As SwimVortex takes a short break from the daily news beat and delivers a home-page package of features that consider the highlights of 2017, we leave you our autumn essay and consideration of the state of play in swimming governance.
“A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within” – Will Durant
Come down from Olympus, from ancient Greeks and Romans and “The Story of Civilization” penned and crafted by husband and wife Will and Ariel Durant in an eleven-volume set of books covering Western history in four million words written over four decades (yes, I’m a mere novice); come down from the Amazonian tribes depicted in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto and a curtain-closing scene depicting the arrival of the Conquistadores and the fading into the forest of all that was with hope of it being that way again.
Come well down from all of that and we find a form of civilisation in the throes of self-destruction in international sports governance. A law unto itself, Lords of the Rings whose behaviour William Golding’s boys in Lord of the Flies might well have recognised on their descent to an extinction averted when a uniformed officer tuts at seeing British boys exhibiting such feral, combative behaviour before turning to stare awkwardly at his warship.
There’s a battle at play in the pool, too. It has its roots in that Olympic-sized crisis, one in which men cited as co-conspirators in a U.S. Justice Department bribery case, against a backdrop of further enquiry by legal authorities from France, the USA, Switzerland and elsewhere, are to be found not only at the helm of swimming governance but are backed by the likes of USA Swimming despite…
- the obvious clouds over their heads;
- the fact that they hail from a country – Kuwait – that has no world-class swimming program, has nothing by way of a women’s program, let alone an elite women’s program in a sport in which gender equality and strict rules against discrimination of any kind are written into the constitution;
- the fact that Kuwait is a nation suspended by the International Olympic Committee and a swathe of member international federations, FINA included.
What’s good for the blazers is not, apparently, good for the athletes. So, while it is business as usual for the officials, their country code listed by their names in the FINA handbook and in many places official far and wide, the athletes of Kuwait may only compete internationally under the flag of the IOC, FINA and the like. For them, nationality in sport is denied – and all because an Olympic sheikh who ran into trouble back home wants his Games to go on.
His Olympic mates issued a decree of ‘political interference’ that shut out a whole nation, even though politics plays a huge hand in the Olympic dealings of dozens of countries allowed to stay on the gravy train as long as they comply with the wishes of the lords of an autonomous realm that draws the eye of international police authorities.
Raids in Brazil at the homes and offices of leading Olympic officials, involving police from France, the USA, Brazil and elsewhere, are a part of a much wider inquiry that was underway and known of well before the FINA Congress in July.
And yet … and yet: the aquatic sports blazers and delegates of many leading swimming nations voted for a status quo that guaranteed the continuation of a succession plan linked to all that Kuwaiti controversy.
Little wonder, then, that on September 1 in Washington, the World Swimming Association met – with 19 nations in the room among the 49 countries represented at the event going on beyond the door at the American Swimming Coaches Association’s World Clinic – to settle on a constitution for an organisation that will challenge FINA for the running of global swimming in the years ahead.
Key tasks were accomplished, solid progress made, according to the man chairing the event, George Block, of the World Swimming Coaches Association. He tells SwimVortex:
“The first [thing accomplished] was adopting the Constitution of the WSA. That was followed by editing the State of Florida template for non-profit by-laws. We did not adopt those, because final editing and adopting is a task for the new board. We are merely sending the board some direction from the membership at large.
“It took almost 3 1/2 hours to adopt the Constitution and another hour and a half to complete the by-laws. What amazed me was that the group remained passionate and engaged for five hours!”
There was a short break after those five hours led to the adoption of a constitution (more on that later in the year) and the folk from more than twice as many nations as the number that formed FINA back in 1908. The mood was jubilant, many members – some having handed over their $5 a year membership fee on the spot in order to cast their vote – returning to further discussion with glasses of wine to wet the baby’s head.
12 things to know about the WSA, its Objectives and approach to governance:
- “In all respects, to put swimmers first.”
- The Constitution is both hard to ammend – but amendable by the body at-large.
- The membership will “always retain checks on the board, but the board will manage the organisation”
- The latter is a highly pertinent and poignant point. As Block put it with a nod to a FINA leadership that consistently ignores and bypasses its rules and constitution when it finds convenience in doing so:
- “We all have good intentions now, but so did the men who started FINA. What can we do structurally to keep the WSA on the tracks 100 years from now?”
- That though played out when it came to editing of the WSA by-laws.
- Transparency was the major issue.
- Those present were equally protective of the long-term goals of learn-to-swim and age group swimming as they were about the short-term goal of establishing the PSA and allowing athletes to be fairly compensated.
- Anti-doping shall stay current with technology and shall be non-targeted.
- Members opted to prohibit hiring any member or company of a board member, as well as to encourage all board members to serve voluntarily, without reimbursement. The members did allow any board member with financial hardship to request, in advance, that the organisation make air and hotel arrangements.
- Meetings and voting can take place electronically, although one, physical meeting shall be held per year. Members can attend in person or electronically.
- Finance: a Governance committee and an Audit Committee shall be comprised of WSA members who are not members of the board. All WSA documents, financial and otherwise shall be posted online. They may be physically inspected by any board member or by a member of the boards of the WSCA, the PSA or the WOWSA.
Nothing to disagree with there barring the voluntary nature of working for the WSA. The decision in Washington makes perfect sense at this point in the evolution of a new organisation. Important to note, however, that if you want professionals, you are, at some point, going to have to pay for it – and it is hard to find a major success story in business and professional sport that is not led by a professional management dedicated to the job – and not simply finding spare time for other matters.
The WSA should not ape the per diem ‘volunteer’ structure at FINA as far as management goes: such things attract and promote folk with positions either heavily related to swimming, financial interests in the mix, above professional folk who might be paid for their work; above some very capable folk who would love to ‘volunteer’ but have jobs and families and the commitments that lead them to make way for those who want to make a career of volunteering even when they simply don’t have the skills required to get the job done.
Later in the year, we will take a closer look at the WSA. For now, worth noting that there are, of course, plenty of examples that demonstrate why any organisation that ends up running world swimming, the current one of a new body, must be about more than the politicians, more than a token coach here, a token swimmer there, even when those tokens were or are anything but in their day jobs in the real world of work as athlete and mentors – and must have checks and balances and an expectation of challenge built into the boat.
Take the FINA realm and the related worlds of continental federations and we find the following folk in positions of authority at FINA and /or continental organisations:
Vladimir Salnikov, Alex Popov, Matt Dunn, Daichi Suzuki, Penny Heyns, Thiago Pereira, Aaron Peirsol, Camelia Potec, Martina Moravcova, Britta Kamrau: all world-class athletes in their day, six off them Olympic champions no less. Some off them want to do the right thing (some of them have had a chance and failed) – yet none of them have been able – whether willing or not – to shift the agenda to serious promotion of an athlete-interest agenda; none of them have been able to step up in support of world-class athletes and coaches who booed and jeered dopers returned in Rio and gave a huge thumbs down to a FINA director seen hugging Sun Yang* on the burning deck with the light of the world trained on him even as he turned a cold shoulder to those champions such as Mack Horton, Lilly King, Michael Phelps, Adam Peaty and others who made their feelings known in various ways and words, the common thread: FINA has let us down big time.
