In an open letter, John Leonard, the director of the American Swimming Coaches Association, has called on coaching peers to stop propping up the “broken institution” that is FINA, the international federation.
In light of the resignation from the FINA Coaches Commission of Australia head coach Jacco Verhaeren, Leonard, also director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, writes to colleagues who remain in voluntary positions as experts whose advise FINA is supposed to take heed of, but according to the Dutchman and others does not, with a simple question:
“Each of us must act on our own conscience. But I ask again ‘why are you still there’?”
When he resigned from his role at FINA’s coaching table, Verhaeren told The Australian, with a nod to the McLaren Report into the Russian doping crisis last year, that FINA’s lack of response was the straw that broke the camel’s back (much as the award to Putin had been for this author when I resigned from the media commission in 2014):
“At the last coaches meeting (at the world short course championships in December) I challenged FINA to produce a strong statement for clean sport after what had happened in Rio (at the Olympics) with allowing Russia back in. As a world federation you need to step up in leadership, but I haven’t seen any of that from FINA. They keep talking about how much drug-testing they are doing but that’s not the problem. It is the lack of a statement and vision and true leadership to say this is what we stand for. There is a lack of courage.
He adds: “When the second part of the McLaren Report came out (in December), that was deeply concerning with the number of athletes mentioned there (up to 1000). But the feedback from FINA was that they were happy because there was no mention of swimming. There’s no doubt that in those hundreds of athletes there are swimmers involved as well. FINA’s response does not reflect the concern of the community of swimming. We walked out of that meeting saying: What are we doing here?’
Verhaeren noted that doping was not the only area of concern. In his note to FINA Director Cornel Marculescu, he cites the following as other reasons for his resignation:
“I do believe that overall swimming is a clean sport but it doesn’t mean we are not in danger of having the same problems as other sports in some countries and with some individuals. But FINA will not stand up for clean sport and condemn doping and speak to our deepest concerns about the McLaren Report. That is not the way a world federation should act or behave. We deserve a federation that stands up and protects our sport.’’
- the addition of new events to the world championships program (mixed relays) without consultation
- the rejection of the coaches’ recommendations on changes to the failing World Cup format
- FINA’s failure to oppose the Rio Olympic schedule which had swimmers racing after midnight to suit the American broadcasters
- the provision of one six-lane warm up pool for 1000 swimmers competing at the world short course titles
In a depressing conclusion, Verhaeren told reporter Nicole Jeffery:
“I don’t think me leaving will make any difference but at least I am giving a signal to the world swimming community that this needs to improve.”
Leonard’s letter, meanwhile, goes out in the week that brought news of FINA Vs FINA at the Court of Arbitration for sport, as vice-president Paolo Barelli, president of the European Swimming League (LEN) challenges the global federation for what he regards as a failure to stick to its rules and constitution when it blocked a complaint he wanted the Ethics Panel to consider. He claims that Europe’s election for the president of LEN was interfered with, against FINA rules barring continents from campaigning out of their geographic jurisdiction, by Dale Neuburger of the USA and Husain Al Musallam, of Kuwait. More on all of that soon. For now…
John Leonard’s Open letter in full.
As coaches, typically you go to work every day, come up with new ideas, consult with those around you and….amazingly, something actually happens to improve the lives of the athletes you work with!
Now you’ve served on the FINA Coaches Commission for awhile, where you all have learned that nothing ever happens!
Prompted by the courage and intelligence of Jacco to resign from the coaches commission, the courage of the two best members of the FINA anti-doping commission (last summer) to resign, and the courage of Craig Lord to resign from the equally impotent FINA Media Commission, I am prompted to ask…why are you still there?
I speak from experience. I served two full terms on the Coaches Commission, plus experienced it from the outside while my mentor Peter Daland was the first chair, and another term outside, where I served FINA as the “Education Consultant”. In none of that time was anything ever actually accomplished, though I enjoyed some fine meals and met some fine coaches like yourselves.
Your continued presence on the FINA Coaches Commission is a buttressing of a broken institution with no intent to ever do anything to enhance the lives of anyone but their own Bureau. No help to athletes, no help to coaches, just self-interest. And your serving on the group, allows FINA to say “see, we include coaches!” (yes, for dinner in a secondary sort of way….but not for decisions nor action).
Each of us must act on our own conscience. But I ask again:
“WHY ARE YOU STILL THERE?”
I ask this as a friend to every coach, everywhere. You are serving as a stooge and tool of an evil empire. Get out is my best advice. Hasten the rebuild of FINA in a better way. Support the rights of athletes and coaches everywhere.
John Leonard, American Swimming Coaches Association.