In a three-part feature and editorial on the latest moves by the FINA leadership to convince the world that it is on the right path, we start with Machiavelli, take a glance at the difference between professional sport and swimming and hark the sound of silence from swimming bosses
A few weeks ago a young fellow Brit named Nick Dawes sought to follow SwimVortex on twitter. Always good to have keen new fans following our coverage and the sport we love. He will, however, doubtless have noticed that he was blocked almost immediately. We’re not really into welcoming anyone associated with JTA Associates: by the time young Dawes sought to follow, I had already seen the nature of the work his company had set its mind and money to – a proposal for and with FINA, the international swimming federation that is wholly supported by the board of USA Swimming.
You won’t know Nick Dawes and neither do I. I’m not keen on knowing him either. I know his name because it appears on an official document as one of those who would work on a proposal of three aims, one of which was about as likely to happen as a man from Mars beating Michael Phelps for the 400 medley crown at Beijing 2008, another bent on finding ways to ‘discredit’ FINA critics, this website included. All doomed to fail.
The JTA Associates company profile for young Dawes tells us something of his mindset. On the question of who his ‘favourite communicator’ might be, he opts for a football pundit and then reveals “But on more of a serious note, Niccolò Machiavelli was inspiring: ‘Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are’.”
Well, this journalist may not know who you really are, young Dawes, just as you do not know who I am but the editor of this site did see what your company really is about when it came to proposing that Michael Phelps serve as a poster boy for FINA’s troubled leadership and the ambitions of its president Julio Maglione to break his promise, change the constitution and stand for a third term of office.
The proposal – which came with a roll out cost ten times greater than the value FINA places on a world title in swimming this summer in Russia – was sold with Phelps as one of its pillars of strength. Trouble was, no-one had asked Michael Phelps. And guess what: the most decorated Olympian all-time won’t be playing ball.
“International sport is the world we live in. We know its people and what drives them. We understand its nuances and speak its language,” boasts JTA of its work. Everyone gets its wrong sometimes, of course, and clearly JTA neither understood the nuance, nor the man nor did it speak the language of Michael Phelps when it thought to harness his power and influence and sell a plan on that basis.
Further, the company that fans of Machiavelli (author of Il Principe and Dell’arte della guerra) work for sought to discredit those who criticise and question FINA’s poor leadership and what at times have been appalling decisions taken without reference to the full leadership group, let alone the wider membership.
Swimming’s earliest scribe was Everard Digby, who penned De Arte Natandi. He claimed swimming as an art and wrote of the natural predisposition of man in water, the source of life. Fascinating stuff for this author, who planned, penned the bulk of and edited the whole of FINA’s 100-year book, Aquatics. This season, it seems, FINA and affiliates, prefer to focus on The Art of War – and they’re not too ashamed to spend a pretty penny on propaganda.
Here’s where the proposed budget and actual spend for the exercise fits in the general scheme of things:
Dollars In The Pool
- $100m – 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
- $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 and roll-out aimed at 1, cosying up to USA Swimming (no need to spend a dollar on that given the predisposition of the board of USA Swimming and its president Jim Sheehan); 2, making Michael Phelps a poster boy for Maglione (not a cat in hell’s chance); 3, discrediting critics (what a waste of money – the truth will out, and now more than ever before in swimming, the weight of those who agree with this view from Bill Sweetenham on a scale of groaning). For just four months work that includes harnessing the name and status of USA Swimming, which is now committed to backing Julio Maglione, his broken promise and turning a blind eye to truly bad decisions taken by FINA of late, including granting the international federation’s highest honour to Vladimir Putin at a time when Russia has the worst doping record in the sport.
- $100,000 – the top prize for the World Cup winner in swimming after 16 days of gruelling competition and season upon season of dedication (Therese Alshammar was the best part of two decades into her swim career when she collected the prize, for example)
- $90,000 – two years of dedication to produce FINA’s 100-Year Book from scratch to a volume the federation could be proud of – a huge amount of work
- $23,000 – what FINA was asked to pay for the JTA proposal – a short document that could not possibly have taken more than a few days to put together (even for folk whose knowledge of swimming is highly likely to pale by comparison to that of many of you SwimVortex readers)
- $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 (and in many cases are not missing employed work; in some cases being at FINA events linking them directly with the work they are employed to do beyond the FINA event)
- $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
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 and others: the framework for a professional era among swimmers is there, lacking the governance to go with it.
FINA director Cornel 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 are all but ignored. This season, the board of USA Swimming has opted to side with the FINA leadership and set aside a call from coaches to press for serious change.
There is an argument for saying that FINA is letting athletes down, on the level of funding and – given a string of disturbing events of late (Sun Yang included) – in terms of doing all it can to hit the bullseye on another of its constitutional objectives: “to provide fair and drug free sport”.
As FINA leaders spend energy, and perhaps the federation’s 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.
The Sound of Silence
It is now 18 days since I sent Marculescu and Pedro Adrega, the head of communications for FINA, a set of questions. No reply. Perhaps they’re busy reading the complete works of Machiavelli, under the instruction of the FINA executive. Perhaps not. What I do know is that, like many of the questions unanswered by FINA, my latest requests for information are not particularly taxing if those being asked to answer are confident they’ve got it right.
Silence may well mean that FINA’s leadership has indeed consented to pay £20,000 a month for four months to roll out a plan to cosy up to USA Swimming, to get Phelps to back Maglione’s dreams of breaking his own promises so that he can president until he’s 85, to discredit, among others, John Leonard, the director of the coaching associations world and American representing 20,000 or so members worldwide.
Here’s what JTA, Marculescu and Adrega discussed as areas that FINA finds itself criticised for:
- “The close relationship between FINA and Russia – in particular giving a high-level award to Putin”
- “FINA’s perceived lack of action on doping challenges in the sport”
- “Overall governance of the sport with President Maglione seeking to stand for a third term of office having committed to two terms”
- “Perceived underinvestment at grassroots level by FINA despite significant increased revenue for the international federation”
Gosh, well, now we know. On top of the fee asked for roll out of the JTA plan, we know that the proposal document itself came with a price tag of £15,000, while “agreed expenses” would also be paid during the four months of rollout to the door of the World Championships in Kazan come August. Had FINA not known of this proposal, had FINA not paid for this proposal, then a simple “nothing to do with us, yon scribe of 100 years of FINA history” would have sufficed. Perhaps that would have been fibbing, though. Only FINA HQ and the small inner circle of folk who wish to control the agenda know, at least as yet. One day, we’ll all know, truth having the will of flora to find its way to the light.
Meanwhile, we can only speculate what the answers to my questions might be. These are not “negative questions” as JTA calls them in its proposal to FINA. They are genuine inquiries to get at the truth that the wider membership of world swimming may wish to know for the sake of deeper understanding when it comes to how their sport is run by the very public figures at the helm of it. The questions included:
- Was the proposal discussed by the FINA Executive – and was it agreed by that body to proceed with the ‘strategy’ and accept the costs involved?
- Did FINA or JTA or representatives from either approach Michael Phelps, his management or agents, or any others named in the ‘strategy’ with a view to seeking their permission to be so named?
- Does the FINA Executive feel that a ‘strategy’ and ‘tactical programme’ that seeks to “discredit” businesses and individuals is compatible with the values FINA advertises and calls on athletes and others to observe as part of its Codes of Conduct and Ethics – and the various charters and codes it is signed up to through the Olympic Movement?
And for USA Swimming I add this: is this the kind of behaviour you condone; are these the kind of men you back?
The next instalment: how the Board of USA Swimming came to love the status quo.
More reading: FINA Future – schism in swimming