Where was the athletes’ committee when all that was going on? Where was the voice of the athletes’ committee when Park Tae-hwan* was announced as an ambassador for the 2019 World Championships? The list of such questions for former athletes – who joined the gravy train flattered by the suggestion they could make a difference only to find that, on issues that really count, they cannot – goes on and on.
Here’s the backdrop: Jihong Zhou and Qiuping Zhang, of China, are members of then FINA Bureau at the same time when a section of the rulebook limits nations to one delegate each. Here’s the explanation: Zhou, 1984 Olympic diving champion, is there because any chairman of the Athletes Committee – as she was ion the past Olympic cycle – with Salnikov as Bureau liaison for athletes – now has automatic access to being a Bureau member. The privilege comes, however, without a vote. She’s a former athlete – and she’s a she. Tokenism – at its very best.
And no matter on that can vote/can’t vote thing: Zhou would not vote the way of a whole swathe of world-class swimmers whose views are well known to this website; she would vote for the status quo of which she is a part. If she feels otherwise, please, Zhou, do get in touch and we’ll talk it through and publish the interview.
In the depth of the above is this: the two representatives for swimmers around the world at Bureau level are a former Soviet swimmer who in 2009 failed, as head of the Russian swim federation, to report two EPO positives among Russian swimmers to WADA; and a diver from a country where press freedom is curtailed to suit the state and certain information is only official if an official says it is. Neither of these two people fill one with faith and hope when it comes to pressing for truth and transparency at the helm of FINA governance.
And that FINA governance model of “expert” committees supposedly feeding ‘knowledge’ back to the leadership so that the best decisions can be taken is one replicated down the chain of command, the Bureau and committees of the Asian Swimming Federation a case in point, the inherent problems in the model screaming from the page that lists them all.
Power Players, PR and Propaganda
It all happens on the watch of USA Swimming, Swimming Australia Ltd and many more at the helm of pace-setting in the pool and heavy investment – be that as recipients or generators of income – in professional approaches to performance; even as global governance of that realm speaks only to the term ‘professional’ when it comes to finding ways of keeping the gravy train rolling.
Those include using (and paying the way of) people who refer to themselves as journalists. We saw a few of them in Budapest: they were in the press conferences, they even asked some pertinent questions – and they were also to be found not only shaking hands with folk cited as co-conspirators but actually hugging them, too, in an act of congratulations of the kind that many an editor would see as reason to replace a correspondent the very second the snap of a hug landed on their desk.
If niche sports sites sell their popularity on the basis of twitter and Facebook followers, likes and shares not earned but bought, there is something far more insidious going on where media outfits perceived as independent are failing to inform the readership where the funding of their ’journalism’ comes from. I’m not talking ‘supermarket chain pays for big advertising so lay off that story about them dumping sewage in the local river’.
No, I’m talking about media able to have correspondents covering live events, from the biggest of occasions to the exceptionally niche and even bizarre (think caricatures such as meetings of blazers to discuss the price of buttons on blazers in the favourite holiday resort of an IOC member) event, running commentaries and ‘news’ stories heavily laced with commentary without actually telling the reader: “Joe Bloggs was in Bognor because the people we are writing about paid the flights, hotel, took out advertising on our website and asked us to promote not so much the event and the sport as their ‘great’ contribution to sport.”
In other words, propaganda is at play in Olympic sport, not so much when it comes to the actual field of play but most certainly when it comes to certain players in the Olympic and related realms paying for coverage of what they would like people to write about but no self-respecting media ever would, at least not with words of praise.
SwimVortex was the target of that trend to sell the message the blazer wants to sell and silence those who note that the message isn’t worth the dollar bill its printed on. We had good reason to block folk associated with JTA Associates back in 2015.
The British PR outfit that works in Olympic circles had set its mind and budget to a proposal worked out for and with FINA. JTA’s plan to follow the wishes of a few at the helm of FINA included the following aims:
- have Michael Phelps serve as a poster boy for Julio Maglione (it was never going to happen)
- ways to ‘discredit’ FINA critic (a tricky one if one of the critics gets hold of your plan and reveals it to the world)
One of the JTA Associates folk who put his name to the plan was a certain Nick Dawes. His company profile at the time answered the question ‘who’s your favourite communicator’ with the name of a football pundit while revealing: “But on more of a serious note, Niccolò Machiavelli was inspiring: ‘Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are’.”
Perhaps we became one of the few the day we saw a document full of things that were highly unlikely to be achieved even though a $150,000 bill for four months work ahead of world titles in Kazan was a part of the proposal.
The plan failed – and since, SwimVortex and The Times have been treated to no response to application for accreditations to the World Championships until the law was mentioned; while SwimVortex has also been treated to some typical behaviour of those who cannot stand to be criticised: according to some who support our work, they were asked by FINA HQ to reconsider.
Apparently, some at the helm of FINA would rather we weren’t here at all. Cornel Marculescu has long made it known that ‘all publicity if good publicity’ because it gets the world talking about swimming; shiny suits, you name it. Could it be that he’s changed his mind?
Meanwhile, whatever role JTA was playing in Budapest, they were certainly there, the boss, no less, seen intervening to protect a journalist who was being treated to heavy handed and aggressive treatment at the hands of an entourage that appeared to be working for someone on the top table of FINA.
Some of the scenes we saw in Budapest where wholly unacceptable, FINA allowing elements into its realm that it ought never to have entertained. The whole thing might easily be summed up in two key ways:
- The very best thing that could have happened if you’re among those who want FINA to sink without trace
- The further descent into that proverbial ‘savagery’ highlighted in the works of Golding and Gibson, among others, by those running the once Good Ship Swimming, now better known as “The FINA Brand” and not only synonymous with breaking its own rules when convenient to the survival of the Orwellian Nelson’s of the aquatics world but arrogant enough on its seat of pompous autonomy to think itself greater than the U.S. Justice Department.
No democracy; No transparency
In July in Budapest, an in-house and secret ballot (as far as no-one ever being told who vote for whom unless they wanted it top be known) of the “FINA family”, as they like to call themselves, saw three men vote Husain Al-Musallam (one of those cited in U.S. Justice department documents as having paid a soccer official almost $1m between 2009 and 2014 from accounts he and his boss at the Olympic Council for Asia and the Asian Swimming Federation, Sheikh Khalid Al Sabah back to the role of “FINA first vice-president” and therefore heir apparent.
Both men deny wrongdoing, the ultimate test of that being a court of law, rather than the in-house ethics inquiries said to be underway at the IOC and other related organisations, though not at FINA.
Fair to say that neither the vote of executives on who should be first and second among equals in a group of five, nor the wider vote for the presidency were apt to leave the average bloke on the Clapham Omnibus, let alone the swimming knowledgeable, doers and achievers, with much faith and trust in the “democracy” hailed by Julio Maglione after he broke election promises to stand for a third term of office as president of FINA.
Once he’d gathered the in-house votes of folk keen to stay on the gravy train that stretches to per diems of more than $750 a day at times for those at the biggest trough (not bad ‘work’ if you can get it, the average family earner in many of the world’s richest nations might well say), Maglione made himself available for questions and set about promising transparency all over again, just as he had back in 2009 when he ousted Algerian Mustapha Larfaoui for the top job (sorry, executive volunteer’s role of service, etc., etc.)
