Today is the day that FINA nations decided who their president will be, the day a handful of bosses – not the nations got to tell the rest of world swimming who the heir apparent to that top seat will be.
It is the day – hold the front pages (not) – when 176 nations (with a couple of votes apiece – not all used them – Fiji as important as the USA) voted 258 votes to 77 in favour of the status quo: Julio Maglione, the 81-year-old Uruguayan surfing on a sea of broken promises and woeful decisions in the past several years, is back for another term. Paolo Barelli, of Italy, will not get to impose his mission of transparency and placing two athletes and a coach on the FINA Bureau (for who could possibly want that).
Maglione is. puppet president. His age matters less than the fact that he’s proved himself unfit for office on many levels, including stating openly today that “The Bureau” decided to honour Vladimir Putin in 2014 even when seven Bureau members, including two members of the executive, tell us that they were never asked and played no part ion the decision. Either he or all of them is lying. They say it’s him; Maglione simply got hot under the collar when SwimVortex put the question.
The bad news did not stop at Maglione. In their wisdom, FINA folk also voted for:
- Husain Al Musallam to be Maglione’s heir apparent as first vice-president, backed by Sam Ramsamy, of Africa as ‘second vice-president’ among five with VP next to their names – adding up to world swimming being led by the Middle East, Africa (two regions at the lowest order of success in world swimming with almost no world-class programs to their names, South Africa the best of it but along way from excellence) and, er, Uruguay.
- Vladimir Salnikov, of Russia, to be returned to the Bureau despite clear evidence that he helped break the WADA Code in 2009 when two young Russians tested positive for doping but their cases were never reported.
- And Al Musallam controls Asia, too, his choices, Zhou Jilong of China, and Taha Al-Kishry of that great swimming nation Oman. Out voted was Iran’s Mohsen Rezvani, who said the Kuwaiti had falsely accused in the wake of revelations of a tape recording in which Al Musallam discussed commissions with a potential marketing agent for the Olympic Council of Asia of which he is the director.
It has been an election like no other in FINA history. There have been two candidates fighting for the presidency before so Julio Maglione Vs Paolo Barelli is nothing new but the events surrounding this contest and the failure of FINA leaders to see that – regardless of the outcome of the votes today, regardless of faith in the turkeys who will not vote for the long overdue gift of Christmas that independent review and reform would bring to aquatic sports – winter is coming.
- Yes, there is the issue of Husain Al Musallam. He’s cited as a co-conspirator in the Richard Lai bribery case brought by the U.S. Justice Department. Lai pleaded guilty and spilt what he says are the true beans of payments of almost $1m sent to him between 2009 and 2014; Al Musallam and his boss at the Olympic Council of Asia and the Asian Swimming Federation, Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, are cited as co-conspiarators together – and deny any wrongdoing; the sheikh (who showed up to celebrate with Maglione and Thomas Bach, IOC president, no less, this evening in Budapest) stepped down from his FIFA roles pending inquiries; those are underway, both in-house at the level of ethics panels of the IOC and FIFA and in the wider world of criminal investigators working across at lesst three continents; and then there are the reports, already known about, that the Kuwaitis paid a former leading official of FIFA (someone other than Richard Lai) at a rate of $50,000 a year for work he was subsequently asked about and confirmed that his work was legitimate and related to sport; just why the money came through a company into trading in furniture remains a matter for the Kuwaitis, while the issue of FIFA having stipulated that all who wished to work with the official who had been dismissed should seek approval before doing so is one left up in the air.
It is the day FINA has brought its demise closer to reality.
It is a day when FINA apologised for the inappropriate choice of “Photo of the Day” in its in-house newspaper of the 17th World Championships here in Budapest: the image shown in our main picture summed up the lack of respect the international federation shows for athletes, three backsides in the air. Arab VIPs control the show but appear incapable of stretching their reach to decent treatment of athletes nor to getting more women into governance, let alone having women from Middle East countries take a full part in aquatic sports.
One area where the show is nearly all about women has long been called synchronised swimming. No more. Now, it to be known as artistic swimming after blazers changed the name officially today (send in the FINA clowns) and a realm awash with underage girls – is the butt of the international federation’s latest sick joke when it comes to showing a lack of respect for athletes. A caption tells us all that the snapper is capable of finding beauty in all things: the ugly side of leaving professional jobs to rank amateurs.
It would have been better for FINA to have stuck a snap of president Julio Maglione’s bald head sticking out as he sank without trace. He won’t be sinking: he’s staying put, propped up by the delegates of world swimming, including USA Swimming’s man and others, who believe it does not matter that the Uruguayan came to power in 2009 on a ticket of transparency, age limits for those wishing to serve and a max. two-terms only for all future presidents – and then changed his mind to suit himself. Maglione talked about doing that only because those around him wanted it. Puppets are indeed trained to think in that way.
