Who Is FINA Serving? George Bovell Poses Question Swimmers & Coaches Are Asking

Sink or swim - standing up for athletes: (L-R) Guy Barnea of Israel, Kris Findorff of the USA, George Bovell, of Trinidad and Tobago and Nathan Adrian of the USA - by Patrick B. Kraemer

Who is Fina serving? The question is posed by George Bovell in his the latest column for Trinidad’s Guardian, entitled “Reflections off the Water”; he sets out some of the reasons why FINA is letting athletes down

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Who is Fina serving? The question is posed by George Bovell in his the latest column for Trinidad’s Guardian, entitled “Reflections off the Water”; he sets out some of the reasons why FINA is letting athletes down

Comments

Felixtzu

Are athletes the prime assets of FINA? Perhaps, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that they are the governing body of a predominantly amateur sport(s). If the elite athletes were such great assets, FINA events would be enormous money spinners with great competition to host them, and several of these issues would be viewed in a different light (of course, maybe involving different problems cf. FIFA)

FINA has many problems – really it is not fit for purpose, with its efforts to govern disparate sports that have a vague aquatic connection. This leads to a large unwieldy organisation ripe for corruption. However, we should be very wary of the many suggestions that call for more power for elite coaches and athletes – they do not necessarily have the best interests of the majority of members at heart. How many times during the suit debate did we hear the ridiculous suggestion that suits bring money into the sport? Suit deals enriched the elite via the pockets of juniors and their parents – the people receiving such deals have no interest in anything that interrupts the manufacturer’s income stream.

We certainly need rid of FINA, but more power to one interest group is not an answer: it’s a time honoured recipe for further corruption.

Craig Lord

Felixtu: yes, athletes are the prime asset – if not them, who? Without them, no sport. I think athletes and coaches have too little say in substantive matters… and on suits, I found far more examples of coaches and swimmers who knew what was happening, admitted it and wanted them to be sunk. Many coaches from Europe, Australia and US, to my knowledge, contributed to the pressure that led to the vote in Rome (via poolside demos from coaches in Rijeka etc etc). There are folk in every community who will have vested interests that cause them to call it wrong – and we find that as much among sports politicians as everyone else, if not more so.
The new world of swimming governance needs to include coaches and swimmers as well as business people and others who can bring different strengths to the table.

Felixtzu

There’s a practically inexhaustible supply of athletes, not so sponsors, hosts, administrators… So I don’t know, it depends how you define things. It’s also beside to point to count up opinions on suits: it’s just an example of potential conflict of interest if a small band of professionals were to gain special influence over the governance of an amateur sport (and see how soon all your coaches turn into Brett Hawkes when it suits their interests).

Athletes and coaches should play a role in governance, but a fast-track for ‘elites’ would be ill-conceived.

Craig Lord

Felixtu, no-one is suggesting that athletes and coaches should take over the ship – as you suggest (they should not) – but right now they have almost no say and much unfolds hat is not in their interests (nor the sport’s interest) – and the forums through which they can access the top table at FINA are simply no working nearly as effectively as they could. As for fast tracking elites… having lived through more than a quarter century of watching closely the slow-track/fast-track to-and-of blazer-power and the malaise of slow-turning change-resistant (unless it suits their own interests, not that of the wider community they serve) governance, elite fast-track sounds rather more appealing :). Balance is the key. There is no balance right now: it is a question of do as we do and say and never challenge or you simply won’t be with us – you’ll be against us. That has to stop. Of course, there would be/will be issues in any reform process but none of that should prevent the very long overdue overhaul that swimming needs. (hosts, sponsors, administrators – all have folk in their midst that would need the wildest self-interests drawn back…)

Steve Levy

In the US, the National Football League (NFL) was conceived as and run as for decades, a fiefdom of rich owners until the players organized. There’s no such thing as the NFL nearing $10 Billion in annual revenues:

http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-09-04/nfls-secretive-finances-a-nearly-10-billion-mystery

…without the players and the players have fought for a reasonable Collective Bargaining Agreement:

http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/Terms-of-NFL-owners-proposed-collective-bargaining-agreement-072111

FINA is no different; the professional H2O athletes need to organize and/or seek a certain type of representation to level the water in the swimming pool.

There’s just too much chlorine in FINA’s pools and it stinks.

Lawrie Cox

Whilst not disagreeing with involvement from athlete and coaches as part of the mix can you look at current and past swimmers on the Bureau and say with hand on heart that they have been effective? The example is silence generally on suits, the most recent change to Rio program I WAS DEAFENED BY THEIR COLLECTIVE SILENCE.
Real change is needed with real leadership and new rules to enable transition to occur.