So it was that, after FINA and Maglione had failed to answer more than 150 pertinent questions in the previous two and a half years, I finally got a moment to pose a few to the Uruguayan octogenarian.
In one reply he stated and then confirmed that the FINA Bureau, the ruling group of folk on the biggest per diem rates – those paid, in contrast to best practice far and wide, after the business-class travel, the five-star hotel and all others expenses have been cleared and there are no bills left to pay – had made the decision to grant FINA’s highest honour to Vladimir Putin on the cusp of the Russian doping crisis.
I pointed out to him that seven Bureau members, including two in the count of ‘executives’ had told this journalist that they had never been asked about the award to Putin. Were they telling lies or was he? His anger bubbling over and after being calmed by the restrain of director Marculescu’s hand, Maglione had no answer.
The truth is that “the Bureau” never was consulted in full the Putin decision taken by a handful of men who forgot to p[ass the news on to their fellow Bureau members, many of whom read about it in the media, alongside condemnation from the German Bundestag and several other official bodies at a time when economic sanctions had been imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukrainian territory and in the midst of controversy surrounding the downing of a passenger aircraft with the loss of many lives, largely Dutch and Australian.
The Putin question was one of a few put and one of many others that could have been put to Maglione if only one could trust in being given a a serious answer instead of a heap of old flannel and, frankly, untruths.
Maglione is a career sports politician who, like many others, refuses to see his role as a career (heaven avoid anything close to the experience of folk who receive a wage for the work they do, the kind of folk who have to prove more than their competence if those with responsibility to heed the views of stakeholders are to stick with their hire and not fire). He has been ’serving’ as a ‘volunteer executive’ since the early 1980s, his commitment hefty enough for those who recognise the world of paid employment, running companies, swim schools, programs and the like to wonder ‘how could he possibly have fit it all in with his day job’?
Perhaps Maglione’s promise of greater transparency will one day lead to him revealing the details of his ‘volunteer’ lifestyle but I wouldn’t hold your breath. After all,. He came to the top seat in 2009 promising precisely the same growth in openness and good practice. If anyone should spot a glimmer of change for the better on that score in FINA, please do let me know.
Meanwhile, the world of swimming continues to have no access to the level and frequency of his per diems and those of others swanning about in blazers as ‘volunteers’ who take home annual sums from FINA far in excess of the average family wage in the United States, Australia, Britain, Germany, France and on and on and on.
To open the books top the wider membership off swimming would be very easy indeed; as would listing online at FINA’s website the price isn details off which per diems were paid to whom and when. Just as the money belongs not to FINA but the wider world of swimming, so to does the information.
The trouble takes us back to the Olympic model and a system of governance that stretches to major stakeholders not only having no say nor vote on how their realm is run, but having no access to the kind of information that would be required to make an honest judgement: are they running the shop in the interests of me, the swimmer, me the coach, we about whom this show is all about? Or are they running it in their own interests?
Such questions are not merely pertinent to the folk the blazers treat like latter-day gladiators there to entertain, federation delegates the lictors bearing fasces and the coaches lanistae at the head of their familia gladiatoria.
No, the questions pertinent to the leaders of the autonomous world of Olympic governance are put on behalf of millions upon millions of taxpayers who subsidise the Games and all related world championships and other qualification events season in, season out.
Take Britain. Here’s an article that gets to the point. Headlined “Can we really justify spending £5.5m per Olympic medal at Rio 2016 while the rest of us slump on the sofa?”, it is written by Janet Street-Porter (well known in Britain; you can look her up online). Her angle is clear: “Ordinary Brits now do less than 30 minutes of exercise per week – that’s even less than we managed before London hosted the Games in 2012”. Legacy? What legacy?
Don’t get me wrong. As a London taxpayer at the time they were draining the poison from the lands that would become the Olympic Park and a new and thriving community for East London, I was happy to be among those asked to pay £10 (could have been £20, I just can’t recall) a year “for the rest” of my life to foot the bill. It was well worth it. Truly so. Janet’s questions about how that does not appear to have helped Britain get fitter in general are reasonable in the realms of political commentary she occupies: taxpayers have a right to know what happens to their money (that’s one aspect of democracy that works particularly well, Señor Maglione – perhaps FINA would like to try it).
The crucial point of Street-Porter’s piece is the sting in the tail-end of its tale:
“It’s been estimated that each medal in Rio has cost £5.5m of public funding.”
Again, I’m not a great fan of calculating then worth of medals in that fashion. You might work out similar sums for everyone who ever drove a car; for every doctor who ever qualified; for every policeman on the beat, the painter, the sculptor and opera singer who received a grant and subsidise for learning and creating … and on and on … and in each case, the sum you come up with would not accurately reflect the worth and contribution that flowed from investment.
Even so, the point is highly relevant to a realm in which you would think that Olympic broadcast and other revenue related to the Games and the largesse that flows from it down to international and domestic federations represented the Bank of the Olympics.
In fact, the bigger sum subsidising Olympic sport comes from you, the taxpayer, in many countries. In Britain, funding for Olympic sports between London 2012 and Rio 2016 was in the region of £265 million. The lottery constitutes public funding: it is ring-fenced and cannot be spent on anything other than Olympic sports.
Leap across The Pond to a place where Olympic sport is not paid for from the public purse in the same way, many programs either having to find models of funding or helping themselves or facing the consequence. It is not true, however, to say that United States Olympic sport is not subsidised.
Follow The Money
In the last full Olympic cycle between 2013 and 2016, the IOC generated more than $5.5 billion. Just shy of 14 per cent of that goes to International Sports Federations (IFs) such as FINA, one of the three top-earning sports in the IOC stable.
Not far shy of 20% of all IOC revenue is allocated to National Olympic Committees (NOCs) – and in mix of that the biggest earner is the United States: an analysis by David Owen, former FT sports ed, for insidethegames concluded recently that “7.2 per cent of IOC revenue, equivalent to more than $400 million … appears to have gone to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and some 10.9 per cent to the rest.”
That $400m figure appears to have come as a surprise to many in the realm of Olympic sports in the United States if exchanges between high-flyers in swimming is anything to go by. It also got a mention in this open letter penned by Arkady Vyatchanin placing the poverty of professional swimmers nicely in context.
Here’s where the proposed budget and actual spend for the exercise fits in the general scheme of things:
- $100m plus – 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
- $2.94 million – prize money pot for all pool and open water swimmers at at the 2017 World Championships
- $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
- $100,000 – the top prize for the World Cup winner in swimming after 16 days of racing
- $20,000 – what FINA paid for a world title in 2017
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
Swimming 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, Myrtha, Malmsten, and others: the framework for a professional era among swimmers is there, lacking the governance to go with it.
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 continue to be all but ignored.
Little wonder, then, that as FINA leaders spend energy and 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.
Time For USA Swimming & Others To Flex Muscles Like Swimmers Do
On the way to Rio, in an Olympic cycle that saw FINA bosses ignore coaches calls for a review and ignore a unanimous vote of the federation’s press commission for the Bureau to be asked to consider a ceremony of reconciliation for the victims of doping abuse on both sides of the divide, USA Swimming made much of “The Last Gold”, the documentary that focussed on the USA 4x100m free women’s quartet that managed to defeat the GDR against all odds at Montreal 1976.