Transparency? You must be joking. This website alone can list more than 150 very legitimate questions sent to FINA that have been completely ignored. And then there is trust eroded like a sandstone in an eternal storm on the kind of Pacific beach front Duke Kahanamoku cut a dash as the father of surfing a century ago. When it suited Maglione, he thought age limits a touch passe, while a third term in the top seat until the age of 85 was just the ticket for him. Animal Farm.
Whether Al Musallam is innocent or otherwise – and presumption of innocence is a given but not something that should prevent transparency of inquiry and investigation – he should, in the opinion of many key stakeholders in swimming, have stepped aside pending inquiries, a touch of self-suspension the best way to proceed when there is a need to go off and clear one’s name in the face of very serious allegations cited by the U.S. Justice Department. To step aside would have been to do the right thing by himself and – more importantly – by FINA and the sport of swimming. The sheikh and his man had no intention of stepping down from Olympic realms in the way the sheikh felt he had to in FIFA’s fiefdom.
Swimming remains a sport governed by people who place elite, world-class performance sport, the athletes and coaches very much second – or tenth – in line when it comes to priorities.
The votes are in and the house of cards gets ever closer to the day when it will implode.
Why? Well, on the one hand there are the Al Musallams and supporters of the world from nations who don’t have world-class performance programs in place back home and will never have 15 and more women in the pool and open water on a national team for swimming, water polo, synchro (sorry Picasso’s plunge) nor diving. Some of the nations voting here today at the Intercontinental Hotel in Budapest have more delegates in town than they have ever had world-class swimmers (and probably ever will have world-class swimmers throughout the whole of time relative to the folk actually winning the big medals, let along the teams that win the most of all of that).
Down the compartments of the gravy train is the one in which that ‘world at large’ votes for the two candidates from continents wanting to sit on the ruling FINA Bureau. Barelli’s choice of Fernando Carpenas (ESP) and Christa Thiel (GER) fell out of contention, the support being for Erik van Heijningen (NED) and Vladimir Salnikov, the president of Russian swimming who in 2009 failed to report two EPO positive doping tests to WADA and to this day has not been called to account for that by FINA despite a 2016 statement from the international federation to say that it would indeed make inquiries.
Take pity on Salnikov: to some extent. He lives in a nation in which it is possible for a local police chief to walk into a room and say ‘this goes no further’ when two young athletes test positive for doping and name the doctor (an associate of that police chief). It went no further.
The trouble with that scenario is multi-layered. It starts with this: Salnikov is a member of the FINA Bureau, a member of, nay a leader, of the world swimming community that is signed up to the WADA Code. He is a former Olympic champion. All of that is an obligation and responsibility beyond his nationality and where he fits into a corrupt system back home that allowed the Russian doping system to flourish, as the reports of the WADA commission, beyond the media reports that sparked them, showed.
This is what it should have been possible for Salnikov to do – and what he should have done: call WADA, report the two positives, get the kids to their hearing in the company of people capable of offering them the protection of international anti-doping authorities and international sports law required before they named that doctor again. That doctor should, in 2009, have been banned from all dealings with young athletes. We assume that doctor continued to work with young athletes, protected by the local policeman.
Salnikov, like the Stepanovs and Grigory Rodchenko at the heart of WADA whistleblowers, would have been considered in the same way Vladimir Putin has spoken of such people in recent times: as, in so many words, enemies of the state.
Putin, whose view on whistleblowers runs completely contrary to those of international anti-doping authorities and, indeed, many a good governance charter and witness protection program, was granted FINA’s highest honour in 2014. In 2016 Maglione spoke out against whistleblowers and WADA and the quest to make Russia account for its role as scourge of international sport because of clear evidence of a systematic form of cheating.
The emphasis has been on track and field. Important to note, then, that Russian aquatics has produced the highest number of doping cases among all nations, with a woeful number of those cases belonging to teenagers.
None of the above mattered enough to those who voted for Maglione today – just as Maglione did not care enough to be a good guardian of his beat for many a long year.
The issues stretch from doping and abuse through to an apparent lack of understanding about the basics of performance sport.
Take this morning here in Budapest. The schedule for training on the eve of the first of eight days of racing in the pool said “open 6.30 to 12.30” but when the following coaches and their charges turned up they were told ‘you have to leave the venue, we’re closed for a sponsor event’.
I will let you tally up the athletic force of charges who had arrived to limber up on last day before go with coaches Jon Rudd, Mike Bottom, Fred Vergnoux, James Gibson, Andrea Di Nino, Romain Barnier, David Marsh, Dave Salo and Fabrice Pellerin.
Why were they told to sod off? Because five journalists had entered the ‘Omega media race’ before touring the timing suite. Extraordinary arrogance, lack of respect and more from those who thought that timing was appropriate. Those responsible: they were off playing politics and looking after themselves and their own interests as teams scrambled to alter last-minute plans at the eleventh hour.
