The FINA Executive is said to be considering imposing emergency powers to block a bid by the international federation’s honorary secretary Paolo Barelli to become the president of the global body in a vote in Budapest this July.
According to sources in Lausanne and the United States, the FINA executive has discussed the possibility of imposing a rule – among several new election conditions that would be set beyond the deadline for changes to rule proposals – by executive order just two months before the FINA General Congress of more than 200 nations – the ‘highest authority’ of FINA – that would disqualify anyone challenging FINA on a point of law from standing for office.
Almost a quarter of those nations are European and back Barelli, the move by FINA executives already being perceived as “anti-European” and confirming one of the Italian’s core criticisms of the international federation’s leadership.
Indeed, the backlash from any such move could trigger mutiny at the Congress on the eve of eight days of racing in the pool at the World Championships in Budapest from July 23-30 and evoke memories of Rome 2009, when the FINA executive’s wish to have shiny suits survive was burned to ashes as the wider world of swimming returned swimming to swimmers.
One of the strongest advocates for sinking the suits were members of the World and American Swimming Coaches Associations (WSCA and ASCA) who lobbied hard to bring about the vote in Rome. Now, in a move that will make the hearts of FINA executives opposed to Barelli sink, ASCA has thrown its weight behind the Italian.
In a letter to Barelli seen by SwimVortex, the WSCA and ASCA director John Leonard tells the head of LEN that he is circulating to 17,500 member coaches a letter sent by Barelli to “National Federations Presidents, FINA Family Members and Friends”, setting out his reasons for bidding for the FINA presidency. SwimVortex has obtained a copy of the letter – published in full at the foot of this article. It includes a challenge on good governance grounds and on the thorny issue of a bank balance at FINA said to be around $350m at a time when around 1% or less of that goes to swimmers in prize money. Writes the Italian in favour of greater distribution of funds to federations:
“…FINA is not a Financial Institution with the objective of setting money aside. This is not the vision I have for FINA. FINA needs to raise its position and ensure the brightest future and introduce good Governance for all its Member Federations. The heart and the true essence of FINA are the National Federations… a culture based on honesty and integrity must be fueled and promoted without hesitation at all times.
In his letter to Barelli Leonard writes:
“Dear Mr. Barelli – All of the points you make in your explanation letter of your candidacy for President of FINA make absolute sense. We need new leadership. I am promoting your letter to 17,500 coaches worldwide today. I wish you all the best and great success. FINA corruption and the ‘Bureau operating like a private club of self-supporters’ Must End.”
WSCA and ASCA were joined by peer groups in Australia, Canada and various European nations in backing a call from mentor Bill Sweetenham for FINA to submit to independent review of structures, systems and finances in order to help move the sport to the next level. That was 2015. To this day, neither Sweetenham nor any of the coaching bodies have received a reply from FINA.
Coaches have since voted in large numbers to back plans for the creation of the World Swimming Association as a new vehicle that would take over the running of global swimming in the absence of serious change at FINA. That change looked highly unlikely until Barelli’s latest series of challenges to the status quo.
The alleged corruption in the FINA ranks referred to by Leonard pertains to the case of Richard Lai in the world of football and FIFA.
Barelli, the head of the European Swimming League (LEN), is not only challenging the incumbent FINA president Julio Maglione, the 81-year-old Uruguayan who broke two election promises made in 2009 and had the consitutional changes he pressed for to get elected reveresed so that he could stand for a third term as FINA president.
The Italian has also taken a case against the FINA executive to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over its refusal to allow complaints against Husain Al-Musallam, the FINA first vice-president from Kuwait, and another vice-president, American Dale Neuburger, to be referred to and heard by the FINA Ethics Panel.
Both the Ethics Panel and Carrard, legal representatives for FINA and part of an outfit that is also conducting a governance review at the international federation, have warned the FINA executive that its rules on who can refer cases to the Ethics Panel are in conflict. The CAS case is not expected to conclude until September or October this year, well beyond the votes for the president and other offices at FINA Congress in Budapest in July.
