“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” – early Christian philosopher St Augustine
Twelfth Night, Epiphany, “a moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation” [Koine Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, meaning manifestation or appearance]. The original realisation, the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ, is the start of change.
In English tradition, the yule log was left burning from the start of Christmas until this day, and the charcoal left was kept until the following Christmas to kindle a new festive season, the thread of past, present and future woven to last. The log was, in part, there to protect the house from fire and lightening. Fighting fire with fire, so to speak.
Swimming is in the midst of its own epiphany, 2016 marking the rekindling of a yule log that has smoked not glowed for far too long. For log read clean sport and the failure of global sports governors to deliver it. Deep in the hearth is the ash of underlying crisis: governance structures that deliver poor to woeful ‘leadership’ that takes its cue from self-interest.
Politics (it might be called petty politics in many ways if the impact were not so significant on many levels), that thing that athletes are obliged not to bring with them to their blocks, has played and is playing a huge role. To understand the pull of that power, you might follow the money in the Olympic Movement. In its “Visualising Rio 2016” series last July-August, The Washington Post posted a most useful graphic setting out the basics of the flow:
Estimated annual income of the IOC: $1.375bn (1 Olympic cycle = $5.5bn)
- Main Source: Sponsors, Broadcasters, NBC the top dog by virtue of winning IOC-given rights (NBC pays $4.4bn for Olympic Games broadcast rights 2014-2020)
The IOC money goes on:
- 90% of that annual IOC income goes to Organising Committees of the Olympic Games (London 2012 got $1.347bn; Rio 2016, $1.5bn)
- National Olympic Committees: $520m after London 2012
- 35 International Sports Federations, such as FINA: $520m (FINA, with the IAAF, is in the club of biggest recipients)
- Self-spend: first-class travel, 5-star hotels and per diems of up to $900 a day for IOC members.
Halt the flow there and let’s consider a detail.
That last bullet point raises issues of transparency. Take Julio Maglione, president of FINA: easily tops 100 days a year on the road in his ‘voluntary’ roles as an ‘unpaid’ career sports politician. Some of his time spent in London, Lausanne and elsewhere on the way to the 2012 Games and some of the time spent in Rio, Lausanne and elsewhere on his way to Rio 2016, included a lot of time spent on IOC and FINA duty. We cannot see a breakdown of the financial benefits all of this activity delivered to the Uruguayan for no such thing exists in the public domain (and may not even exist in such form in any other domain though I’d be delighted if FINA could clarify the picture for us all).
The questions pondered by those who favour greater transparency include:
- did he take a per diem from the IOC and FINA for the same days?
- did one of those functions override the other and so the FINA per diem went unpaid because Maglione was already receiving an IOC per diem for the same say of ‘voluntary’ work?
- did Maglione pay tax on any of that money?
These questions are not put in order to suggest wrongdoing. They are put because proper, due transparency would demand they be put – and answered.
An then there’s this: what did Maglione receive in per diems? That is a perfectly legitimate question. The answer may well be: something like well over $100,000. We’d like to be far more accurate and precise but a lack of transparency and open public record on per diems simply does not allow the wider world to get closer to understanding how the mechanism is built.
The per diems are not a ‘wage’, insist the IOC, FINA and others joined at the hip to the per diem culture. It is a contribution to ‘costs’ – and those appear to amount to no more than showing up to work and then doing that work that they were not asked to do but volunteered to do. To be honest, those ‘costs’ about to what you and I would call a living wage but sports politicians who volunteer (and, in many cases, actually spend no time away from a full-time career elsewhere because they simply don’t have one) call a contribution beyond costs already covered by the federation treasury, namely, flights, travel, limos, hotels, food, drink and every fundamental need you might find reasonable.
Just to put such sums in context, we turn to what average folk earn as a living wage. On best figures – those that use only full-time employed/waged figures to calculate averages – the top earners per household even out at the following levels of pay (U.S. $) according to the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) calculation for 2015:
- LUX 60,369
- USA 58,714
- SUI 58,389
- NOR 50,908
- NED 50,670
- AUS 50,167
- DEN 50,024
- CAN 47,843
- BEL 47,702
- AUT 46,084 with IRL, 46,074, GER, 44,925, and GBR, 41,384, just outside the top 10.