One of those coaches on the list about told SwimVortex at the pool:
“We got the start lists yesterday and then work out which swimmers will need to come in at which time to be in line with the timings they will swim on day 1 and through the week. These things are a crucual part of performance sport at the tail end of a vast process of getting things right day after day, month in and out, year in and out. Did FINA just not realise?”
Another coach said:
“A ‘last-minute change, just as we had a full pool, totally busy with swimmers and we are told to leave. I can’t believe it, it’s so crazy. How can swimmers and coaches be of ‘no impostance’ when they are actually the ONLY reason all those people (FINA) are even here!”
Quite. A lesson FINA is about to learn in a way it never learned before. Athletes want a voice – and no tokenism air that any more. Coaches do, too. Many want independent review and reform. FINA bosses voted not to grant that today. There will be a price to pay.
Winter is coming.
How FINA told its own tale:
With the presence of delegates from 176 National Federations, the FINA General Congress took place today in Budapest (HUN). The national bodies’ representatives voted the new FINA Bureau for the period 2017-2021, as follows:
Dr Julio C. Maglione (URU)
Pipat Paniangvait (THA)
Husain Al Musallam (KUW)
Sam Ramsamy (RSA)
Dale Neuburger (USA)
Paolo Barelli (ITA)
Dennis Miller (FIJ)
Dr Mohamed Diop (SEN)
Mario Fernandes (ANG)
Dr Donald Rukare (UGA)
Dr Margo Mountjoy (CAN) – WOMAN
Algernon Cargill (BAH)
Daichi Suzuki (JPN)
Andrey Kryukov (KAZ)
David Sparkes (GBR)
Dimitris Diathesopoulos (GRE)
Tamas Gyarfas (HUN)
Zouheir El Moufti (MAR)
Matthew Dunn (AUS)
Errol Clarke (BAR)
Juan Carlos Orihuela Garcete (PAR)
Jihong Zhou (CHN) – WOMAN
Taha Al Kishry (OMA)
Vladimir Salnikov (RUS)
Erik van Heijningen (NED)
Moreover, the FINA General Congress approved the following main changes in the FINA rules:
– Change of the name of “synchronised swimming” to “artistic swimming”;
– Creation of a FINA Second Vice-President and definition of respective duties;
– Transfer of former Honorary Secretary’s duties to the Executive Director;
– Change of the timing for the General Congress, now to be organised every two years (instead of four) on the occasion of the FINA World Championships. However, election Congress continues to take place every four years;
– Election of Ethics Panel and Audit Committee (a new body) by the General Congress;
– The FINA Bureau will consist of 25 voting members (instead of 23);
– Enlargement in the number of Bureau members elected at large from Africa (7 to 8) and from Asia (1 to 2);
– New composition and duties of the FINA Executive, composed by the President, First Vice-President, Second Vice-President, Honorary Treasurer, three Vice-Presidents and one member to be nominated by the President to ensure continental representation;
– Bureau members can be elected for a maximum of three full terms. This rule also applies to the President, irrespective of terms served before as member;
– Redefinition of the Bureau duties;
– New composition of the FINA Coaches Committee, consisting of up to 24 members, which will form six sub-committees for each of the aquatic disciplines;
– Update on the Finance Committee and Ethics Panel duties;
– Creation of a Chief Internal Audit Officer.
– Update on the sport nationality rules;
– Besides tobacco and alcohol, advertising for sports-related betting is now also prohibited;
– Redefinition of the FINA events’ programme at the Olympic Games.
Updates on technical aspects of the Facilities Rules were also approved and relate with swimming, diving, water polo pools, and sound equipment standards.
NB: a quick note on those improvements to Facilities Rules: they count for nothing, according to FINA itself. When a pool in New Zealand at which kids had broken teeth and bones by diving into a pool shallower than the minimum depth listed in FINA Facilities Rules hosted the nationals championships a couple of years back, Lauren Boyle popped by and set a world record – short-course – over 1500m freestyle. Good for her: a hard-working talent. However, the record should not have stood.
Why? Because the WR application form insists that the referee confirms that ALL FINA RULES had been complied with. They had not.
In response to questions from this author, word can back from FINA that Facilities Rules are irrelevant when world record are set.
The sheer stupidity of that statement sums up the staggering journey ahead for Maglione and Co: any organisation that sets good rules and then picks and chooses which rules suit and when is a failing organisation.
Facilities rules MUST, of course, be complied with. They were designed by experts in order to avoid kids smashing teeth and bone; designed to protect Boyle and Co from harm (just not when world records are being set, says FINA’s leadership).
One example of many that demonstrate why Maglione and Co and unfit for the office of serving world-class athletes.
Winter is coming.