FINA Future: Of Machiavelli, Money Pools & A Measure Of ‘Professionalism’ In Swimming

Will a real professional era ever get off the blocks in swimming? Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer

In a three-part feature and editorial on the latest moves by the FINA leadership to convince the world that it is on the right path, we start with Machiavelli, take a glance at the difference between professional sport and swimming and hark the sound of silence from swimming bosses

A few weeks ago a young fellow Brit named Nick Dawes sought to follow SwimVortex on twitter. Always good to have keen new fans following our coverage and the sport we love. He will, however, doubtless have noticed that he was blocked almost immediately. We’re not really into welcoming anyone associated with JTA Associates: by the time young Dawes sought to follow, I had already seen the nature of the work his company had set its mind and money to – a proposal for and with FINA, the international swimming federation that is wholly supported by the board of USA Swimming.

You won’t know Nick Dawes and neither do I. I’m not keen on knowing him either. I know his name because it appears on an official document as one of those who would work on a proposal of three aims, one of which was about as likely to happen as a man from Mars beating Michael Phelps for the 400 medley crown at Beijing 2008, another bent on finding ways to ‘discredit’ FINA critics, this website included. All doomed to fail.

The JTA Associates company profile for young Dawes tells us something of his mindset. On the question of who his ‘favourite communicator’ might be, he opts for a football pundit and then reveals “But on more of a serious note, Niccolò Machiavelli was inspiring: ‘Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are’.”

Well, this journalist may not know who you really are, young Dawes, just as you do not know who I am but the editor of this site did see what your company really is about when it came to proposing that Michael Phelps serve as a poster boy for FINA’s troubled leadership and the ambitions of its president Julio Maglione to break his promise, change the constitution and stand for a third term of office.

The proposal – which came with a roll out cost ten times greater than the value FINA places on a world title in swimming this summer in Russia – was sold with Phelps as one of its pillars of strength. Trouble was, no-one had asked Michael Phelps. And guess what: the most decorated Olympian all-time won’t be playing ball.

“International sport is the world we live in. We know its people and what drives them. We understand its nuances and speak its language,” boasts JTA of its work. Everyone gets its wrong sometimes, of course, and clearly JTA neither understood the nuance, nor the man nor did it speak the language of Michael Phelps when it thought to harness his power and influence and sell a plan on that basis.

Further, the company that fans of Machiavelli (author of Il Principe and Dell’arte della guerra) work for sought to discredit those who criticise and question FINA’s poor leadership and what at times have been appalling decisions taken without reference to the full leadership group, let alone the wider membership.

Swimming’s earliest scribe was Everard Digby, who penned De Arte Natandi. He claimed swimming as an art and wrote of the natural predisposition of man in water, the source of life. Fascinating stuff for this author, who planned, penned the bulk of and edited the whole of FINA’s 100-year book, Aquatics. This season, it seems, FINA and affiliates, prefer to focus on The Art of War – and they’re not too ashamed to spend a pretty penny on propaganda.

Here’s where the proposed budget and actual spend for the exercise fits in the general scheme of things:

Dollars In The Pool

  • $100m – FINA net assets in the bank, according to FINA Bureau members with access to the figures
  • $32 million – Olympic revenues – what swimming will get in the next round of IOC share-out post Rio 2016
  • $5.6 million – “FINA Family Expenses” in 2013
  • $1.64 million – the total prize pot for pool swimmers at world titles in Kazan this August (to go to some 120-150 swimmers based on Barcelona 2013)
  • $1.5 million – a conservative estimate of the likely cost of ‘per diems’ paid by FINA to Bureau, Committee and Commission members over 3 weeks this summer
  • $150,000 – the budget for a three-point proposal and roll-out aimed at 1, cosying up to USA Swimming (no need to spend a dollar on that given the predisposition of the board of USA Swimming and its president Jim Sheehan); 2, making Michael Phelps a poster boy for Maglione (not a cat in hell’s chance); 3, discrediting critics (what a waste of money – the truth will out, and now more than ever before in swimming, the weight of those who agree with this view from Bill Sweetenham on a scale of groaning). For just four months work that includes harnessing the name and status of USA Swimming, which is now committed to backing Julio Maglione, his broken promise and  turning a blind eye to truly bad decisions taken by FINA of late, including granting the international federation’s highest honour to Vladimir Putin at a time when Russia has the worst doping record in the sport.
  • $100,000 – the top prize for the World Cup winner in swimming after 16 days of gruelling competition and season upon season of dedication (Therese Alshammar was the best part of two decades into her swim career when she collected the prize, for example)
  • $90,000 – two years of dedication to produce FINA’s 100-Year Book from scratch to a volume the federation could be proud of – a huge amount of work
  • $23,000 – what FINA was asked to pay for the JTA proposal – a short document that could not possibly have taken more than a few days to put together (even for folk whose knowledge of swimming is highly likely to pale by comparison to that of many of you SwimVortex readers)
  • $15,000 – the sum received by FINA Bureau members for just 37 per diems at events where they have no personal costs beyond unessential choices (and in many cases are not missing employed work; in some cases being at FINA events linking them directly with the work they are employed to do beyond the FINA event)
  • $15,000 – what FINA pays for a world swimming title