So, on those rough measures, the average highest earner in household (including coaches and parents of swimmers and so forth) is at best half of what someone like Maglione is worth in per diems to cover the ‘costs’ of him being away from whatever else he might be doing if he weren’t attending meetings and pressing the flesh a great deal more than many of the rest of you might be used to.
Food for thought but not so much in Olympic circles, as that Washington Post graphic seems to indicate:
- Of the $520m of IOC money that goes to NOCs, a fair amount feeds into other pots to make those NOCs fairly flush when it comes to funds available. Prime example, for commercial as well as reasons of contribution, is the United States Olympic Committee: it has a pot of $230m a year and is a good example of being proactive to raise funds while the majority of NOCs around the world simply wait for the handout and add nothing or next to nothing to the amounts that are handed down by the IOC.
- That USOC money translates to a payroll at the American outfit of $49m a year, for 600 folk a year, according to The Washington Post. It is here that we see those flush per diem figures knocked into a cocked hat:
- USOC CEO Scott Blackmun: $1m a year
- 14 other execs: $200,000 or more a year
- From the money left over after paying its own staff, USOC hands down a sum to help individual sports federations, the USA example, once more, one in which those federations, such as USA Swimming, generate their own income, from meet entries, commercial enterprise and partnership and related activities. The system is both funded and entrepreneurial. In most nations, the system is funded. Full stop.
- At USA Swimming, wherever the cash comes from, it translates to a wage of more than $850,000 a year for CEO Chuck Wielgus, with his track and field counterpart Max Siegel said to be on $1.1m a year, according to The Washington Post.
In a bold yellow box next to the names of Siegel and Wielgus the newspaper runs the following, telling words:
“Athletes: some athletes can make big endorsement money, but most get by on stipends and charity”.
The latter includes a huge amount of support from parents, most of who never get anywhere close to a VIP ticket to the big day, let alone the lounge in which they hand out the champagne.
A world-class American swimmer can make up to $42,000 in stipends each year, and some of that is down to the good work of USA Swimming. Most who make the top 100 ranks in the world come nowhere near that amount.
Professionalism and a hefty professional wage is a must in white-collar world. Why, you just couldn’t get the quality without the big money. The same argument doesn’t apply to coaches, swimmers and others, however, it seems. There, quality can only be extracted through leanness of experience, hard work and the carrot of a fine pay day if you win Olympic gold one day (and even then, the carrot is relative).
The USA is, of course, among the best examples among feds when it comes to care and support for athletes in world swimming. If you take into account the professional work that goes into selling swimming for a return that feeds back into the sport, USA Swimming has no peers, while the likes of Swimming Australia and several others, rely not just on public funding but the generosity of sponsors and partners.
The reality of swimmers, meanwhile, is that they not only have much less than their peers in sports such as tennis but they are governed by federations that spend far less of their budget to the direct financial benefit of the athlete in all too many cases when looking up the chain to professional sport (as opposed to down it to other Olympic sports struggling in ways familiar to others in the FINA stable, diving, water polo and synchro).
A couple of years ago, we noted the following from the world of sporting budgets:
Dollars In The Pool
- $100m – FINA net assets in the bank, according to FINA Bureau members with access to the figures
- $5.6 million – “FINA Family Expenses” in 2013
- $1.64 million – the total prize pot for pool swimmers at world titles in Kazan this August (to go to some 120-150 swimmers based on Barcelona 2013)
- $1.5 million – a conservative estimate of the likely cost of ‘per diems’ paid by FINA to Bureau, Committee and Commission members over 3 weeks this summer
- $150,000 – the budget for a three-point proposal for a PR company to do the following bidding, among other things, for FINA: 1, cosying up to USA Swimming; 2, making Michael Phelps a poster boy for Maglione (as if…); 3, discrediting critics
- $100,000 – the top prize for the World Cup winner in swimming after 16 days of gruelling competition and season upon season of dedication
- $15,000 – the sum received by FINA Bureau members for just 37 per diems at events where they have no personal costs beyond unessential choices
- $15,000 – what FINA pays for a world swimming title
And here are some Dollars from a different world:
- $42,000 – prize money for a first-round loser at Wimbledon
- $148.1 million – total prize money for all four Grand Slams in tennis
- $42.3 million – total prize pot for Wimbledon 2014 (spread of share included 256 singles players)
- $33 million – total prize pot for Australia Open 2014
- $34.5 million – total prize pot for French Open 2014
- $38.3 million – total prize pot for US Open 2014
- $54 million – surplus (from tickets sales, catering and so on) Wimbledon 2013 (The All England Club is not a non-profit organisation and thus its surplus is taxed, receipts going to the exchequer; 90% of what is left is then ploughed back into the development of tennis)
- $2.73 million – the top prize for one Wimbledon winner
In that sense, when swimming bosses bleat about the big money they are offering in prize money for athletes, they surely know that they are falling well shy of what might be. The question is why? Among answers is: because we like the world we control more or less the way it is; suits us just fine.
