The lists of those deemed by puppet president of FINA Julio Maglione to be “on-side/on-message” and therefore worthy of inclusion in the realms of ‘experts’ fuelling swimming governance with knowledge are either ‘provisional’ or ‘permanent’, depending on which side of schism you talk to.
On the one side, there is the octogenarian Uruguayan living up to his middle name – Cesar – and erecting a proverbial crucifix for each of those from European nations who did not vote for him to remain as president in an in-house love-in in which those in the club got to vote themselves back in, while the vast majority of stakeholders in aquatic sports were shut out of having any say whatsoever.
Maglione emerged from a pyrrhic victory with a response that has built a funeral pyre for FINA.
Why? Well, look at this way: if you thought of the committees and commissions of folk appointed to flood FINA’s leadership with expertise – in realms technical, anti-doping, legal and operational and provide the essential link to the main stakeholders of aquatic sports, athletes, coaches and the army of support behind them, parents included – as being too heavy on the political appointment made to buy votes, then the class of 2017 ‘selected’ to ‘serve’ is a twist beyond.
The world of “experts” has been bled of Europeans, many of those remaining from the Dutch and Russian camps that opposed the man who opposed Maglione. You scratch my … etc.
A Roman response to being challenged by a Roman, one might say. Those thinking such things appropriate point to challenger and FINA vice-president Paolo Barelli and his move against those who, unsuccessfully, opposed him for the leadership of LEN in 2016. See, they say, Maglione is only doing at world level, what Barelli did at continental level.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, as they say – nor are the two things truly comparable, on several levels, including the elephant in the room of choices being made by Maglione and mates: the aquatic firepower of Europe Vs the almost total absence of aquatic sports quality in the Middle East and Africa, two of FINA’s power bases built on shifting sand.
Barelli has started to play his hand: all Italians nominated for committees and commissions have been withdrawn, including the marketing power of the likes of Klaus Dibiasi in diving.
Europe has might that her rivals do not have in the water. Indeed, contemplate Africa and the Middle East, two regions that have flooded FINA committees and the picture is clear: take away South Africa and the odd individual here and there and you’re looking at a desert as far as performance sport goes.
It is the very reason why we found Husain Al-Musallam, of Kuwait but not backed by Kuwait, admitting to an Ethics Panel that he had indeed sought to interfere with European elections in 2016. He’d rather be able to control those in charge of the world’s most fruitful aquatic continent/region.
Some of the powers that be don’t and won’t see it like this but the trouble for those wielding the FINA sword right now is this: just about half of all podiums at the World Championships in Budapest last month went to … Europeans.
Given that they are no longer represented in fair measure at the heart of FINA governance, the questions run, including:
- does Europe simply accept it is now a first-class performer forced to accept second-class citizenship on the gravy train of world aquatics?
- does Europe simply accept that half of the FINA Bureau is made up of nations that failed to get a single athlete past the first round in any event at world titles and play no part in world-class performance sport?
- does Europe enter talks with those planning a different future for world swimming?
- must Europe now consider full withdrawal from the game that is FINA, an institution in desperate need of independent oversight of structures, governance and finance?
- do the best swimmers in the world need FINA in order to continue to be the stars of their show?
The answer to the latter is clear: no. It is FINA that needs them for their brand is not FINA but the bigger brand ‘swimming’, ‘water polo’ etc. FINA needs Europe as much as it needs the brands that keep its own afloat.
Behind the scenes, the European grouping that makes up the bulk of the continental federation, the swim league called LEN is pointing to Maglione’s cull and urges a rethink from him and those pulling his strings, including the first vice-president, Husain Al-Musallam, a man who does not carry the backing of his country and is cited by the U.S. Justice Department as a co-conspirator who transferred almost $1m of payments to Guam soccer official Richard Lai, a U.S. citizen who pleaded guilty to charges related to the payment and acceptance of bribes.
Lai admitted receiving $100,000 in exchange for a vote and support in the 2011 FIFA elections and more than $850,000 in payments sent from accounts in the control of Al-Musallam and his boss, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, president of the Olympic Council of Asia and kingmaker to Thomas Bach, the IOC president, according to U.S. Justice Department papers.
Both Kuwaitis deny any wrongdoing. That is yet to be put to the test in law, U.S. and European disclosure rules making the moment any case ends up in court all the more fascinating should it come to that.
Beyond the serious issues highlighted by the U.S Justice Department but apparently of no serious concern at the moment of voting to the likes of USA Swimming’s FINA vice-president Dale Neuburger, the FINA second vice-president Sam Ramsamy, of South Africa, and others backing Al-Musallam for FINA first vice-president and therefore the Sheik’s succession plan for swimming, the imbalance between over-representation of nations contributing little to world-class aquatic sport and under-representation of those who actually provide the show and platform for FINA to even exist becomes ever more pronounced.
LEN today issued the statistics and breakdowns for who won what at world titles. Overlay it with a FINA governance list with few Europeans left in place and swimming’s schism screams from the page.
One of the lines I read in the welter of political, Olympic PR posing as journalism in the wake of the FINA vote in Budapest was that Maglione’s victory was one that had to happen to preserve the Olympic order of things. The following word isn’t written to note the foul stench in that scenario, neither to prop up a rotten fish but either way: precisely.
Those being chopped and replaced by people of no expertise whatsoever offer fine insight into life inside FINA. No, Olympic PR ‘journalist’, you can’t change things from inside; you can only have them as they are. Of course, that much you knew even while suggesting something else.
Explain how this works: man who stayed loyal for 40 years and tried to get things done from the inside is… removed; man from Oman with absolutely no media savvy in a single cell of his body is now the link man between experts and Bureau. How and why is he there? Because the folk pulling Maglione’s strings want it to be so. There can be no other explanation.