And here are some Dollars from a different world:

  • $42,000 – prize money for a first-round loser at Wimbledon
  • $148.1 million – total prize money for all four Grand Slams in tennis
  • $42.3 million – total prize pot for Wimbledon 2014 (spread of share included 256 singles players)
  • $33 million – total prize pot for Australia Open 2014
  • $34.5 million – total prize pot for French Open 2014
  • $38.3 million – total prize pot for US Open 2014
  • $54 million – surplus (from tickets sales, catering and so on) Wimbledon 2013 (The All England Club is not a non-profit organisation and thus its surplus is taxed, receipts going to the exchequer; 90% of what is left is then ploughed back into the development of tennis)
  • $2.73 million – the top prize for one Wimbledon winner

finamoneySwimming is not tennis, its appeal not the same, the audience for tennis not the same, the game wonderfully simple to understand and within the scope of personal experience of the wider sports-loving spectatorship. Tennis and the players who make the top wrung of ATP and Grand Slam tour also have access to big-brand sponsorship: a world in tune with household names, the luxury car makes and more that fit very well with strawberries and cream and the circuit and market of summer social-sporting events, lifestyle and wealth constant companions to the show.

Tennis is a professional sport in a way that swimming and swimmers can only aspire to in 2015, while services such as those offered to the media at Wimbledon have long been far ahead of the curve when it comes to comparison with swimming. Worth noting the high level of professional standards and quality of product and services among some of FINA’s partners, such as Omega, Speedo, Arena and others: the framework for a professional era among swimmers is there, lacking the governance to go with it.

FINA director Cornel Marculescu mentioned back in 2008-09 in several interviews that he had visions of shiny suits helping, somehow, to turn swimming into something similar  to tennis and golf. He appeared not to notice the huge difference in market potential: every Wimbledon is accompanied by a rush of tennis racket sales; every Open a club-buying spree that spills well beyond the world of elite sport – every swim meet was never going to be followed by a rush to buy bodysuits built like surf boards (not quite the sexiest look on the beach) and apt to pop at the touch of a fingernail.

And then there is the other significant difference: to get to tennis and golf and those sorts of worlds, you have to journey down the road of a truly professional era for athletes, one in which the player can wear the brand of their own sponsor, not that of FINA and peers; and a place where the swimmer has rights over their own image on the biggest of occasions (they don’t have that right now).

The dollar details above give one obvious view of the considerable journey ahead for swimming when it comes to governance capable of delivering and willing to deliver an environment in which the athlete is professional, is treated as such and can earn even a living wage, let alone a wage anywhere near to what tennis, golf and other professionals can and do earn from top to fairly deep down the ranks.

Yes, there is always a case for saying ‘be grateful for what you’ve got’ but one of FINA’s main missions is to promote (to advance in rank, dignity, position, etc) swimming. Right now, FINA is a long way from where it could be in terms of making athletes the centre of all things. As for coaches, they are all but ignored. This season, the board of USA Swimming has opted to side with the FINA leadership and set aside a call from coaches to press for serious change.

There is an argument for saying that FINA is letting athletes down, on the level of funding and – given a string of disturbing events of late (Sun Yang included) – in terms of doing all it can to hit the bullseye on another of its constitutional objectives: “to provide fair and drug free sport”.

As FINA leaders spend energy, and perhaps the federation’s money, on strategies to sell the worth of their ways, coaches and athletes are getting on with the business of building the foundation for a new world.

The Sound of Silence

finamoneyIt is now 18 days since I sent Marculescu and Pedro Adrega, the head of communications for FINA, a set of questions. No reply. Perhaps they’re busy reading the complete works of Machiavelli, under the instruction of the FINA executive. Perhaps not. What I do know is that, like many of the questions unanswered by FINA, my latest requests for information are not particularly taxing if those being asked to answer are confident they’ve got it right.