Questions beyond the money
The issues affecting athletes, of course, are not all down to money. Far from it. And at least a part of the truth of their experience is very clear: federations have let swimmers down on clean sport and good governance and have not done nearly as much as they could when it comes to making sure swimming’s international federation mirrors what happens in sports such as tennis, where the bulk of vast income goes back to … athletes.
If you doubt that much more could be done by highly paid – voluntary or otherwise – ask yourself when you last read a headline and story in any media where a leading FINA figure nodded sagely as they welcomed the notion of review and reform ; ask when last you heard of the head of a national swimming federation speaking up on the record for independent review of process and finance with a view to healthy reform at FINA?
- How about any official statements in support of the things raised by Lilly King, Mack Horton? How loud were those?
- How about a call from USA Swimming backing the view of Shirley Babashoff, the class of Last Gold, Allison Wagner and many others robbed by the curse of doping down the year that reconciliation and redress is required for swimming to make a clean break from a filthy past?
- How about an official statement in support of what Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps, Jon Rudd and others spoke out on in support of clean sport in 2016? Things take time – but time is up. And how.
- How about any official and transparent efforts to get FINA to even apply its own rules?
- Where was the national federation challenge to the FINA leadership’s assertion that facilities rules and standardisation designed to protect the healthy and safety of athletes (not just the elite but swimmers of all levels who ought not to expect to break teeth and bone when they dive into a pool, for example) did not apply when it came to reatifying world records, even when the World Record Application form requires the referee of equivalent, to agree that “All FINA Rules” have been observed.
One of the defences of federations on such issues is that their focus is on their domestic jurisdiction. Understandable though was they then appear to fail to understand is that as members of FINA they all have a direct responsibility when it comes to the global governance of the sport. The ultimate power of FINA, under the international federation’s constitution, is the FINA Congress of all nations.
C 15: General Congress: 15.1: The General Congress is the highest authority of FINA and shall have the power to decide upon any matters arising in FINA.
That means: your domestic federation.
We look forward, then, to hearing the voices of your federations at Congress this July in Budapest. Will the issue of a few men – and not the Bureau as a whole – deciding to grant Putin FINA’s highest honour make the agenda. In light of the crisis of 2014, 15 and 16 and an official admission from Russia last week that a systematic doping program was, indeed and after all, at work, that issue should indeed make the ultimate debating forum. Don’t hold your breath.
On doping, will we hear calls for changes that reflect the shift in global anti-doping direction?
The fact is that Congress can only decide on matters that make the final cut of the agenda. It is for national federations to insist the issues they want to be aired on behalf of their prime assets – the athletes – make that agenda, get that airing, lead to good governance and the observation of FINA rules that have simply not been observed in recent times by those who have not been called to account for overstepping their authority and the letter of the laws agreed by Congress.
How and why that has come to pass is clear: national federations are failing in their duty to hold the fire to FINA’s feet on issues that determine the shape of swimming and the lot of swimmers.
Myriad are the examples one could turn to – and though I hate to turn to one of the better examples of doing things in the interests of their athletes when it comes to scanning the 200-plus members of FINA, I do so because any process of internal reform that might prevent replacement would have to start there.
Here’s a case in point. When I asked USA Swimming for its view on a boycott of open water events by its swimmers, the response was that it had nothing to say and that it was happy to let the athletes speak for themselves. I have no issue with the latter part of that sentence: of course the athlete should speak for themselves – or better still, in certain circumstances, have a strong representative body speak on certain issues in collective manner when and where that is called for. However, for the federation to say it has nothing to say is unacceptable.
Politics is playing a hand too strong for the well-being of athletes.
The issues may well be varied and complex and it would be wrong to mix Fran Crippen’s tragic death with Lilly King and Mack Horton’s stance in Rio and other issues of concern in the sport of swimming, but one thing joins all those matters: FINA leadership, structure, form of governance and a failure of national federations to exercise the power of check and balance.
There have been many moments when national swimming federations have sat on their hands and cupped their mouths at times when what they ought to have done was exercise their absolute right to challenge the decisions of FINA in their role as ombudsmen representing and serving athletes and their best interests. If anyone feels the urge to challenge that notion, I remind them: “The General Congress is the highest authority of FINA. That means… you, the domestic federations who send your agents into FINA world (they cannot be there without your agreement under the rules of FINA but many do indeed make it to high places and committees because the FINA Bureau calls on them and only then informs the national federation].
Meanwhile, athletes need professional representation in their dealings with federations that are simply falling down on the job when it comes to tackling the issues that are anchoring the prospects of them and their sport to the status quo of a stagnant pond.
The stock and world of elite athletes is stacked with those who could bring not just their athletic experience to the table but their wider, deeper feel and wisdom from a complex but highly relevant world beyond the lanes and the black line.
I’m often told you, the swimmer, are mostly fairly stupid, members of Generation X, folk inacapable of more than a tweet of thought or stretching the mind beyond “six ways swimmers need to rest between sets”; “ten ways to avoid farting in the pool”, “20 reasons why wearing a red suit can stir the bull in you” and so on and so forth.
I think you’re much more than that. I think many of you most capable of reaching instead for the things that might feed your brain in the way that your training feeds your body and its prospects in the pool. The kind of stuff that will play out in your lives on a far bigger scale down the stream.
You could do worse than starting in places such as those linked to below.
For those wondering what any of this has to do with swimming and good governance, think a touch more laterally as you listen to arguments about why people/workers feel disenfranchised, how globalisation has helped some and damaged others (and the arguments for what might be done about that), and then apply the logic, thought and argument to the realm in which you work (being a professional athlete means ‘work’, as it does for the professional coach), a realm that allows midnight Olympic finals because that suits the broadcaster, not the athlete; a world that allows folk who have fallen foul of anti-doping rules at least twice in their careers to make it back for another Olympic moment; a world that allows world records to be set in a pool in a specific mode that has been the subject of complaint and legal action in cases where childrten have had teeth and heads smashed, bones broken and lives altered.
The lateral look that can feed the brain:
The New World – a terrific look at our changing world in a series on BBC Radio 4, including the following episodes so far:
- Fixing Globalisation – Jim O’Neill asks if new challenges mean an end to the era of globalisation.
- It’s the Demography, Stupid! – How is population change transforming our world? David Willetts investigates.
- Us Versus Them – John Harris examines the international rise of anti-elitist or ‘populist’ politics.
- Axis of Power – Gideon Rachman examines the changing balance of power in today’s global politics.
- Nothing but the Truth – Are we really living in a post-truth world? Jo Fidgen investigates.
Imagining The Truth – Leading international artists explain how they chronicle, process, design and describe our fast-changing world through their work.
Oksana Zabuzhko: – ‘The Museum of Abandoned Secrets’:
“We were running in the underworld. We’d been blown to smithereens somewhere along the way. We didn’t know there were mines, no one had told us: we kept running, panting, clutching our brand names to our chests, our apartments, our cell phones and automobiles—and still thought we were alive, because no one had told us we were already dead.”
Chronicles from a fast-changing world, you might say.
The world of sport is changing, too, and down the stream we’ll be looking at examples from that realm that swimmers may learn from. Among those recognising that change is underway but understand what is worth keeping hold of is the idea of sport as a vehicle to promote peace, harmony and understanding among peoples is the movement founded in 2007 by Modern Pentathlon Olympic Medallist and World Champion Joël Bouzou.
Peace and Sport, described as “a neutral and independent worldwide organization that is operational in using sport and its values as an instrument for peace” celebrates its 10th birthday this year.
It can look back on some fine achievements, including working with child soldiers and reintroducing them to society through sport; helping war orphans rebuild their self-confidence through sport; reintegrating refugees, facilitating access to education … and so on.
Peace and Sport also works with “international companies, to encourage them to integrate sport into their social responsibility and local policies”.
And then there are schemes such as the PAPA Project and Empowering Coaching, work that swimming federations should enquire about and harness if they were ever to recognise the responsibility and prospect in their guardianship role.
Much fine work out there, then, to harness sport as a catalyst for improved lives and societies, to feed into the stream of things that make for a better world.
Within sport, however, there is much that divides people, the schism and chasm built by FINA between leadership and membership run deep and wide. In terms of Safe Sport, USA Swimming has its policy up and running and is tackling the ghosts of the past years after it and others operated in a void of checks and balances that did not serve well those athletes who found themselves victims of sexual predators.
Several other nations have similar programs in place but many do not and transparency is weaker than it is in the USA just about everywhere else. Abuse takes many forms, from doping to psychological and other forms of bullying and in ways that play out in lives long after those days of training and racing are done. There is so much good work to be done in swimming; so much potential to be unlocked; so many benefits to be harnessed through building a professional future for athletes.
Many uncertainties but one thing is certain: there will be no peace until governance includes the genuine (not hand-picked by blazers) say of primary stakeholders, the athletes and coaches; there will be no peace without fundamental change in the structrures and systems that have delivered failed governance, poor leadership, unclean sport and a masters and servants relationship between those travelling first class to the Olympics and those in the dormitories making the whole thing possible and surely beginning to wake up to the notion that neither as podium-placing, final-making, world-class athletes nor as workers in some future professional role in the realm of top household earner, are they likely to ever surpass the per-diem incomes of Olympic sports blazers and the luxury lifestyle that goes under the name of ‘volunteering’.
Was 2016 the dawn of aquatic epiphany on the wave of unrest that has been building for several years? Will we see leading national federations taking a stand on the substantive problems facing the sport of swimming on a global level, be those doping or highly questionable practices at the very helm of FINA governance?
We must hope that the answer is yes: if federations want their parent body to survive the long haul, then they must press for the changes that would make that possible.
Meanwhile, senior athletes and others continue to work on building the instruments that ensure their music, views and voices are not only heard but acted upon at the top table of sport. Only in that way can they link the experience of Babashoff and King and all those in between and the events that have shaped swimming in ways it ought not to have been shaped in and make gains for the next wave; only in that way can they keep that yule log burning season after season.
A peaceful Twelth Night to all.
“I say there is no darkness but ignorance” ― William Shakespeare,
From The Archive: The Top 20 Stories Of 2016
- 1. In A Lifetime, What The Forbes & Shirley Have We Allowed?
- 2. Phelps, Bowman, Legend, Lore & Legacy
- 3. The Long Reach of Ledecky
- 4. The Marshall Art Of Peaty Power
- 5. Murphy’s Law; USA Rules
- 6: Dolphins Down Under But No Underdogs
- 7: The colour is Gold: Olympic gold
- 8: Bob Bowman’s Golden Rules
- 9: The slow burn of Sarah Sjostrom and coaches
- 10: Mireia, Fred & The Alchemy Of If To When
- 11: Gregorio The Great 30-Lapper
- 12: Putting the Great Back Into Britain
- 13: Masters, Servants & Subsidies – a model of governance that has had its day
- 14: The ruinous nature of runes in an Olympic year
- 15: Custodians in Crisis: FINA – Same As It Ever Was
- 16: The Australia/ China interface highlights questions of faith & fair dinkum
- 17: Schools Out; Schooling’s In: aspiration, inspiration and the impact of Michael Phelps
- 18. The Swimming Selfie
- 19. The Canadian Comeback
- 20. On Hosszu Heights