Paolo Barelli, the Italian standing for the presidency of FINA, the troubled international federation which has three members of the ruling Bureau facing allegations and/or charges of corruption, has called out Asia’s swimming federation over an attempt to tell Europe who it ought to have at top table of global governance in aquatic sports.
In an open letter to coincide with the launch of his presidential campaign website, Barelli distances himself from the executive’s decision to accept the nomination of Husain Al-Musallam as a candidate as “first vice-president’ in elections on July 22 in Budapest.
Further, he accuses the Asian Swimming Federation (AASF) of “blatant and very serious case of interference” when it comes to its attempt to override nominations for FINA rules taken at the European Swimming League (LEN).
LEN has nominated Fernando Carpena (ESP) and Christa Thiel (GER) for Bureau roles in the “World at Large” votes. It is for continental associations to nominate candidates for those positions. However, in a letter to FINA members, The AASF has nominated Vladimir Salnikov (RUS) and Barelli’s defeated opponent in LEN elections last year, Erik Van Heijningen (NED), instead.
Salnikov, famed for his 1500m freestyle golds at the 1980 and 1988 Olympic Games and the first sub-15min effort over 30 laps, is the president of the Russian swimming federation who failed to report to the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2009 two cases of EPO positives returned by swimmers. The cases were reported by this website and The Times newspaper and FINA pledged to investigate lat year. To date, there has been no further word on FINA’s “investigations”.
Al-Musallam not only hails from a nation suspended by the International Olympic Committee and FINA but is also named in U.S. Justice Department papers as a co-conspirator in a guilty-plea bribery case in which Richard Lai, a Guam soccer official admitted to accepting payments of almost $1 million.
Al-Musallam is a leading official at the helm of the Asian Swimming Federation (AASF). His boss is Olympic “kingmaker” Sheikh Khalid B. Al Sabah, another of those named in the Lai case as a co-conspirator. The Sheikh stepped down from all his FIFA roles pending inquiries into the serious allegations made in the U.S. Justice Department case.
However, neither he nor Al-Musallam have stepped down from positions related to the IOC and FINA, including their leadership of the Asian swim fed.
Now, in a letter to FINA bosses in response to a complaint from the interim Kuwait Swim Federation that Al-Musallam must not be allowed to run for office because he does not have their approval, Virenda Nanayati, a Vice-President at the AASF, backs Al-Musallam’s candidacy to a role that would men him the heir-apparent to the FINA throne occupied by octogenarian Uruguayan Julio Maglione.
That comes as no surprise: Nanayati is simply doing the bidding of the bosses at the Asian swim fed. However, in the course of his letter, he has sought to lump Barelli in with the rest of the FINA executive that made questionable and somewhat contradictory decisions about Kuwait.
When Kuwait was suspended by the IOC and FINA jumped in line, the international federation informed Kuwait’s swimming federation that it was suspended and that athletes would be required to race under the flags of the IOC – in Olympic waters – and FINA at events organised by the aquatics body, including the showcase World Championships that get underway next week in Hungary.
Not long after, all federations were sent a position statement from the FINA executive to say that Al-Musallam would continue to serve in his role as a vice-president despite the suspension of Kuwait, despite the need of athletes to set their national flag aside when racing in international waters.
Barelli now reminds the Asian swimming federation of the facts as well-documented: he was never asked for his view on Al-Musallam and reject any notion that he agreed that the Kuwaiti’s presence was acceptable. Indeed, Barelli took his complaints about the Kuwait official over external interference in elections at the European Swimming League (LEN) last year but was blocked by Maglione and others who said he had no right to have the Ethics Panel hear his complaints.
In a highly imbalanced process, Al-Musallam insisted on having his version of events heard by the Ethics Panel before a three men that included a representative from … Kuwait. In the course of his evidence, Al-Musallam admitted that he had sought to influence the European elections.
On the day he launched his own campaign website highlight the contradictions, lack of transparency, omertà and poor decision making at the helm of FINA, Barelli rejects the use of his name linking him to the international federation’s decisions on Al-Musallam and Kuwait and states:
“I do not believe I need to once again highlight the reasons for the ineligibility of the two above mentioned individuals. The irregularity of their candidature is abundantly clear from both a political and regulatory standpoint.”
That Barelli should need to distance himself from the FINA leadership highlights the biggest block to change and improvement in world swimming: decisions are taken not only without consultation with athletes and coaches, the key stakeholders in the sport, but without even consulting the full executive nor the full Bureau of 24 delegates, let alone the committees and commissions that are supposed to furnish the FINA top table with its expertise.
At a time when Al-Musallam, Ben Ekumbo of Brazil and Coaracy Nunes of Brazil make up a trio of FINA Bureau members facing serious allegations of corruption, the FINA leadership has also been embarrassed by a series of resignations from the committees and commissions that include experts in a variety of fields.
In 2016, in the wake of the flip-flop of decisions over Russia and doping that stretched back to 2014 when a few of the FINA executive, on the eve of the crisis that rocked world sport, informed the rest of the Bureau that Vladimir Putin would be granted the international federation’s highest honour, three members of the anti-doping commission resigned because their views were ignored by the FINA leadership.
This past norther winter also witnessed the resignation from the coaches commission by Jacco Verhaeren, the Dutch coach at the helm of the Australia program. Verhaeren pointed to the same grounds on which others (this author included when it came to resigning from the media commission in 2014) had resigned: raising important issues that the FINA leadership then totally ignores, often not even deigning to send back any reply at all.
Since Barelli broke the code of Omertà that has ruled FINA for decades by raising genuine complaints about the activities of fellow executives, he has been “ostracised and left out of the decision-making process”, according to sources close to the top table of the international federation.
Barelli notes in his open letter to federations today on the way to the General Congress of FINA that will decide on July 22 whether he or Maglione, a man who has twice broken election promises made in 2009 and again in 2013 and even had his own constitutional change measures reversed in order to remain in office, will be the FINA president:
“My point of view on this matter is very clear: the lack of good governance within FINA is indeed the reason that led me to put forward my candidacy to the Presidency of FINA. This in order to promote an absolutely necessary change of behaviour, inspired by transparency and in full respect of the rules.”
Barelli’s view has won the backing of coaches and some of his fellow governors in international aquatics. Norway’s Sven Egil Folvik noted on social media:
“I agree with you, Paolo. To elect a candidate from a suspended Federation must for sure be against the FINA constitution. It’s also against the common sense.”
Folvik highlights the fact that such intrigue has gone on for many years when he states:
“The word at large elections in 2009 has absolutely some parallels to what is the case in 2017. Then also some from Europe started their election campaign against the recommendation from the LEN congress. The difference in 2009 was that the two candidates recommended from the European congress withdraw before the elections took place in Rome.”
“I respect you for your fight for democracy and transparency in FINA. I wish you good luck at the coming congress in Budapest.”
Barelli’s Open Letter in Full, headed:
“POLITICAL INTERFERENCE BY FINA OFFICIALS AND OFFICERS GOES ON”
Dear National Federations Presidents, Dear FINA Family Members, Dear Friends,
The letter of 6 July 2017 sent by Mr. Virenda Nanayati, Sr. Vice President AASF, to the FINA Members, is extremely surprising and bewildering.
Such letter aims at justifying the candidacy of Mr. Husain Al Musallam as both AASF Bureau and FINA 1st Vice President, as well as that of Mr. Sheikh Khalid Al Bader Al Sabah as AASF President.
I do not believe I need to once again highlight the reasons for the ineligibility of the two above mentioned individuals. The irregularity of their candidature is abundantly clear from both a political and regulatory standpoint.
It is worth reminding that Kuwait Swimming has been suspended by FINA since 2015 and that the current Kuwait Federation has not endorsed such candidatures.
Nonetheless, I must intervene regarding the fact that the representative of AASF, Mr. Virendra Nanavati, has mentioned my name twice in his letter, trying to make me part of the (wrong) decision taken by FINA allowing the candidacy of two members of the suspended Federation of Kuwait.
I have always considered this irregular and in complete contrast with the current FINA rules regarding the candidature to FINA positions (or to one of its Continental Organizations, AASF) by any individual who is part of a National Federation suspended by FINA.
I believe that the procedures put in place by FINA to allow such irregular candidatures are in contrast with the current FINA Constitutional rules, and, this was also confirmed by the legal representatives of FINA during official proceedings.
My point of view on this matter is very clear: the lack of good governance within FINA is indeed the reason that led me to put forward my candidacy to the Presidency of FINA.
This in order to promote an absolutely necessary change of behaviour, inspired by transparency and in full respect of the rules.
The most serious fact included in the letter sent by the representative of AASF, Mr. Virendra Nanavati, and that I want to strongly denounce, appears in the second to last paragraph “…in addition to the recommendation Asia has extended in respect of Mr. Vladimir Salnikov (RUS) e Mr. Erik Van Heijningen (NLD) for FINA Bureau membership Europe – World at large”.
It must be clear that LEN, the FINA European Organization, has already decided with regards to the two candidates of Europe for the at large positions: they are Mr. Fernando Carpena (ESP) and Mrs. Christa Thiel (GER).
The vocation of some Continental FINA Officials and Officers to politically interfere is already universally known, and this, in total disregard of the principles of neutrality and hence acting irregularly. I think that Mr. Virendra Nanavati, has once again shown and confirmed this attitude with his letter.
How is it possible that a FINA Continental Organization (which is a part of FINA!!!) takes the liberty to interfere in the choices of the representatives of another Continent to be voted for to the FINA Bureau? How is it possible that such nasty behaviours, which we have already experienced in the past and were denounced one year ago, can still happen, and even worse, are still allowed to happen?
Perhaps Mr. Virendra Nanavati is not fully aware of the content and the implications of the letter he signed. Possibly, he only put his signature on this letter, perhaps written by someone else above him, who wants to take over the World of Aquatics, whilst choosing to remain in the shadows.
I am sure that each individual National Federations of AASF do not really know the details of this matter, and I deem their behaviour to be absolutely correct.
However, the invitation to vote in this manner, officially promoted by the leadership of AASF, is a blatant and very serious case of interference. It shows, once again, that within FINA we are missing a responsible leader who can keep things under control and lead our Aquatic Family with authority and clarity.
It is important that all Member Federations reflect over this serious problem. This is seriously jeopardizing the success reached over the years by FINA, mainly thanks to the great and irreplaceable commitment of the National Federations, the Athletes and the Coaches.
For any additional information on my electoral programme, please also visit my website www.paolobarelli2017.com
Ligue Européenne de Natation (LEN)
Italian Swimming Federation (FIN)
Candidate for the FINA Presidency