Silence may well mean that FINA’s leadership has indeed consented to pay £20,000 a month for four months to roll out a plan to cosy up to USA Swimming, to get Phelps to back Maglione’s dreams of breaking his own promises so that he can president until he’s 85, to discredit, among others, John Leonard, the director of the coaching associations world and American representing 20,000 or so members worldwide.

Here’s what JTA, Marculescu and Adrega discussed as areas that FINA finds itself criticised for:

  • “The close relationship between FINA and Russia – in particular giving a high-level award to Putin”
  • “FINA’s perceived lack of action on doping challenges in the sport”
  • “Overall governance of the sport with President Maglione seeking to stand for a third term of office having committed to two terms”
  • “Perceived underinvestment at grassroots level by FINA despite significant increased revenue for the international federation”

Gosh, well, now we know. On top of the fee asked for roll out of the JTA plan, we know that the proposal document itself came with a price tag of £15,000, while “agreed expenses” would also be paid during the four months of rollout to the door of the World Championships in Kazan come August. Had FINA not known of this proposal, had FINA not paid for this proposal, then a simple “nothing to do with us, yon scribe of 100 years of FINA history” would have sufficed. Perhaps that would have been fibbing, though. Only FINA HQ and the small inner circle of folk who wish to control the agenda know, at least as yet. One day, we’ll all know, truth having the will of flora to find its way to the light.

Meanwhile, we can only speculate what the answers to my questions might be. These are not “negative questions” as JTA calls them in its proposal to FINA. They are genuine inquiries to get at the truth that the wider membership of world swimming may wish to know for the sake of deeper understanding when it comes to how their sport is run by the very public figures at the helm of it. The questions included:

  • Was the proposal discussed by the FINA Executive – and was it agreed by that body to proceed with the ‘strategy’ and accept the costs involved?
  • Did FINA or JTA or representatives from either approach Michael Phelps, his management or agents, or any others named in the ‘strategy’ with a view to seeking their permission to be so named?
  • Does the FINA Executive feel that a ‘strategy’ and ‘tactical programme’ that seeks to “discredit” businesses and individuals is compatible with the values FINA advertises and calls on athletes and others to observe as part of its Codes of Conduct and Ethics – and the various charters and codes it is signed up to through the Olympic Movement?

And for USA Swimming I add this: is this the kind of behaviour you condone; are these the kind of men you back?

The next instalment: how the Board of USA Swimming came to love the status quo.

More reading: FINA Future – schism in swimming

In a three-part feature on the latest moves by the FINA leadership to convince the world that it is on the right path, we start with Machiavelli, take a glance at the difference between professional sport and swimming and hark the sound of silence from swimming bosses

Comments

Bad Anon

Just to imagine that the 1st round loser of Wimbledon walls away with 42k while 15k is what a swimmer who wins in Kazan will get is quite heart breaking #sadfordays

aswimfan

Wow.. This is a critical moment for USA Swimming to show that they don’t support such rotten leadership, the very leadership whose rotten judgement caused their member Fran Crippen to die.

Joy Macnaughton

Surely swimming has television appeal. That’s where the money is. It’s fast, quick turnaround and with beautiful competitors. The commentaries could be improved. Just do it

felixtzu

Maglione’s suggestion that shiny suits would bring money into the sport still annoys me so much. Not only is the article of course right that sales are not on the same scale as tennis or golf, but what sales there are come from families of junior swimmers. Expensive suits don’t put any money into the sport, some money within the sport flows to the haves from the have nots (with the manufacturers and marketeers taking out the biggest chunk).

I still think baubles for politicians is not an issue to be ranked alongside the financial and structural questions – a distraction if anything. When the world’s greatest City hosts the Olympics, for which they build an impressive aquatic venue, then immediately reduces the capacity below world championship requirement, we (swimming) have a problem. There aren’t many willing hosts out there for FINA events, so flattering friendly politicians with honours is a simple, cheap and (relatively) transparent device.

Craig Lord

Joy, – you’re right to think that – but right now it is only on the biggest of occasions – there’s no audience for a world cup of same of the same of the same, full world champs prog crammed into two days a go, with more than 50 even 60% of the best in the world not even in the water and a points format that is too complex to follow to catch the imagination of the wider public. The money and attention is only there on the biggest of occasions, at worst once every four years at best every 2 in between at global level, as it always has been in the age of TV. Continental/regional events are next on the wrung, with Commonwealth, European etc on the radar (they’re not FINA events). Most countries, including most of the leading nations, cannot attract live TV coverage for trials and national championships. That’s a fact. It need not be that way.