A poignant and symbolic moment – no question. USA Swimming, however, needs to stop wearing two caps too fat for one head and just wear the one as it shows true leadership. The argument that it is just a domestic body simply doesn’t wash – and even if it did, remember Shirley? How to promote the message of Last Gold while at the same time shaking hands with a FINA that has had one message on State Plan 14:25 and all that flowed: shut up and let sleeping dogs lie.
“International relations” that seek to go along to get along were exposed in a Congressional sub-committee hearing into soccer scandals for what they are: a damaging sham.
Replace the head of soccer with the head of USA Swimming in that chair alongside Andrew Jennings in front of elected members and you would be highly likely to witness similar squirming should this question find its way into the room:
“Tell me, precisely why does USA Swimming back the current FINA regime given all that has come to pass – and why did you not speak up loud and clear when X, Y, Z reared their heads?”
USA Swimming is singled out because it carries the kind of clout that could make a big difference. So why is it not flexing its muscles in the way its swimmers do? Well, those IOC $400m to USOC, as noted, and the flow downstream might point to a possible answer.
The smallness of Universality
The USA is not alone in accepting a bad model, not only of governance but competitive structures. As one American swimmer noted to me this summer past: “It can be really upsetting”. What? Well, in the name of universality and all that goes with it, the swimmer had long found himself penalised just because he was born American. Third at home means a swimmer can go through a career without ever having raced in big International waters even while that same athlete trains on a college team that includes a shoalful of folk who will go through life calling themselves “Olympian” and Olympic swimmer, even though they never made trip 50 in the world, even though they would have little chance of making a final, even semi, at U.S. Olympic trials, let along actually making the gold and silver than grants a ticket to the Games in Stars and Stripes.
If the Olympic format makes sense for the Games, it makes far less sense for a “World” championship unless all you mean by ‘world’ is participation. A sport that holds a showcase without world Nos 5, 7, 9, 14 and 20 in favour of hosting ‘development’ nations that send bigger delegates of blazers and staff than they have swimmers and are in town to vote the way they are told not to run the “business of world-class swimming”, is not one that is going to draw the eye beyond those already dedicated.
Why has swimming not tried a model of an elite world titles with the best 10, even 20 world ranked at a certain date automatically eligible for the showcase?
Why has swimming not tried a model that offers a carrot to the developing nations with a midday meet that doesn’t keep the best from their rest and doesn’t make the heats at world titles a four-hour affair that even broadcasters paying their rights must surely wonder about when not comes to the wisdom of showing swimming to viewers in that light?
Why has swimming not applied the same ‘learn-and-develop approach’ to the role of governance given that most of the delegates from the bulk of FINA member nations cannot possibly know very much about performance sport – including the heavily monied of the Middle East – otherwise, they’d have, well … world-class swimmers to boast about?
The answers to such questions and many more is clear: it doesn’t suit the politics nor the politicians – and that agenda of self-interest and convenience stretches to a pursuit of hosts with budgets that mean champers not white win; caviar nor cheese on sticks; a chauffeur and limo not the meet bus heading to the same place with all the rest of us; a business-class flight (at least) not cattle; a five-star hotel – and nothing less (suites from the biggest of wigs, while athletes can find themselves waking up in dormitories on fold-up beds on the biggest morning of their lives.
The payback for chasing the bidders with the big budgets has been all too clear: golden thrones but empty stands, an atmosphere more suited to a wake than a wedding. Budapest made that all very obvious, too, in the best possible way. Ticket prices, a swimming culture, event awareness – all made for a great meet, one that stood in stark contrast to moments at pools in the desert devoid of anything close to a full house and even on the busiest of days unable to read a race in a way that would allow them to raise a cheer. There have been moments when you think you’re watching a foreign movie with the wrong sub-titles, the audience laughing when they should be crying and so forth.
All on FINA’s watch; all of its making. And all that talk of ‘growth’ in popularity (not to mention the ‘billions’ tuning in to world champs on their telly) is pure codswallop. I recall Shane Gould, Roland Matthes, Debbie Meyer, Bruce Furniss, Karen Moras and many more, filling Crystal Palace on a grey day in spring in London many years ago; I, a couple of years into school, was among those who queued up for autographs, got a smile and a scribble from Gould, a word and note of encouragement from her coach Forbes Carlile, was spun round in the air by Matthes. I was told stories and shown pictures of Derby Baths with standing room only for the national championships, complete with more than 20 reporters on the press bench (not seen for many a long year).Swimming has long been popular – and it was in the days when Donna De Varona and Debbie Meyer were gracing the cover of Life, Time and the like; it was when Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams were the stars of Aqua shows getting on for a century ago. We have twitter and facebook and many other ways to reach a global audience these days but the world is also a busier place and swimming’s excellence often finds itself drowned out in the bigger swell of things, its ‘leaders’ unable to see past their self-interest to the kind of damage done by 43 world records in eight days for the sake of suits that needed sinking and showed just how little those at the top table understood about the nature of swimming.
The leading swim nations of the world, the best of swimmers; the best of coaches, continue to fail when it comes to standing together to press for a model of governance that serves athletes first and provides motivation for those outside the top league of nations in the pool to learn and step up.
Some of that is entirely understandable: they have a job to be getting on with – and, frankly, FINA feels like a very remote planet to the majority of folk in swimming who never have to have dealings with the per-diem brigade who threw down a busted flush in Budapest.
The leadership of world swimming is now largely in the hands of people with no world-class swimming programs, the point of their presence power, the likes of Uruguay, Algeria, Senegal, Kuwait (even though it does not recognise the man flying its flag at FINA), Fiji, Thailand and a fair few others, have not made an inch of progress on the conveyor belt of global swimming standards led by the likes of Phelps, Ledecky, Dressel, Peaty, Sjostrom and the like.
Maglione is a prime case in point: he has been at the top table of FINA since 1984; the omnipotent blazer-presence in Uruguayan swimming all that time. And yet? Name me a great Uruguayan swimmer? Name me one who made an Olympic final? In fact, no insult intended to those who try but … name me one at all?
A million miles away is the sapling of professional swimming. What will it grow to be? What will it look like? Will its major branches provide a habitat and livelihood for the world-class? What kind of spectacle will it produce in its season of plenty?
We’ve seen glimpses of the thrilling show that swimming can be beyond the Olympic tradition. The Duel in the Pool events and the Energy for Swim this summer past in Rome are two cases in point: swimmers raced not for their country (though as in tennis, golf, F1 and other pro sports, a country code was present and presents no problem) but for a team of multinationals brought together in the way that Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munchen, Juventus, Liverpool and Chelsea are: a collective of the world-class primed for showtime in a realm that generates ands handles sums of money that the IOC can only dream of.
That could never catch on in a world where swimmers are sub-servient and recipients of handouts in a subsidised system that speaks more to master and slave than professional sport.
The coming few years will determine which direction swimming takes. There is much at stake.
FINA, meanwhile was granted a chance to engage in a serious and meaningful way with its major stakeholders and refused to even acknowledge the olive branch being offered by those seeking improvement through the reforms that might be recommended by truly independent (and definitely not not in-house) review.
Coaches have since decided: they want out. Many a world-class athlete has indicated that they agree, the days of swimmer being represented by professional agents and negotiators on the horizon. Katinka Hosszu set about forming a swimmers body but made the mistake of not asking some of those said to have “signed up” for permission to go beyond what they thought they had done, namely, as three world-class acts told this author, “asked for more information” out of genuine interest to get things done.
