Paolo Barelli, the Italian challenging for the FINA presidency on a platform of “Improving Governance” has accused the incumbent Uruguayan Julio Maglione, 81, of failing to “take a clear position … in a serious case of bribery” at the heart of a FIFA scandal alleged to involve the FINA first vice-president and his Kuwaiti boss.
FINA’s stance so far has been to say that it will take “all necessary measures” on the conclusion of inquiries by other bodies. The swimming federation has not referred the matter to its own Ethics Panel even though the allegations alone, critics argue, threaten to bring swimming into disrepute.
Barelli launches his blistering broadside in a letter to the head of an international swimming federation under pressure to impose a temporary suspension on officials cited in U.S. Justice Department indictments as having paid almost $1m in bribes to a football official.
In response to a letter from Maglione in which the FINA president – seeking election for a third term that would end when he turns 86 – excuses his decision to break 2009 election promises to stand for one term only, Barelli accuses the Uruguayan of “shaping the FINA Constitution on demand based on your ever-changing personal interests and desire”.
That, says the president of the European Swimming League (LEN) “is not only inappropriate but also totally unacceptable”.
The same, say sources, might be said of events unfolding today in Bangkok, where the Kuwaiti “Olympic king maker” who stepped down from all roles at FIFA, the global football federation, after being cited as one of those who arranged almost $1m of bribes to Richard Lai, a Guam soccer official and American citizen who pleaded guilty to receiving massive kickbacks in a case brought by the U.S. Justice Department, is one of the central figures in a FINA “Swimming For All – Swimming For Life” clinic.
Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, cited as “Co-Conspirator 2” in U.S. Court papers and the boss of FINA first vice-president Husain Al-Musallam, cited as “Co-Conspirator 3”, was scheduled to speak as president of the Asian Swimming Federation (AASF).
His presentation from the top table of the conference was scheduled to take place just before Barelli rises to his feet to speak for Europe at a time when he is challenging a FINA regime led by a president he accuses of failing to act even in the face of “a serious allegation of bribery”. Writes Barelli of the allegations against the cited co-conspirators playing a key role in the leadership of FINA:
“Football, the world’s No1 sport, has distanced itself. Yet, nothing happens in FINA and FINA’s only comments found in the press are just beating around the bush”.
The Italian is challenging big players in the Olympic movement, Sheikh Ahmad a key official in the process that ended in Thomas Bach becoming the president of the International Olympic Committee. While Sheikh Ahmad has stepped down from his FIFA riles pending inquiries, he continues to work in the Olympic realm.
Barelli, the FINA Hon. Secretary, is in the process of testing the FINA executive at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The Italian sought to have his complaints against two fellow FINA Bureau members, including Al Musallam and a fellow speaker in Bangkok, American delegate Dale Neuburger, heard by the FINA Ethics Panel but was blocked by members of the executive who failed to take account of warnings from governance review lawyers and the Ethics Panel itself that the rules on complaint referrals are in conflict.
Barelli took the matter straight to CAS. The outcome of that case is not expected until at least September, Lausanne sources tell SwimVortex. The vote for the FINA presidency will take place in Bupadest at FINA Congress (“the ultimate authority” of the federation of 200-plus nations with two votes apiece) on July 22 on the eve of eight days of racing at the World Championships.
Against that acrimonious backdrop and the Italian’s challenge for the FINA presidency, Barelli was invited by Maglione to distribute top LEN delegates at the European body’s annual Congress in Marseille last weekend a letter from the FINA president to the Italian. Maglione writes that Barelli’s views that “the lack of ethics” in FINA “represents an unacceptable accusation against the moral integrity of FINA, of each of its members and representatives, and of your own integrity”.
The Italian obliged by distributing the letter to all European delegates but also included a reply – both documents seen by SwimVortex – in which he takes a flame-thrower to each and every one of Maglione’s arguments at the most awkward of moments for the Uruguayan and succession plans designed to have Al-Musallam step up to the FINA presidency in the near future. How near? By 2019 in the middle of what would be Maglione’s third term, according to the public relations sources close to those campaigning for the Uruguayan.
Here is Al-Musallam and his ‘big business’ message from the FINA stage in 2014 and explaining why FINA was about to change its constitution to favour business, hosts (in moves that also favoured Al-Musallam) and folk from nations with no world-class swimming programs to speak of:
Maglione replaced Mustapha Larfaoiu as FINA president in 2009 after the Algerian had been in the top seat for 20 years. The Uruguayan came to power on an election promise of staying for “one-term only”. During his first term he successfully pressed for the constitution to be changed for a “maximum two-terms only” limit, alongside an age limit of 80 for those wishing to serve (in line with the limits at the International Olympic Committee) for all future presidents.
Then, once he has won a second term, Maglione pressed for a reversal of all he had promised: in 2015 FINA voted to scrap age limits and term limits for the presidency. His motives are called into question by those who opposed those moves. Maglione’s letter to Barelli acknowledges that there was European opposition to what critics called “retrograde” moves but notes that the proposals were approved by Congress in a democratic vote.
Barelli, who has pledged to reinstate ageand term limits if he is elected president of FINA this summer, asks Maglione in his reply if he truly believes that the moves made were not “a measure against anybody” and that the plan that made Al-Musallam first among equals in the executive in line to succeed Maglione was, in the Uruguayan’s words “just a principle of good governance aimed at modernizing the FINA administration”.
Just how appointing to the helm of FINA a Kuwaiti official from a country with no swimming tradition, no elite swimming progress – let alone a world-class program – and just about as remote from performance sport as you can get in the realms of FINA governance – would modernize FINA is something of a mystery to many in the sport.