Accurate to say this, too: what neither Olympic nor swimming blazers want is true democracy and genuine representation of nations in a way that reflects excellence. What they want is a world in which Fiji, not Australia, represents Oceania at the top table of swimming politics – and they love the fact that Australia thinks that just fine. A world in which the man representing the USA is happy to step aside and make way for a chap from Kuwait and a chap from South Africa even as coaches and swimmers from the United States are asking ‘what the hell is going on’?
It is a world in which backroom deals rule the day, in which those representing the biggest achievers in the water are happy to have the swimmer in heat 1, lane 2 hold sway on the pace of progress. A world in which the swimmer is told to leave politics at home, including looking away even as the political blood of those governing them is spilling at the water’s edge.
The response from the top table to being challenged has been to chop heads off those who represent serious players in world-class sport. Consequence will flow.
And it will do so at a time when the World Swimming Association holds its constitution-forming conference in Washington on a platform of “athletes and their interests first”; at a time when athletes are growing up, finding their voice, rejecting token representation that comes with ‘no vote’ in favour of a new professional era that will set FINA on a steep learning curve whether it wants one or not.
The International federation is a long way shy of that athletes-first goal, even if it were ever to share it. The evidence is to be found far and wide, including the choices and priorities of the international federation. The press releases on the politics in Budapest flowed thick and fast, Maglione’s word rushed out with even more fury than the angry responses he gave to serious and legitimate questions, such as ‘are you a liar when stating that the ‘FINA Bureau decided’ when it came to granting Vladimir Putin the federation’s highest honour, or are the seven Bureau members who say ‘I was never even asked’ lying? And ‘how can you call it a democracy and ‘transparent’ when not a single star of the show nor the coaches and others who work with them has a vote nor, for the most part, a say of any kind – is it not the case that you are all simply voting yourselves back into power? And so forth.
Contrast the speed of response to Maglione’s messages to the medias (not to mention accompanying images, the in-house newspaper for Budapest 2017 on the press bench each morning during world titles containing more images of Maglione in one day than Adam Peaty and Sarah Sjostrom put together during the entire meet) to the international federation’s response to World records set on World Cup tour in Eindhoven on Saturday.
It was mid-morning today before FINA managed to tell the world that Sarah Sjostrom and Mireia Belmonte had established world records the day before yesterday. This author left a friend’s party far from the world of swimming to get the job done and them returned to it after filing reports on pioneering moments in the sport. SwimVortex resource: practically nil compared to the $100,000 plus in FINA reserves as a no-profit organisation. Spot the difference.
It all comes down to how important you think the swimmers and the swimming are. In the wider swim politics world, it is also coming down to how important FINA thinks Europe is.
Us & Them – Oh … And Now, Them, Too
Schism in swimming is no longer Us and Them. It is Us, Them and Them, too – one of the them’s considered an ‘insider’ until this season past; the other an insider far too long ignored and prepared to stay silent and inactive.
The senior season is done. The World Junior Championships in Indianapolis at the end of this month will brings the FINA show to a close in the long-course pool this year. It should be an arresting time: after all, a global meet in U.S. waters (and in the jurisdiction of the U.S. Justice Department) is a rare thing in swimming, the world’s No1 swimming nation never having held a FINA world long-course showcase since it all began in 1973 because, quite frankly, the whole thing is a bloated bubble on the budget side of things, the sums too large to get past decision-makers accountable to taxpayers and having to justify why a much needed hospital can’t be built but a swimming championship can be held.
The Junior event is a much cheaper affair and offers a way, as if a way were needed or desirable, for USA Swimming to show itself willing to hold FINA events and go along to get along in that manner favoured by those running Olympic realms International and domestic.
Meanwhile, schism is about to take a new twist as Maglione and his mates pay far too little regard to the value of representation of those actually delivering the show:
Here’s the overview of all aquatic sports:
|by 30 NF||by 9 NF||by 8 NF||by 2 NF||by 2 NF|
No of Feds
|EUROPE||34 – 34 – 37||105||46.1%||by 16 NF|
|AMERICAS||24 – 20 –20||64||28.1%||by 5 NF|
|ASIA||13 – 17 – 14||44||19.3%||by 5 NF|
|OCEANIA||3 – 5 – 4||12||5.2%||by 1 NF|
|AFRICA||1 – 0 – 2||3||1.3%||by 1 NF|
Where the medals and finalists came from
On the back of such figures alone, Maglione and mates might want to take those lists of committees and commissions out of the drawer once more and wonder what it will all lead to.
When the lists are done, we’ll be taking a closer look at the composition of FINA governance, its gender equality crisis and more.
Barelli, meanwhile, has expressed his disappointment in the politics at play, stating:
“These figures only confirm the important role which the European LEN Members play within FINA. This is furthermore indicative of the important and essential role which officials coming from European Member countries have within the management of FINA events and activities.
“The important and valuable contribution of such persons has been totally disregarded and the FINA leadership has done nothing to remedy this state of affairs.
“As I have already informed you this behaviour by the FINA leadership confirms the intentional divisive attitude being utilised. As you are very much aware I have already denounced this in the past.
“Furthermore, I ask the FINA leadership to not attribute to Europe such appointments as those which are made directly and exclusively by FINA including persons employed with FINA itself.
“In relation to the above, and in order to reiterate my total dissatisfaction with the behaviour demonstrated which goes against the interest of the best sporting spirit as well as from a purely political point of view, I wish to inform you that the Italian Federation which I am proud to represent, hereby relinquishes the appointments nominated to the FINA Committees.”