The Professional Swimmers’ Association is the body that the WSA is working with, while a divided athlete community is one that will find its message diluted in a bottle of FINA’s choosing.
Hosszu’s message was limited and somewhat self-interested, focusing largely on changes to world cup rules that were bad in the first place but suited her and helped to make her a millionaire. The new rules are stacked with flaws, too, but that misses the overriding issue: the World Cup is dead. It is a largely domestic affair covered by the media for the few highlights on the clock that it provides, such as the world records set by Sarah Sjostrom, Mireia Belmonte, Ranomi Kromowidjojo and others in the wake of Budapest world titles and a shift from the big to the little pool (like tilting the slide for a speedier descent). Swimming can do much, much, much better.
Better than Hosszu’s cry were the considered, succinct and on-topic comments of Cate Campbell, the Australian sprinter in Budapest to commentate for a broadcaster as she takes a down season on the path of recovery and recuperation of strengths both physical and mental. We have lifted the interview with Campbell out of the archive so that it can be read once more by those who did not catch it first time round. It is well worth reading if you count yourself among those interested in rushing to the top of the hill and belting out a refrain of “how do you solve a problem like FINA?”
FINA’s leadership is finally waking up to the risk of extinction as the global governor of swimming, open water and masters.
During world junior championships, coaches told SwimVortex that they’d had word that Dale Neuburger, USA’s top man in FINA, would like a word. He was keen to know, apparently, what their concerns were.
As the Cassandra’s of history might have said to the cries of folk disappearing beneath predictable waves “a bit fxxxing late to start listening now”.
Fear is at play in FINA today. Despite the smiles, the pats on backs and chinking of glasses in Budapest, you could smell it, the rot tangible in the presence of aggressive security and other ‘assistants’ to the Kuwait delegation that appeared to feel that it needed special protection from media and those who begged to differ.
In Apocalypto, the father of Jaguar Paw turns to his son and asks what he saw in the eyes of bedraggled, bloodied people in the forest on their search for “a new beginning”. The father answers the question for his son:
“Fear, deep and rotting at their heart; they were infected by it. Did you see it? Fear is a sickness. It will crawl into the soul of anyone infected.”
Of course, there’ll be no admitting to it among a FINA Bureau that includes the Dutchman, Erik Van Heijingen, who complained to the Dutch media that SwimVortex was somehow biased in its coverage of the presidential and other battles he was involved in, while failing to acknowledge that what he complains of at LEN has, if anything, simply been like a much smaller version of the crisis in full flow at FINA, the crisis he’s a part of as he holds hands with Al Musallam, Salnikov and others in an effort to bypass a European vote against him.
What Erik might want to acknowledge is the gold in Paolo Barelli’s challenge to Maglione for the FINA presidency. Whatever the Italian intended and whatever his own ambitions might be, here are some of the things he achieved:
- smashed Omerta
- challenged fellow executives on issues that speak of opaqueness, not transparency, in governance
- raised awareness of some awkward truths acknowledged by two legal entities that the FINA rules on who can refer complaints to the FINA Ethics Panel are in conflict
- drew Al Musallam to admitting he had indeed interfered with European elections he ought to have kept out of
- exposed Maglione as a man who tells fibs (Barelli confirmed in open forum in Budapest that he was among the seven Bureau members who told SwimVortex that, despite Maglione claiming otherwise, they had never been consulted about the highest honour of FINA granted to Vladimir Putin in 2014)
Argument from within being taken into the public domain, to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and a threat to extend that to a court of law. One executive Vs the rest who would rather it were business as usual, complete with the quiet removal of folk who don’t play the game, if those people don’t leave of their own accord.
The start of implosion. Mutiny. Call it what your want: FINA is now arguing with itself. There was no kissing and making up this time. There was, instead, a closing of ranks, Italians (Italy opting out completely from committees and commissions in response to the insult of the prune), Brits and others who voted against Maglione had their numbers on committees reduced, Senegal now with as much influence as Britain, for example, as Julio Cesar Maglione lived up to his middle name.
Of course, we all know how that ended. Durant’s Caesar and Christ from “The Story of Civilization”, a part of which was a Pulitzer Prize winner, gave rise to the following narration at the beginning and the end of Anthony Mann‘s 1964 film The Fall of the Roman Empire:
“Rome was not destroyed by Christianity, any more than by barbarian invasion; it was an empty shell when Christianity rose to influence and invasion came.”
FINA’s leaders don’t yet know it but they have made their home an empty shell.
And on that note, we turn to our story of the year in 2016, dig it out of the archive and republish it anew (below). It topped our 2016 list but – tragically – it touches on the No1 story of deep doldrums in swimming for several decades and is highly relevant to all of the above.
From The Archive
No 1 in Our Top 20 Swim Stories of 2016:
What The Forbes And Shirley
In A Lifetime.
Hard to tell
Or recognise a sign
To see me through
A warning sign
First the thunder
Satisfied, if the past it will not lie
Then the storm
Torn asunder …
… Unless it disappears
First the thunder
Then the storm
Hold on the inside
In the storm
In a lifetime
In a lifetime – Clannad
No 1 – In a Lifetime
What had he seen; what had he witnessed; what had he battled against; what had he lived through in a swimming lifetime? The experience of Forbes Carlile, lost to us in 2016, is one of several pegs on which we hang our No1 entry in this list of the year’s top 20 stories.
The second peg is the SwimVortex book of the year, Making Waves, by Shirley Babashoff, a swimmer who represents generations of women beaten into submission by systematic, state and otherwise, doping – let’s hear it for Allison Wagner, for Maggie Kelly, for Edith Brigitha, for Nancy Garapick, for many others and their coaches and parents who went down as Olympic also-swams when they might well have gone down as champions and podium placers on the back of years of dedication and hard work. Babshoff, it should be noted, has also backed calls for reconciliation and has done much to further that cause.
Alongside that are the events related to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, namely statements such as those from:
- coaches Jon Rudd, Bob Bowman and the swimmer of the year, Michael Phelps
- the stance of John Leonard, George Block, Bill Sweetenham and many coaching peers on the burning topics of doping and failed governance; and the programs such as ADN and others who ask swimmers to sign up to clean sport and make that a habit and an oath.
and the icing on the cake:
- the courage of Mack Horton and Lilly King in Rio de Janeiro and to all those who stood in the stands and booed and jeered and railed against that which they are no longer prepared to put up with.
- and the courage of whistleblowers in Russia and China who want the news to reach the wider world so that their sports communities, their children, their young athletes do not have to travel the road of Babashoff, the GDR girls, Yuan Yuan and others who are, quite simply, victims of a system of abuse tolerated and, through that and a form of heavily subsidised-for-life governance founded on and sustained by self-interests, supported by the custodians of swimming. Note well the identity of these people: they are Russian and Chinese. Neither we nor the vast majority of those who listens to their cry for help and call on authorities to tackle deep-seated problems in Russia, China (or anywhere else) are racist, anti-Russia, ant-Chinese, and so on.
