Swimming Australia president John Betrand has hinted at a shift in attitude at the helm of the organisation when it comes to the jobs-for-life culture more than alive and kicking in international sports governance.
In the wake of a challenge to John Coates‘ 26-year leadership of the Australian Olympic Committee from Hockeyroos Olympic champion Danielle Roche, Betrand writes in The Australian today that neither his nation nor the Olympic Movement should fear change.
Coates had done an “outstanding job in the past’’, writes Betrand, who captained Australia’s winning America’s Cup campaign many moons ago, but he questioned whether the top man had been in the top seat for too long.
Earlier this week, Roche invited Coates to consider a transition period in which she or another successful candidate would work alongside him in readiness for handover in the near future.
For Coates, stepping down in Australia would mean stepping down from the IOC, in a realm in which one job begats another. Coates has held sway since 1990. Since Rio he has been under pressure at a time of shrinking medals tallies for Australia as a whole at the Olympics, cuts in government funding and controversy over the efficiency and use of performance centres.
Roche’s challenge was met with political response familiar to any who observe the world of Olympic and international federation politics and places where athletes are told to leave their politics at home but the politicians rarely do. Coates’s spokesman, Australian Olympic Committee media director Mike Tancred, accused Australian Sports Commission chairman John Wylie of orchestrating the Roche challenge.
Swimming Australia, in common with all Olympic sports, has two votes in the May 6 ballot that will decide the row, at least until Tokyo 2020.
Bertrand, head of a sport nursing several big bruises from Rio 2016 but able to boast “No2 nation status” nonetheless, writes in The Australian: “Increased success in Tokyo is a challenge for us all and if new leadership at the AOC could help drive this, it should be seriously considered.
“Although the current chairman has done an outstanding job in the past, his current tenure of 26 years – 30 years, if he is re-elected – is a very long time. Long tenures risk an ingrained culture that is less likely to adapt to change and innovation needed to compete with other nations who have adopted best practice.’’
Bertrand says that best practice in business and sport limits tenure in office for board members to eight years and board chairs to 12 years.
Betrands’ points are good. They match those made by critics of FINA, the international swimming federation. In July, Octogenarian Uruguayan Julio Maglione, now too old to survive as a member of the IOC, will stand for the presidency of FINA once more after breaking a campaign promise in 2009 that he would stay in the top seat for two terms only.
In moves steeped in politics and a power play driven by Olympic brokers from the Middle East, Maglione campaigned for the FINA constitution altered at his suggestion when he stepped up from hon. treasurer to president in 2009 to be changed once more to allow him to stay for a third term.
The ruling FINA Bureau includes hon. members still travelling the globe for the federation who were first in office in 1972. Mustafa Larfaoiu, of Algeria, is a case in point: the president of FINA for 20 years before Maglione’s 2009 challenge, Larfaoui had sat at the top table for 37 years before being replaced. And even then, he remains.
Maglione first joined the Bureau at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He stepped up to Hon. Treasurer in 1992 and remained there until his 2009 challenge for the presidency. If he is successful in being reelected this summer, he will have been at the top table for 37 years by the time e;actions come round once more in 2021.
Sources in FINA suggest that the intention is to have Maglione step down mid-term. When the constitution was last changed, a new position was created: First Vice President. It was given to Husain Al Musallam, of Kuwait.
By establishing such a role, FINA’s leadership has effectively put into place a Kuwait succession plan with IOC links. Musallam first made the FINA Bureau in 1996. In once sense, he would suit the presidency well: like Algeria and Uruguay, Kuwait has no world-class swimming program capable of competing with the top 40 nations, let alone 20, in the pool.Given the history of all of that and the fact that FINA director Cornel Marculescu, if office since the days of the GDR and all that in 1986, and Maglione, have been in positions of authority throughout the darkest chapters of swimming history, doping scandals never dealt with and some of the culprits granted FINA prizes that they retain to this day, the question for Bertrand is clear:
If Coates should be thinking of moving on and change should not be feared, what efforts are you making to clean up a FINA stable long overdue for mucking out?
The argument that he can only control what he can control – at home in Australia – does not hold water. Swimming Australia will have two votes for Coates or A. Another. It also has two votes at what is “the highest authority” of FINA, the General Congress. Swimming Australia has Matt Dunn at the top table on the Bureau, as athlete representative on a body that was silent as the world applauded Mack Horton and Marculescu rushed out on the deck to hug Sun Yang* at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Bertrand writes in The Australian:
“I am passionate about Australians achieving on the world stage, both in swimming and across all sports. We need to keep evolving. As such, we should not be afraid in considering change.’’
So, how will that approach and attitude manifest itself in FINA? How will Australia voted at Congress this July in Budapest at a time when FINA has completely ignored a call from the World Swimming Coaches Association – on the back of a most reasonable letter to FINA from Aussie coach Bill Sweetenham – to submit to review and reform in common with best business practice?
The wisdom of ignoring some of the biggest stakeholders in swimming will be put to the test if the World Swimming Association, a body established to mount a challenge to FINA authority, takes flight as planned.
FINA’s structures, policies, stretching to gender equality issues, and rules on age limits and voting procedures are now even out of date with the IOC, one of the swimming federation’s major sources of funding, through Olympic broadcast money.
If Bertrand now stretches his call to the world of global water, we can believe that he believes in his own message and the words he pens today in The Australian.
If they were for the purposes of local politics and a domestic audience, then we can place his words twixt a Roche and a hard place and know that they are worthless to those who would like to see an end to the woeful state of swimming governance that Betrand and others of his ilk in the United States and elsewhere could influence if they were serious about representing the best interests of athletes (many an Australian a victim of the malaise down the years) and the sport of swimming.