Barelli’s argument for a more transparent and open FINA that serves as a piority, listens to and acts upon the wishes of its major stakeholders, athletes at the helm, was strengthened of late when Al-Musallam was cited as “Co-Conspirator #3” in a legal case brought by the U.S. Justice Department against Guam soccer official and U.S. citizen Richard Lai.
Lai admitted to receiving bribes of almost $1m, while two of four officials cited by the U.S. Justice Department are Al-Musallam and his Kuwaiti boss and Olympic bigwig Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, both of Kuwait, a country currently suspended by the IOC, FINA and a swathe of other sports federations over alleged political interference in the running of sport.
Barelli has called for FINA’s executive to ask Al-Musallam to step down pending inquiries into his alleged role in the payments to Lai. While he has received no reply on the issue of whether a FINA first vice-president should step aside at a time when his name is linked to serious allegations, Barelli is said to be the reason behind moves to create emergency rules to block him from the FINA presidency.
Both Al-Musallam and Sheikh Ahmad deny any wrongdoing and while the Sheikh has stepped down from all FIFA roles pending further inquiries, both he and Al-Musallam continue to oparet in swimming roles, the Sheikh among speakers at a FINA ‘swim for all’ clinic in Bangkok last week.
A source told SwimVortex that the FINA executive took time in Bangkok to discuss possible moves to block Barelli. One suggestion was to create an emergency rule that would disqualfy anyone challenging FINA in law from standing for office.
Maglione welcomed Barelli’s challenge when the Italian threw his name into the hat for the FINA presidency and described the move as being in the interests of ‘democracy’. Any attempt not to block Barelli is likely to be seen as achieving the opposite of democracy.
One source who told SwimVortex: “If such moves are really what they want, then it sounds like an attempt by the FINA executive to place itself higher than the highest authority of FINA but deciding on a move that would make Maglione president once more by default and without challenge – and without those moves ever having been put to the Congress as a whole.
“If the FINA executive intended to show itself as transparent and forward thinking in the face of challenge from Barelli, then this would have just the opposite effect. There is no legal position that would support this happening – and if they find one, then ethically, it would clearly be the wrong thing to do at a time when Maglione has said he welcomes the ‘democratic’ challenge from the Italian. Blocking that challenge without proper discussion and reference to Congress and then a due process under existing rules would indicate that democracy is not what they want.”
Paolo Barelli’s Letter To The WorldWide Swim Community
Dear National Federations Presidents, Dear FINA Family Members, Dear Friends, It is my pleasure to officially announce my candidacy to the Presidency of FINA and to share with you the reasons which have led me to take this important step.
My decision has been driven by the passion I have for our sports and by the strong belief that FINA must ensure and guarantee a bright future for all its Member Federations.
This can only be achieved by distancing the leadership from any sort of power games and personal interests. The work carried out by all FINA Member Federations is exceptional and it is precisely this that allows FINA to be a great organisation.
We cannot allow all this good work to be ruined or lost. All the scandals that have hit, and currently still do, the world of sport and affected the image and reputation of some of the leading international Federations must put FINA and us all on high alert.
At the beginning of this month, The Times of the 2 May 2017 and several other media agencies reported alleged bribery scandals connected to the world of sport which hit close to home, indeed related to FINA 1st Vice President Hussain Al Musallam. Of course the appointed bodies will carry out their due investigations but there is a concrete risk that FINA may end up paying some very serious consequences.
Over the last few years we have witnessed several “irrational” changes to the FINA Constitution.
Hereunder, you will find a couple of examples:
- At the 2011 Congress in Shanghai it was decided to limit the eligibility for the Presidency of FINA to 2 mandates. The Congress also decided to set the age limit for the candidacy to FINA President at 80.
- In 2015 the Congress changed all this again. It removed the 80-year age limit and introduced the maximum number of mandates for the President to three (!).
These Constitutional rules have been tailored and introduced according to personal interests. This is something that had never been experienced before in FINA history, i.e., adding two new rules and later removing them just as quickly within only a few years. I have always been a good friend of President Julio Maglione.
I supported his candidacy to the FINA President in 2009 when, as candidate, he was telling the world he would stay for only one 4- year mandate. This, he claimed at the time, was done in order for him to improve the governance of FINA. Today, at the commendable age of 82, he is putting forward his candidacy to the FINA Presidency for a third mandate, seeking to remain at the helm of FINA for a total of 12 years and up to the age of 86.
Considering that the IOC has also decided that 80 is the age limit to hold an effective are only a couple of examples indicating how the amendments of such an important role, I am certain that there must be a logical rationale behind it. I believe that this same rule should also apply within International Federations and, therefore, also within FINA.
Over more than two decades Julio Maglione has done a great deal for FINA, as Treasurer first and as President later and, everyone, including myself, fully recognizes his many merits. Nonetheless, at present, he appears to be unable or unwilling to solve the emerging problems and handle the clashes. I feel it would now be appropriate for Julio Maglione to take on an Honorary role, enabling FINA to successfully overcome the challenges that lie ahead of us.
My program intends to tackle and solve a number of important and critical issues that currently limit the development of FINA to its fullest potential. More in detail, the areas I have identified and wish to immediately address are linked to the:
- Lack of a support plan, including economic support, in favor of the small emerging Federations and for the development of our aquatic disciplines. The support in favour of the small emerging Federations is currently totally insufficient. FINA can, and must, do a lot more.
- Lack of a support plan, including economic support, in favour of the National Federations which, thanks to the success and achievements of their athletes and teams, are the main drivers and contributors towards the global success of FINA. The current FINA contribution plan for the National teams participating at the FINA World Championships cannot be considered sufficient.
- Lack of a support plan, including economic support, in favour of the FINA Continental Organizations which have the key and crucial role of coordinating and promoting local activities, as they are the closest contacts with the National Federations.
- Lack of a clear plan to introduce, enforce and maintain good governance and transparency within FINA at all times, and across all positions. This will ensure that FINA stays away from any type of scandals and disagreements.
- Lack of a clear plan to address the widely known issue of conflict of interest and political interference. These must be fought in a determined way, through concrete actions. I am sure you are all aware of some very questionable and conflicting positions facing both FINA 1st Vice President Hussain Al Musallam and FINA Vice President Dale Neuburger.
- The political interference of Mr. Al Musallam during the 2016 European LEN Elections in favour of one of the LEN Presidential candidate has been formally declared by the Presidents of several European National Federations. Mr. Neuburger also played an active role as Director of TSE Consulting, a commercial partner of FINA, which made an agreement with a European LEN Presidential candidate “to orchestrate his campaign” during the LEN Elections.
- Lack of separation of the political power from the judicial power, which must be autonomous and remain independent at all times and in every instance.
- Lack of a clear plan to aggressively fight against any form of change to the principles of fair and correct behaviour. Undoubtedly, the war against doping remains the foremost priority. In addition, a culture based on honesty and integrity must be fueled and promoted without hesitation at all times.
- The number of mandates for the President and Bureau members, as well as the age limit to be a FINA candidate, must be agreed upon once and for all and enshrined within the Constitution without allowing these be changed according to one’s personal agenda.
These are only some of the key issues which require urgent and immediate attention. I know these matters are of great concern for the whole FINA Family and must therefore be addressed without any further delay. I want to also firmly reiterate the urgent need to promote investments in favour of the National Federations.
The very solid financial resources of FINA are the result of the hard work of all National Federations and of the commitment and professionalism of the FINA Office.
However, FINA is not a Financial Institution with the objective of setting money aside. This is not the vision I have for FINA. FINA needs to raise its position and ensure the brightest future and introduce good Governance for all its Member Federations. The heart and the true essence of FINA are the National Federations.
They are the irreplaceable engine which ensures our sport is invincible and universal. For these reasons, but not only, I will never get tired of saying that it is to them that FINA needs to look at and look after, investing accordingly to fuel and foster their growth and wealth! I will soon share with you a more detailed program in relation to my candidacy.
I truly count on the invaluable input I hope you will provide me with. I consider this of immense value and I am certain it will be the basis to continue developing such fertile ideas. I am absolutely certain that by working together towards a common vision we can achieve exceptional results and ensure a brighter future which FINA truly deserves.
For the time being, please allow me to send my best regards.
Paolo Barelli, President LEN (Ligue Européenne de Natation) FIN (Italian Swimming Federation)