- The media that has pursued the truth and exposed the rotting corpse of victims and some of the weapons that killed them and clean sport. [NB: there is no recognition for the likes of Prof. Richard McLaren, WADA and others who have done fine reactive work, mainly because that job and the reform that needs to flow from it is far from over]
We are: anti-doping; we are anti-custodial malaise and the fat-cattery of blazer lifestyle first, blazer world tour second, blazer self-importance third, athlete off the podium, coach ignored almost entirely, both athlete and coach unrepresented in the governance of their sport but for committees chosen by the custodians working on their own podium agendas.
Here are some links to some of those pegs in honour of the brave who took a stand against the intolerable at the end swimming’s trail of sorrows. What the Forbes and Shirley have we allowed, asks our headline. The folk in the stories below know only too well. This No1 entry is a tribute to Forbes Carlile, his fighting spirit; to Shirley Babashoff for a lifetime in a life robbed of the recognition it deserves; and to all those who refused to simply go along to get along in the face of the intolerable and wholly unacceptable.
Many coaches and programs out there are blind to their own history. Neither they nor so-called swimming ‘fans’ who celebrate the second but forget the century are friends of a sport soaked in abuse.
Below are some of the stories that feed into the common thread: here are the issues that have sullied and shaped swimming and the fine achievements of clean athletes in this Olympic years of 2016. They represent the failure of swimming’s custodians, the guardians of the sport in their roles as leaders of the international federation FINA and the domestic federations that have the power to shape what happens in global waters, to provide:
- clean sport
- safe sport
- standardisation that speaks to both of the above
The pegs on which to hang the shame of swimming’s leadership:
- August 2, 2016 – A memory of Forbes Carlile – by Shane Gould
- August 2, 2016 – Obituary: Earlier today, legendary Australian swim coach Forbes Carlile, MBE, passed away at age 95. The following is the official statement and release on Carlile’s passing, followed by our SwimVortex memory and tribute to the man
- July 30, 2016 – Making Waves is the SwimVortex book of the year, not only because it is a good and painful and difficult and informative read but because it delivers the twin track to the doping court cases, the Stasi files, the victims in court and the criminal convictions in Germany. Both sides of a losing coin. Toss is up and pray for Rio. In the context of 1976 and in the context of 2016, this book is powerfully significant. I commend Making Waves to you. Read it and weep. From sexual abuse to doping, Shirley Babashoff talks us through our headline: In a lifetime – on our watch. She is the the 2016 recipient of the Carlile Cup.
- August 11, 2016 – Editorial: This is what happens when swimming is run by people who don’t do nearly enough to serve clean sport and clean athletes for decade after decade. There is a gathering of IOC, WADA and many more in September to sort it all out and start again. Their survival depends on it.
- August 10, 2016 – The swimosphere is an ocean of high fives for those who speak up and a doldrum of thumbs down for those towing an asterisk or excusing all that entails. Today brings the following open letter from John Leonard, director of the World and American swimming coaches associations. It is a letter of support for those speaking up and an appeal for more athletes to let their voices be heard. The letter in full…
- August 9, 2016 – The echo from history stood out in twitterdom for the clarion call it was: @_king_lil you are #MAKINGWAVES and we love it! Go girl- you are what the world – and ESPECIALLY what the Olympics need right now. #HONESTY – Shirley Babashoff. And here was another slice of history: FINA Bureau member and Russian swim federation boss Vladimir Salnikov, twice an Olympic 1500m freestyle champion for the Soiviet Union (1980 and 1988) today said that the atmosphere surrounding his team at the Olympics reminded him of the Cold War. He criticised American 100m breatsstroke champion Lilly King for “attacking the integrity of her Russian rival”, apparently having forgotten the 2013 positive steroid test for which Yuliya Efimova* was banned.
- August 8, 2016 – “The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly” – Abraham Lincoln – In that sense, letting the Russians in, letting the charade unfold, letting the tears flow, letting each and every day of these Games so far be turned into a place where clean athletes confront on an event-by-event basis those who fell from grace when they tested positive for banned substances, just may be the best thing that could ever have happened if the Olympic Movement is to be salvaged from the shipwreck it floats on as sharks circle
- July 26, 2016 – Editorial: I admit upfront that I’m writing a second editorial on the day under the influence of performance-detracting substances, typhus and various other shots coursing through vein as I contemplate words that, nonetheless, spark some of the clearest thought I ever had: Julio Maglione*** (that’s our new asterisk denoting FINA officials who should resign for bringing the sport of swimming into disrepute) is unfit for purpose and should step down from the FINA presidency without hesitation
- November 13, 2016 – It was April 20 this year, just in time for the Russian nationals and Olympic trials, when Vitaly Melnikov returned to seek national-team selection after having served a doping suspension of two years for EPO, the blood booster. Now, he’s effectively gone for life: an eight-year ban has been imposed on the latest Russian doping case.
- That makes the Russian case file of woe second to none in world swimming – and fit for third place on the all-time ranking of rogue nations in the pool after the GDR and China.
- July 26, 2016 – Editorial: The IOC passed the ball to FINA, FINA passed the ball back to Russia and Efimova’s team, which passes the ball to CAS confident that, with Gatlin in goal, victory is assured. … Why else would Russia sacrifice Efimova and Co? That will be put to the test in the days ahead. If Russia is serious and genuine, then there will be no appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. If it made this move deliberately, knowing that the sacrifice followed by CAS appeal route would not only avoid a blanket ban but get its dopers back in, too, then Efimova and Co will have their day in court and arbitration may well deliver the death of the Olympic Games in Rio
SwimVortex and The Times
- FINA/China Confirm 6 Chinese Doping Cases Pending After Times Whistleblower Report
- Evgeny Korotyshkin Leads By Example And Calls On Russian Youth To Own Clean Sport
- WADA Looks To FINA To Find Answers To Times Reports Into Russian Swimming
- Times Russian Reports Trigger Wave Of Calls For WADA Inquiry To Spill To Swimming
The McLaren Reports:
- Jon Rudd, head coach to England’s Commonwealth Games team in 2014 and supremo at Plymouth Leander, believes that swimming is “one stroke away from allowing money, politics and bad influence to unlock the key to drugs cupboard and allow a free for all”. Reacting to The Times investigation of swimming’s doping crisis this week, Rudd, mentor to the likes of Lithuania’s 100m breaststroke champion Ruta Meilutyte and double Commonwealth sprint champion for England Ben Proud, said: “I’m blown away my these revelations. It is like an alien world from that that we in Britain work at and in with passion every day on the deck.
- The Boards of the World Swimming Coaches(WSCA), the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA), the British Swimming Coaches Association (BSCA) and the Canadian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association (CSCTA) have led calls for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to extend its doping probe into Russian Swimming, its relationship with FINA, the international swimming federation, and FINA’s handling of anti-doping matters.
- Almost half of the independent anti-doping experts on FINA’s Doping Control Review Board, including chair Prof. Andrew Pipe, have resigned amid claims their advice on how to deal with the Russian doping crisis was ignored before the Rio Olympics. Canadian Professor Pipe, who chaired FINA’s doping control review board (DCRB), Dr Larry Bowers, off the USA, and Dr Susan White, of Australia, three key figures on the review board eight-strong panel wrote to FINA president Julio Maglione on Thursday to render their resignations.