Craig Lord

Quite felixtzu (though it was Marculescu not Maglione who thought shiny suits would be an industry worthy having, Maglione was against shiny suits) … but for the last point. A. I think it sends completely the wrong msg to honour the head of state with the worst doping record in sport right now, esp when, within a couple of months we were reminded why it is never a good idea in any circumstances, that head of state’s name on a decree that effectively called on customs to break the WADA Code, according to ARD… all of which leaves FINA in totally the wrong place as a signatory and one of the bodies charged with enforcing the WADA Code. b. not a good idea to honour transient politicians let alone those who are rather less transient because of the state of their ‘democracy’ or otherwise (not on any political opinion but based on this: Olympic Charter says ‘stay away from politics’, and they should)_ and c. it reinforces a system in which swimming ever more ends up in places far removed from elite swimming and knowledgeable crowds – the sport is becoming evermore a remote experience in a number of ways… not good.

felixtzu

As far as possible we want sport to be separate from politics. The Olympic charter says stay away from politics, but the hosting of an Olympic Games is a huge piece of state planning that requires the support and involvement of politicians: where large scale events are concerned, some cross over is unavoidable. In that narrow context, it’s at least understandable when sports governing bodies want to honour those who support their events. Transient politicians may suffer a fall for other reasons, but it could be argued that ignoring that possibility is the separation of sport and politics. If one is clear on the reasons for the award in the first place, it’s little different to the possibility that any winner of any award could later embarrass themselves.

Craig Lord

I disagree, Felixtzu: new ethics codes of IOC and FINA are pointless if such bodies fall into the trap of linking hosting to awards, a world of back-slapping and schmoozing – and the kind of politicians who value such things are likely to be the least desirable in terms of granting awards too, in my opinion (including using sport as a way of selling the worth of one’s state, GDR-style, ambassadors in tracksuits and all the misplaced pride and crime that went with it). It shouldn’t happen. It wasn’t necessary in the past for FINA to grant highest honours to state heads and it is not needed now. Sensible budgets and good governance are the way forward, not more favours in a grace and favours system. Beyond that, there is no point in an awards system that simply grants a thumbs up of a golden plaque to anyone who hosts… if hosting is worth it, then the rewards are for the people of those countries whose money through taxes has paid for it all and who may get a return in tourist revenues, etc., if they’re lucky. Reward was granted on being given the right to host. Any subsequent award, if anything, should be to the city/state, not the head of state at any particular moment. And better still: keep the top honours for the outstanding athletes and others within the sport: that’s FINA’s jurisdiction, the rest is a bonfire of vanities.

easyspeed

Good article

Lawrie Cox

Craig
Another good article based upon factual information. What is disappointing is the continued snub of any criticism. When you have the numbers then this perhaps is understandable but as the creeping decline in standing occurs and the calls for review mount?
Eventually it will hit but will it be too late.
What is particularly galling is the bald faced lies told in 2009 about change which are now being reneged upon. I still don’t agree beyond two consecutive terms in any position is the best way to refresh and improve. The fact the IOC saw this problem before the turn of the century is to their credit in restricting age. We made initial steps now we throw it all out to suit one person. The problems of the award to Putin are to me somewhat degrading the value of the award. Clearly issues around doping but after the murder of Australian citizens on MH317 with Russian fingers i am somewhat gobsmacked at the silence of the Swimming Australian Board. However it is clear that the puppets are in place around the world and no one is prepared to rock the boat (or would that be the feeding trough).
Come on as a sport we can do a whole lot better and more.

Billabong

If swimming wants an alternative to Maglione, then somebody needs to come up with a plan. The shambles over the succession at FIFA looks like their plan is going to fail with Sepp Blatter on his way to another term. The parallels are quite striking. It is clear that large blocks of votes will need to coalesce around a suitable candidate. Said candidate will need support from all of the smaller countries who have a lot of collective voting power. All of this is a tall order, but swimming needs to make a start by finding a candidate to rally around. Any volunteers?

Craig Lord

Billabong, an FYI for all: the candidates can only come from the ‘elected 23 Bureau members’ under the FINA Constitution. There can be no outside challenge.

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