.
Miguel Cagnoni, the opponent to the status quo won by a large margin of votes, ahead of the Coaracy legacy team, Cyro Delgado, a former Brazil relay swimmer who claimed 4x200m freestyle bronze at the boycotted Moscow 1980 Olympics, and Jefferson Borges, the FINA referee who trailed in third place.
Cagnoni, campaigning on a platform of “innovation and transparency”, polled 64 of 96 votes cast, Delgado on 26, Borges on 3. Delgado and Borges are FINA officials.
On the evening of the election, June 7, FINA’s Executive Director, Cornel Marculescu sent a letter to the provisional CBDA indicating that the result of the election would not be accepted by FINA because of “external interference and not respecting the statute”.
Marculescu’s letter states: “We would like to reconfirm that FINA will not recognise the elections of the Brazilian Swimming Federation on June 9, 2017 due to the fact that the elections do not respect the CBDA Constitution and FINA rules.”
Old CBDA constitution ‘illegal’
The trouble with that is clear: that constitution has been declared illegal in Brazil, in part on the basis that it was undemocratic.
Brazil begs to differ with FINA but that is not confined to the political arena: the country’s leading athletes among those – with the Brazil Olympic Committee and the country’s Ministry of Sport – adamant that this was an democratic process that they were keen to complete.
The mood was one of “the dictator is dead – long live the democratic process and a new start”, said one source.
The statute Marculescu refers to is a valid one and federations are right to raise such issues in the presence of doubt. The statute applies to all Olympic sports and is there to prevent national regimes from interfering with the autonomous process of election of officers and then the governance of international sport.
A source explaining the statute’s nuances, told SwimVortex: “The statute faces the height of challenge when it comes to alleged – and all the more so proven – criminal activity among those elected to serve in sports governance, such matters no longer confined to the jurisdiction of ethics panels and internal inquiries but national laws that override the autonomy of sport.”
Brazil’s elections were, according to athletes, coaches and others SwimVortex has had exchanges with, void of any external interference, the legal aspect of why the elections were necessary a process that was, a source tells SwimVortex:
“…entirely legal, transparent in national law and essential if the Brazilian confederation was to get on with the job of running the sports it governs, which needed to be removed from the chaos of having no-one in charge at a time when the former regime is behind bars. A sovereign country can expect to be able to handle its national laws and criminal cases without that affecting the efficient running of its sporting institutions. No-one is above the law, FINA Bureau or anyone else.”
Nunes is one of three FINA Bureau members currently facing allegations of corruption. The others are Ben Ekumbo, of Kenya, arrested on corruption charges at home related to Olympic kit, and Husain Al-Musallam, the first vice-president and heir apparent to FINA president Julio Maglione. Al-Musallam was cited as a “co-conspirator” in U.S. Justice Department papers setting out the evidence in the guilty-plea case of soccer official Richard Lai, who stated that he had been paid almost $1m in bribes.
FINA has resisted calls for all Bureau members facing prosecution to be temporarily suspended pending investigations. Despite the serious allegations against him Al-Musallam, who denies wrongdoing, is standing for his office at FINA once more in Budapest next month and shoudl he be reelected will be first in line to taken the FINA presidency in the near future.
That, says one legal sourse, puts FINA under at “risk of what could be a constitutional crisis fit to bring the house down”.
Al-Mussallam is from Kuwait, a nation suspended by the IOC and FINA. Kuwaiti athletes in many sports compete at the moment under the flags of international governing bodies yet FINA allows all Kuwait’s officials to continue to operate as if no suspension was in place.
After Kuwait was suspended, Marculescu wrote to federations to inform them that Al-Musallam would continue in his role as first vice-president, regardless.
A letter from new officers and representatives at Kuwait’s swimming federation telling FINA that it no longer recognises Al-Musallam as Kuwait’s Bureau member has been rejected by the international federation’s leadership, which, as it now is in the case of Brazil and Nunes, cites ‘external interference’ as the reason for supporting the status quo and rejecting the new choices of a country.
The U.S Justice Department, meanwhile, cited in its evidence against Richard Lai the bank transactions of large sums of money that made it from the co-conspirators cited.
International police authorities in the U.S, Asia and Europe, are currently investigating further lines of enquiries related to the Lai case.
Meanwhile, in Brazil, Nunes and his fellow officials may be released on bail in the near future, their arrests “preventive”. Having been removed from office by legal process, they stand accused of bribery, money laundering and illegal use of public funds to the tune of about 40 million reals (11 million euros).
None of those former aquatics officers are in a position to continue in office: they face what one source described as “several years of court hearings”. A guilty verdict could land them jail terms of 10 years. Nunes is 78 years old.
Nunes moulded and then presided over a constitution that kept him in office almost 29 years but has now been declared illegal under laws governing sport in Brazil. Critics, including a shoal of world-class swimmers, say that the statutes written by the old regime were there to help Nunes and Co stay in power unopposed. Those conditions removed, the sport was free to hold democratic elections.
A source close to the Brazilian authorities told SwimVortex:
“The ‘external interference’ was necessary because four top managers of the CBDA were arrested and are still in jail. The group representing Coaracy Nunes made several attempts to avoid the participation of athletes and clubs in the election.”
Another source questioned FINA’s motives in saying: “When you interpret as ‘external interference’ a situation where there are four arrests on corruption charges, the removal of a whole leadership of a federation on legal grounds and then a democratic election backed by almost every athlete you can find then there is something rotten in the system.
“FINA should accept that the old guard is not coming back, one way or the other. A length legal case is pending and the law has already removed these people from office. The CBDA has made a new start, backed by athletes, coaches and many others. FINA should be embracing that as a new dawn, not rejecting it and the need for national laws to override the autonomy of sport when it comes to alleged criminal behaviour.”
FINA has yet to start any proceedings via the Ethics Panel against any of the officials currently facing serious charges.
The new CBDA, meanwhile – with the support of Brazilian Minister of Sport, the Brazilian Olympic Committee and the Athletes’ Comission – are lobbying FINA to accept the inevitable and tne democratic: a new team is in place and it will represent Brazilian swimming
Brazil has selected 16 swimmers for the Budapest 2017 World Championships next month,m as well as five open water swimmer, five synchro swimmers, 2 water polo teams and six divers.
What might sway it for them? A senior member of the IOC told SwimVortex: “I think wisdom will prevail. They have a right to compete under their national flag. Executive decisions must make sense and find general support in the wider sports family. In this case, it seems the athletes and many others have made a new start and that should be given the chance to succeed.”