Craig Lord

You’re quire right Lawrie – their performance has been miserable … but silence is to be found from every sector in the FINA World – it is the system, not the true spirit, that keeps most of them silent: they know that under current regime, if they break ranks, they will be dropped – with no coming back. What can be said of silent ahletes can be said of silent many others, including good folk on the technical committees who do good work but put up with a whole load of bad stuff in order to stay there. It is not the path I chose or will ever choose but understand it I do.

Lawrie Cox

No doubt that it across the Board my point was the view that one group believes it will improve by increasing the representation. I was stopped as an example because of my outspokenness from going on tech committee despite enjoying unanimous support from the Australian tech committee, a little visit by the FINA Bureau reps to the Australian Board and i was not allowed to be put up under any circumstances by Australia. Same happened to Alan Thompson at the Coaches committee in Rome, Cornel decreed it in the lift to us. I understand how it feels but i would hope that those who really believe in true governance will find their voice. Cannot see that in the current Bureau thou.

Craig Lord

I agree, Lawrie, in this sense: greater representation of one group or another will not help – the whole structure needs repair or replacement.

Lawrie Cox

I vote replacement as it to ingrained at present and we tried to repair in Shanghai only to be steamrolled. Ironically one area is now been put up relating to position duties. But the absolute insult is yet again failing to recognise what the IOC took years to do and that is apply a reasonable age limit. FINA is going in completely the wrong direction on that one!

Steve Levy

Craig & Lawrie, inasmuch as water sports have been part of the Olympic landscape for 100+ years, it’s progression from purely “amateur” to “money printing machine” simply isn’t the same as other professional sports around the globe.

In all our countries, changes did not take place until a specific athlete or two challenged the status quo. This IS the history of professional sports. And even with substantive athlete representation, better working conditions, better remuneration, etc., it’s still taken decades to address the long term effects of participation (for example, CTI, suicide).

FINA and the water athletes don’t appear to me to be that different; for change to take place, someone of true stature is going to have to stick their neck out (BTW, CL, I came upon George’s post from a tweet by Jessica Hardy – https://twitter.com/swimhardy/status/572829071673044993).

There’s your next article Craig – start by speaking with those who respect George.

Coach

Craig and others, as a very prominent coach I would love to be very vocal about the incompetence of FINA and the ineptness of my Federation. I personally don’t care about their vengeance or retribution towards me, but I am concerned about the opportunities and careers of the athletes that I coach. FINA can blackball me, and my Federation can sanction me and take away my funding, but I remain silent to protect my athletes. It’s very disheartening.

Craig Lord

Coach, understood … situation varies from nation to nation … hard to stop athletes who make teams in some countries because clear selection criteria decides … not so easy in other countries. There is more on this coming soon, with a mechanism for coaches and athletes to have their say and cast their vote without having their identity revealed to FINA and the national feds who do their bidding. I’m conscious of the vast gap in numbers between those who go on the record under their own name and those who feel just the same way but are stymied by system and threat of consequence. We must find a way… and we will…

Craig Lord

🙂 Steve. more next week (the athletes can speak to me, too – they know where I am … bit inefficient if I call them all personally 🙂 .. and it is truly ineffective for athletes to simply speak to themselves (I see those twitter messages and while I find it good, they are not reaching the places they need to reach, with respect to them… FINA world is a bubble, it hardly heeds social media pressure, many in the mix don’t even know it exists) … there will be an invitation going out … and that goes for the entire FINA Athletes Commission, too… some good people of sound mind and bright views but not a single one of whom has replied to a couple of questions I sent to them 10 weeks or more ago … it isn’t easy for them but they will be asked for their view on what’s coming – and silence won’t do… they are there to represent athletes not FINA’s executive. Athletes need to find a way of getting their voices heard, getting their messages across. In the past decade, they have become ever more silent and ever more reluctant to speak out when asked pertinent questions – and some have an aversion to talking to the media, particularly on difficult subjects. They have to get over that.

Steve Levy

Regarding silence, so we’re professional baseball players until Curt Flood stood up and challenged the owners and their indentured servitude policies.

I can think of one swimmer who can take the Curt Flood role and not be harmed because their brand is VERY strong.

Craig Lord

Yes, so can I Steve – but it won’t happen, I would imagine … the very strong in swimming are very rare … and they don’t need to rock boats unless there is an imperative… and FINA don’t pay athletes… not the same relationship – FINA is a remote planet for many athletes – and most have no passport to that world unless their federations put them in line for a committee position (by which time it may be too late, going on past experience – assimilation is the ‘norm’)… athletes need also to take their struggle for better to their closest port of call: their federations – it is those federations who allow FINA to continue as it does; tolerance and acceptance is high; challenge is rare – and as Lawrie notes, it often results in banishment

beachmouse

I would prefer term limits to age limits. If a Jon Urbanchek wanted to take a global leadership role in his retirement years after being on the front lines at the highest level for decades, that kind of thing should be encouraged, IMO.

Call it no more than eight year for anyone within the organization other than a handful of home office clerical employees in charge of keeping institutional memory (and there are some useful bits of that) intact. Age limits can still allow someone to entrench in the organization when they’re in their early 40s and then hang on in a power role until they’re old enough to collect a pension.

Lawrie Cox

Steve my reasoning is this. I was a union official for many years in Australia (not popular in some circles) and you get used to having to be on the front foot to get your message out there and often being unpopular. During my time on the SAL Board we encouraged and paid significant amounts of money to the formation of the Swimmers Association. This was to assist them being a voice as well active on behalf of the group. I must say i was opposed to the structure as it was trade union paid for by the sport rather than acting on behalf of its members.
What has disappointed most of all is it’s complete lack of action on issues that impact on the membership base. As an example silence on the suits, total silence about the abuse claims including the lack of real action by SAL and lastly the Rio finals. What does it do other than put its hand out to get money and stay silent on critical matters that truly ought to be acted upon.
I have no beef with representation of all the key players swimmers, coaches and officials. At present the later is the only group without actual standing in the sport in Australia which is totally made up of volunteers.
If there is to be professional representation bodies for Swimmers and Coaches then clearly that will become the next step. Of course the limitations of actual money comes into play and we have to make sure that whilst paying the top end there is enough to go around in continuing development at the grassroots. For the FINA example we spend vast amounts on competitions on add ons but fail to see the bigger picture when many of our Federation members do not even have a pool in country let alone a competition pool. A lot of good work could be done concentrating on getting a basic pool for each Federation in the future.

Lawrie Cox

Sorry to be so long winded Beachmouse you are absolutely right in using expertise irrespective of age but it has gone beyond that for sport. As the IOC found you could not get transition without forcing the issue and the very basic tenant should be applying the IOC rule in FINA. You can always find ways to incorporate people who are genuinely trying to work for the sport as against bench warmers or seeking the feather in the cap of which we have way to many.

Craig Lord

Excellent points Lawrie. There is indeed much more athletes could do (independence of position an issue there, of course – and not an easy one to resolve, in part because of money, swimming related) – and much much much more good that could come of the vast resources FINA has access to.

Clive Rushton

I would echo the point about prominent members of the TSC, the TOWSC, the Athletes Committee, The Coaches Committee, and, of course, the Bureau – total silence except for the inter-committee correspondence cited by Craig a week or so ago. Publicly: total silence. I do not buy the arguments supporting their reluctance to talk. If every significant member (or even a majority or significant minority) of each of those committees spoke up in a coordinated manner surely something would happen. If it did not they should all resign. It strikes me that, for all of these people, the Blazer is more important than the sport. One of the Athletes Committee members is even a member of the IOC – Alex Popov, what are your views of 10pm finals in Rio, or of awards to Vladimir Putin (I’d love to hear that one). We should name names and put these people on the spot. As Craig says, they are not there to serve the FINA executive.

Clive Rushton

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for enough good men to do nothing.”

Variously attributed: Edmund Burke, John Stewart Mill, Leo Tolstoy, Plato, Albert Einstein.

It doesn’t really matter who said it does it? It’s true.

Craig Lord

Quite so Clive, on both your notes … they will all get their chance to change the mood music very soon and it will be a test of their character, commitment to swimming not self…

Steve Levy

Lawrie, appreciate your perspective. I too was “union” for 34 years, 20 of it in a shop steward or executive capacity for our lifeguard corps (which I might add, we’ve competed in the past with your SLSCs ;). In my professional life, I’m in HR – so I’ve experienced unions form both sides. But as with all unions, there comes a tipping point issue that galvanizes most of masses during an inevitable moment of change. It’s happened with every unionized sports – some action taken by “owners” or “the league” is so antithetical to the good of the athletes that acting together is the only option.

I think this time FINA has acted in a way that repulses the athletes to the point of acting together.

Perhaps it’s time for George to read about the legacy of Curt Flood.

Steve Levy

Craig, Clive & Lawrie, while I only met Fran once, from reading about him and speaking with those who knew him well, the question…

WWFD?

…has a very clear answer.

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