WADA-commissioned Doping Reports and McLaren Findings
- ‘Ban Russia’; Shadow Lab Uncovered; Sports Minister Implicated; Interpol Launches Global Inquiry; Suspensions Galore
- 1st McLaren Cut: IOC Bars Russia From Hosting; Bans Politicians From Rio 2016
- Ex-IAAF Boss Diack Says ‘I Had To Cut A Deal With Putin To Get Russian Dopers Barred‘
- Intl Anti-Corruption Day, WADA McLaren Report: State Doping Of More Than 1000 Russians
- FINA Can Neither Survive Nor Be Rebuilt Without Cultural Revolution & Reform
- Russian Anti-Doping Bosses ‘Offered To Remove Swimmers From Testing Pool’
- Bye, See You After The Weekend: In Doping Darkness, Russia World Cup Merits No Light
- Why A FIFA Penalty On Russia’s World Cup Would Score Winning Goal For Clean Sport
- Park Tae-hwan* Makes It A Double, The Trouble With His Success A FINA Blindspot
- Will IOC Have Balls To Bar Football From Olympics If FIFA Cries Foul On WADA Plans?
- Allison Wagner Wants Rightful Rewards Handed Over To Those Robbed By Doping
- Number of positive doping tests soared by more than 20% in 2015, WADA Report Notes
- IOC Sanctions 12 athletes for failing anti-doping tests at London 2012 Olympics
- IOC Sanctions 16 athletes for failing anti-doping tests at Beijing 2008 Olympics
- Anti-Doping Agencies Admonish IOC For Failing To Note “Facts” Of Russian Scandal
- USA Swimming Backs Plan To Divorce FINA & Doping Control; Olympic Summit Begins
- Olympic Summit To Reinforce IOC Wish To Have Anti-Doping Removed From FINA Brief
- After Assault On ADAMS, Is Transparency Too Opaque On Therapeutic Use Exemptions?
- Bye, See You After The Weekend: In Doping Darkness, Russia World Cup Merits No Light
- CAS Upholds Blanket Ban On Russia As Paralympic Ruling Highlights IOC Weakness
- Check Mate: Russian Rook Fatal For IOC – Swimming In A Swamp At Rio 2016
- As CAS Gives Efimova* Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down, Russian Hope Rests On Sun* & Park*
- Vladimir Morozov & Nikita Lobintsev Back In For Rio 2016 As FINA Confirms Its Flip-Flop
- Bob Bowman: Sports Bosses ‘Dropped the Ball” On Doping; Michael Phelps Agrees
- FINA Plays Down Flip-Flop Decision To Make Morozov & Lobintsev ‘Clear For Rio Racing’
- Yuliya Stepanova Says IOC Has Risked Deterring Doping Victims & Whistleblowers
And the cry of history:
From the archive:
- On 26 August 1993, after the former GDR had disbanded itself to accede to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, records were opened and State Plan 14:25 confirmed: the Stasi, the GDR state secret police, supervised systematic doping of East German athletes from 1971 until reunification in 1990. Doping existed in other countries but the GDR was officially unique in so far as having a state plan designed to win in international sport as a way of saying ‘look how great our democratic republic and socialist/communist state is’. The body and bulk of what was discovered is now held in places public and private in several countries, safe from the long arm of any single authority that may ver wish to suppress the truth. Some of that evidence was used in legal cases against coaches, doctors and others in the German doping trials of the late 1990s and subsequent compensation claims by athletes who suffered a spectrum of woes, from personal health, physical and psychological problems to the horrors of inheritance in the form of children born with club feet and a variety of other disabilities.
With that “Alles Geben, Nichts Nehmen” link in mind, we recall the denials of Russians and others when it comes to accepting that systematic doping was at the heart of what has been a massive deceit, as revealed in late 2014 and then highlighted by the team at the ARD Sportschau led by Hajo Seppelt in Germany.
Fast forward Russian officials have for the first time admitted the existence of a doping operation which affected some of the world’s major competitions. The McLaren report of December 9 claimed that more than 1,000 Russians benefited from a doping cover-up between 2011 and 2015.
We recall the words of Julio Maglione, FINA president, earlier this year, when he said: “Its [WADA Commission] members exceeded their powers. For me WADA, and sooner or later this needs to be clarified, is an organisation with a function to control the doping abuse, approve the relevant rules and not to talk about the situation in a particular country, it must be done by the head of the Olympic Games, that is by the International Olympic Committee.”
Well, thankfully, things did come down to WADA and those who led the work to expose the truth. It has all led to this admission in December 2016:
“It was an institutional conspiracy,” said Anna Antseliovich, acting director general of Russia’s anti-doping agency. She claims that top government’s top officials were not involved, though the record shows that Vladimir Putin himself ordered anti-doping samples to be stopped at borders and checked (thus breaking the chain of command and WADA rules) before leaving Russia.
Vitaly Smirnov, the 81-year-old who has been a leading sports official since the Soviet era and now appointed by President Putin to reform the anti-doping system, told the New York Times: “I don’t want to speak for the people responsible. From my point of view, as a former minister of sport, president of Olympic committee – we made a lot of mistakes.”
And so the clean up begins, we are led to believe. Time will tell. Meanwhile, the likes of Evgeny Korotyshkin get on with the job of instilling good culture in young athletes, the place where the battle will, ultimately, be won if it is to be won.
To The Eternal Shame Of Swimming’s Custodians
Let it be to the eternal shame of the custodians of swimming – global and domestic in so far as national representation at international level has failed as much as the world leadership group – that all of this came to pass on their watch.
Go along to get along has been the mantra and many an injustice has been treated to a blind eye here, a cold shoulder there in favour of maintaining a status quo that did not so much fall asleep at the wheel long ago but deliberately chose the path of least resistance, the one down which the show must go on at all costs, including tolerance and acceptance of doping and woefully inept governance.
With all due respect, what point USA Swimming celebrating The Last Gold and heralding Shirley Babashoff and others when it has failed for 40 years to change the course of history through its very powerful position in world swimming? If a change in the way the sport is governed was required so that the years of the GDR and the victims on both sides of that story could be recognised officially and lead to reconciliation then why did it not happen? The answers are clear: because domestic federations did not feel strongly enough to do enough about it; did not feel that abuse and denial was a theme worth going to bureaucratic war on.
Fast forward 40 years from Babashoff, Peyton, Boglioli and Sterkel 1976 to this Olympic year 2016: in too many ways, swimming is in the same place: a failure to keep from the blocks those caught cheating in systematic fashion. This was a season marked by the fallout and spill from the Russian doping crisis. It took Star Wars to make the guardians wake up and even then, the badge of the club of self-interests was the more prominent symbol of what the Olympic Movement means to blazers than the worth of Olympic medals earned by those competing clean in an environment that has been filthy for far too long.
It was 1986 when FINA opened its first professional office at the heart and helm of competitive swimming: 30 years has past, it has taken us through the End Game of State Plan 14:25; past the China doping crisis of the 1990s, the denial of blazers as strong at times as those spilling from the lying mouths of child abusers feeding a cocktail of damaging drugs to underage athletes; and on, through years of tolerance and acceptance of the intolerable, to 2016 and the woeful events of this Olympic year on the back of media revelations that forced the system to stare deep down into the mire of systematic cheating.
- In our time. On our watch.
- In their time. On their watch.
- In his time. On his watch.