The U.S. Justice department indictments now make those plans all the more questionable. Both Kuwaitis have denied wrongdoing. Internal ethics panel investigations at FIFA and elsewhere are underway, any outcomes obliged to take account of the damning guilty plea and related accusations made in the U.S. legal case.
Barelli picks up on swimming’s “Kuwaiti succession plan” in his reply to Maglione and accuses the FINA president of orchestrating a situation in which Al-Musallam, now at the centre of FINA corruption allegations, would take the top seat at FINA. The Italian writes:
“… further proof of how you have allowded … forces to derail the FINA Constitution came about in 2015 when yet another baseless and uncalled for amendment was introduced. You proposed, supported and accepted the idea that FINA – in the middle of a four-year term – should introduce a new position and elect a First Vice-President while, at the same time. you deemed it appropriate to alter the role and reduce the powers of the Honorary Secretary [Barelli’s current role at FINA], until such time when the position is abolished at the 2017 Congress in Budapest.”
“As a result of this amendment to the FINA Constitution you have allowed one continent, Asia, to take over the roles of Treasurer [Pipat Paniangvait, of Thailand, the host of the clinic in Bangkok this week and a fellow member of the Asian swimming federation and the Olympic Council of Asia headed by Sheikh Ahmad] and of First Vice President (sic, hyphen required), created ad hoc for Husain Al-Musallam.
“You have accepted to first elect and subsequently keep Husain Al-Musallam in the post of FINA First Vice-President desopite the fact that Kuwait had been suspended by the IOC, and consequently by FINA, and that their athletes can only compete under the FINA flag. You agreed to allow that Kuwait appoint officials eligible for the second highest position within FINA.”
When it comes to Maglione’s assertion that he is for “good governance”, Barelli tears down the FINA president’s arguments when he notes that Maglione is “not prepared to follow the principles you promote” in so far as he:
- refused to allow Barelli’s complaint against Neuburger, the FINA VIce-President who is a director of TSE Consulting, a commercial partner of FINA, to be heard by the Ethics Panel
- refused to accept that Al-MUsallam had sought to intefere in the election process for the European league presidency when Dutchman Erik Van Heijningen challenged the Italian last year. (Al Musallam has acknowledged that he did indeed back the Dutchman).
- is “not prepared to take a clear position when worldwide news” broken by The Times in London reveals that “Husain Al MUsallam is officially named as an alleged conspirator by the US Department of Justice in a serious case of bribery within FIFA.
Barelli tells Maglione that he would “never have gone to CAS” had he and the rest of the FINA executive “shown … willingness to understand and manage the issues” at the heart of his comp[laints, namely alleged breaking of rules, conflicts of interests and interference in off-continent elections. The Italian writes:
“… when the FINA leadership allows such unnaceptable behaviour, there is no alternative” but to take matters to CAS. “the responsibility for the current situation within FINA rests solely on your shoulders”.
The Battle Ahead
Meanwhile, one of the strengths of Barelli’s challenge for the FINA presidency is highlighted by the costs of the FINA clinic in Bangkok this week and what the international federation devotes to athletes compared to the sums of money it spends on “volunteer’ administrators.
When compared to several big pro sports in which at least half the entire budget goes to athletes, FINA spends less than five per cent of its annual resources on aquatic athletes in five displines. The international federation is said to have have “around $350 million in the bank”, according to sources in Lausanne. Prize money going to swimmers in Budapest amount to less than 1 per cent of that.
The World Swimming Association, a body making plans to replace FINA as the global governing body for swimming after FINA bosses refused to even acknowledge a call by the World Swimming Coaches Association on behalf of its 17,500 members to submit to independent review of structures, governance and finances, has accused FINA leaders of running the show for themselves not athletes.
The following is an example of a breakdown that does not read well for FINA and the lifestyle of its ‘volunteer executives”:
- $300m – FINA net assets in the bank, according to impeccable sources
- $32 million – Olympic revenues – what swimming will get in the next round of IOC share-out post Rio 2016
- $26 million – expenses related to FINA events (inc $3.4m in prize money for athletes)
- $6.9 million – cost of the new FINA Headquarters in Lausanne
- $6.5 million – Travel assistance and ‘other contributions’ to federations to attend FINA events
- $5.6 million – “FINA Family Expenses” in 2013
- $5 million – hotel and per diem costs at FINA events for administrators/FINA ‘family’
- $5 million – costs of the marketing agent, mainly associated with the world championships
- $4.4 million – payroll for 21 staff and 11 part-time workers at FINA
- $1.64 million – the total prize pot for pool swimmers at world titles in Kazan, 2015 (for 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, summer 2015
And on down to the chicken feed:
- $150,000 – the budget for a three-point proposal from British PR firm JTA, plus 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), this website included (how daft – and just imagine what $150,000 would have meant for your own kids and programs).
- $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)
- $65,000 – the money available in per diems and meal allowances for one single members of the FINA Bureau if they ‘volunteer’ for 100 days of service.
- $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 – 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
Over the course of four days at the first clinic to expand FINA’s role into the nebulous realm of “swimming for all” the bill for flights, five-star hotel, chaffeur-driven cars, meals and per diems on top (even though the delegates have no costs) of up to $500 a day for the FINA “family”, will stretch to more than a quarter of the entire $2.5m in prize money available to swimmers who make it to one or more of the 42 finals at the World Championships in July.
Each final carries a maximum of $60,000 in prize money, the World champion’s top prize $20,000. The cost of one member of the executive in Bangkok for four days this week will come close to half of the value FINA places on a world title for a swimmer.