Forbes Carlile, father of the pace clock. It was something Bill Sweetenham said to an audience at the ASCA World Clinic in 2015 that set me thinking about what Carlile will have seen in his days as a pioneer of coaching. by some miracle of his extraordinary nature, the place in which he was born, grew up in, through the events that shaped him, Carlile was a fighter to the very end.
As the image from my boyhood autograph book confirms, it was 1971 when I first met Carlile. I was eight years old when my dad took me to Crystal Palace to watch an international with some of those who today rank among the legends of swimming: Carlile’s charge Shane Gould, Debbie Meyer and Roland Matthes alone would account for 16 Olympic medals, 10 golds in the mix, between them by the time their racing days were done.
That day out in London as a boy, I watched such talent set a pioneering pace (Gould equalled the world record of fellow Australian Dawn Fraser in the 100m freestyle); spoke to them; had Matthes, the “Rolls-Royce of backstroke” lift me up and spin me in the air; heard Carlile, the father of the pace-clock and interval training, tell me ‘never forget to have fun and never, ever, ever give in’; and I asked them all to sign their autographs in the little book my mum had bought especially for me.
A spark. Just one great day out is all it takes, as many children and some future champions lucky enough to be there when London 2012 unfolded will tell us in the years ahead. Just one fine day.
The flame lit on April 30, 1971, burnt through all my years as a swimmer, got me through the pain, past school days that began in a haze of chlorine and ended that way, too; it burnt beyond my own modest racing days as a boy with his name below that of European and Commonwealth champion Ian Black on the 200m butterfly trophy handed out at the Grampian Championships in Scotland, a modest achievement but one of mine nonetheless; and on to a time when, several years into my career as a journalist, I became swimming correspondent for The Times in the very month when the Berlin Wall fell and the truth about the German Democratic Republic’s State Plan 14:25 Sytematic Doping was about to be revealed.
It was 1991 when I met Kornelia Ender and The Times ran the first interview with the four-times gold medallist of the 1976 Olympics. She’d worked hard for her medals, up to 100km a week in water but a regime others could not have coped with was possible because of the little blue pills, injections to help her “recover and recuperate” in time for the next session.
She was one of many. Britain’s Sharron Davies, Margaret Kelly, Ann Osgerby and generations of others beaten by East Germans and written up as never quite measuring up to best standards all felt the same were robbed of what was rightfully their’s. There was Edith Brigitha, the Dutchwoman who did not go down in the official story of the Olympic Games as the first black swimmer to claim Olympic gold – but she might well have been just that.
And then there was Shirley Babashoff
And what did the IOC and FINA do about it? Nothing. No result changed, no medal handed in and redistributed. Even when the German doping trials of 1999 slapped Dr Lothar Kipke with a criminal conviction, FINA let its former medical commission man keep his ‘silver pin’ for service to swimming. He has it to this day.
In 2016, we witnessed the resignations of three of the leading anti-doping experts from FINA. Not before time. It will take that kind of action to change FINA from within. Who will have the courage to do the right thing in 2017?
FINA has long been proactive, never reactive, its very structures are built not to serve swimmers but to keep the blazers in the lifestyle they’ve cecome accustomed to. The arrogance of its leadershio knows no bounds: 35 questions sent by email from The Times to FINA by me in the past eight months alone. Answers: none.
Why? Because that’s how FINA functions. I served on the federation’s media commission (giving advice on what journalists need for best working conditions at events) for four years but resigned in October 2014 when FINA granted its highest honour to Vladimir Putin. What had he done to deserve it? Given money and backing to FINA so that its showcase events could be hosted in Russia.
At what price, we are just beginning to discover. If the evidence of state involvement in doping is strong, then just as clear is the need for international federations, from the IOC downwards to submit to independent review and oversight, the days of autonomy on life support.
FINA faces a challenge for its survival from a body called the World Swimming Association, established by leading lughts at the helm of the World Swimming Coaches Association in partnership with the fledgling Professional Swimmers Association.
The rebels backed a polite letter from former British head coach Bill Sweetenham urging FINA to submit to independent review of finances and structures. The Australian coach guru never even received a reply. Not a word. And a target of reform switched to replacement.
Head of WSCA John Leonard, sent a stark message to some of the most senior figures among the coach organisation’s membership – and received support back almost instantly from a who’s who of coaches, many headed to Rio next week.
“The IOC,” wrote Leonard, “has made the cowardly decision to defer to its subordinates on the question of Russian participation in Rio. Shame on them, shame on the president [Thomas Bach], shame on all who accept this decision … The IOC has lost the moral right to ‘guard’ the Olympic Ideal. It must be replaced.”
Meanwhile, the last email of a great many I received from Forbes Carlile arrived a few weeks out from his passing on the eve of actions at the Olympic Games in Rio.
Beyond a note about the IOC and the poor choices he believed it made on a regular basis, Carlile was easrching for information on early swimming records dating back to 1836. He passed on information about the wasy “swimmers went off on their number, thus getting a flying start” in handicap races, making it hard to access speed, the winner simply the one that got home first regardless of when they set off. Australian records, he reminded me were often set in the People Palace Indoor Pool until it closed in the 1890’s but even those marks were subject to question: the 33 a a third yard pool was later found to be a few inches short.
An inquiring mind, right to the very last – and literally so, according to his wife Ursula, herself a towering contributor to swimming.
Forbes interest in the early records was not so much in the records themselves as in what they could tell us about the impact of changes in technique down the thread of time and stroke evolution.
Such passion and deep interest in swimming and the nature of the sport, the swimmers’ relationship with the water. From that point of view you can see why the malaise at FINA, the international body, was, to Forbes, a thorn in the side of the sport he loved. Here were men (and largely so for decade after decade and right through to this day) ‘leading’ the sport but unable to stick to their own rules on world records that were shaped with two key things in mind:
- standardisation, one of the very reasons why FINA came into being in 1908
- the healthy and safety of swimmers
On those two grounds were rules formed that clearly state that no world record can be set in a pool that does not comply to minimum pool facility requirements. That is clearly stated on a world-record aplication form that iniststs that “all” FINA rules are complied with. A pool in Wellington did not and does not comply with those rules when set up in a specific competition mode. No matter, said New Zealand; no matter said FINA: we will not only allow this world record to stand but tell the world that facility rules (covering the size, shape, dimension and so forth of pools – the very essentials of standardisation) do not apply when world record are set.
There, right there is the gulf between a man like Forbes Carlile and the leaders of the international federation who seem to care less when it comes to rules that speak to the very essense of Fair Play long before you get to the file labelled “Doping”.
And so we return to the desire of Michael Phelps to take swimming to the next level; to make the sport big. It remains to be seen what he and others have in mind. Whatever it is, the abuse of the past half a century must be acknowledged and dealt with, while any new era in the sport must start with a promise of transparency and a pledge that there will be no repeat of the malaise that has tolerated abuse of young athletes for decades in FINA’s watch.
There is hope in moves being made by athletes, coaches and others with a view to either having FINA submit to independent review and reform or face replacement. All the signs are that replacement will be the only way unless leading domestic federations stop sitting on their hands and truly represent their athletes and the interests of clean sport fit for a professional era.
Athletes need their own professional representation. Only then will they truly be able to shape their own futures.
On that note, we leave you not with what’s gone but what we might celebrate on December 31st to come: