FINA Future Part 5: House Of Representatives Instead Of Swimming’s Game Of Thrones?

On Golden Thrones: FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu exchanges views with the then only woman on the FINA Bureau, Margo Mountjoy in Doha, 2014 - by Patrick B. Kraemer

In the fifth part of our “FINA Future” series, we consider what kind of changes would be needed to make the international federation’s top table and decision-makers more representative of the swimming constituency they serve

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In the fifth part of our “FINA Future” series, we consider what kind of changes would be needed to make the international federation’s top table and decision-makers more representative of the swimming constituency they serve



FINA- “Water is our world because we have the spines of jellyfish.”

As for the Russians, there are credible allegations that their athletics programs are now thinking that WADA doping bans just don’t apply to Putin’s chosen athletes:

This is the country running our World Championships next year?

Clive Rushton

Im half way through the reading but I couldn’t resist posting immediately: FINA – a petrol station. Just beautiful.

Clive Rushton

Of course, resolution of the current issues revolves around the concept of the tipping point. ‘They’ don’t appear to appreciate, or even see, the emergence of whole series of these issues which concern their constituency. In fact, they don’t appear to view their constituents as ‘their’ constituency but as some vaguely unimportant, bordering on irrelevant, group who keep getting in the way of their smoothly orchestrated meetings. Wouldn’t swimming be great if it wasn’t for the sulky swimmers? And complaining coaches? And malicious media who keep asking embarrassing questions?

Maybe I exaggerate. Maybe the emergency meeting in Lausanne is a sign of awareness that the gravy train is shuddering and in danger of hitting the buffers or bumpers. Maybe …


The PetroFina reference is very amusing but it’s also interesting. During the 1960’s when every other company in the industry was selling ‘tigers in your tank’ and “improved gas mileage” FINA decided it was a great idea to promote themselves as “exactly as good as the best” and sell ‘Pink Air’ which prevented tires from deteriorating. That kind of blinkered, misguided, head-in-the-clouds, woolly-minded leadership and management seemed somewhat akin in detachment from reality in the petroleum FINA as it currently is in the watery FINA.

The lack of empathetic consideration for the ‘real’ sport of swimming (outside the gilded halls and offstage of the gilded thrones – what odds are on for exchanging the presidential chain of office for a crown?), the lack of transparency, and the continual attempts to avoid evaluation and accountability (except in the marvelous case of having to take the shine off the silly suits), are reminiscent of Vito Corleone laying down his command, “Never tell anyone outside the family what you’re thinking …” Goodfellas all, eh?

Diving should be allied with gymnastics. Diving has nothing in common with swimming except that swimmers use gymnastic movements when changing direction. The water is only used to break a diver’s fall; it is not part of their ‘performance, it is merely a safety aid. Synchronised swimmers use the water and use it exceptionally skilfully but, as you say, their performances are judged, not measured. They use the same physical facility as swimmers but in a different configuration. Rock groups reconfigure sporting arenas for their performances and I hear no one promoting a common governance and management model for soccer and music.

Swimming, in its tripartite guises – pool, including Masters, and open water – sit together, they make ‘common’ sense. Water polo, diving and synchro should break away and each form their own governing body.

So, corporate models: I really like the concept of a shadow cabinet formed from the 11-20th ranked counties. That keeps things much more honest. And the honesty revolves around one, simple concept; if you want to be part of the governing elite then swim faster. What could reflect the true values of our sport better than that? And, as you say, you can sit at the table and look your major opposition straight in the eye. Of course the world travel and the comfortable hotels and the reasonable expenses have to continue because we are a world sport and we need to operate at the highest levels of government and commerce, but these should be earned benefits. Presently they seem to be viewed as entitlements.

The nutrients at the bottom of the lily pond are feeding the wrong organisms. Lilies are beautiful but weeds and other parasites steal the nutrients and divert them away from the millions of plants, fish and other creatures which make up the pond and allow the lilies to float and display their beauty. The pond deteriorates. The fish and plants die. Eventually the lilies wither and that is what is happening inside the FINA lily pond.

Paraphrasing ‘something I made earlier’: Water is our world indeed, but if FINA want to continue to live in ‘their’ world (it’s not really theirs, is it?) they had better respect the water and the watery inhabitants. Because the water ‘rules the waves’ so to speak (a t-shirt opportunity if ever I saw one), FINA needs to develop empathy with it; FINA needs to understand its motivations and problems; FINA needs to acknowledge ‘where the water is coming from’! Water wants a quiet life; it gets whipped around by the wind and trashed when gravity forces it to descend through a waterfall; it foams when crashing onto rocks or when being cleaved, or worse still, shattered, by a super-tanker or speedy speedboat, or by an unsympathetic swimmer, but, when left alone, it settles into a peaceful, flat, contented state where it can while away its days knowing that its place in the Universe is secure and eternal. If you disturb it, it’s going to fight back, it’s going to resist, and it’s going to stop in its tracks whatever is disrupting its equilibrium.

Surely FINA doesn’t want “its” world to be stopped in its tracks. If FINA want a calm surface on their pond they had better wake up and smell the lilies. I don’t, however, see the change – and it is wholesale culture change that is required – being successfully brought about through the current ‘democratic’ model of one vote per member country. It’s just not going to happen. Tipping point may come to tearing point.


Off topic.

Craig, please are you able to check with your friends at FINA about the Qualification times for Rio? I thought they would be out in December.

Many thanks.

Craig Lord

In the works TommyL – will come back when i have the info…

Clive Rushton


The problem with coaches’ involvement in political ‘stuff’ is two-fold. 1. They are very busy guys but then so are a lot of other people. 2. Their heads are bursting with ‘real’ swimming and, even when they’re not at the pool they are continually thinking about ways to make the following day’s training swifter, higher and stronger.

A very good friend of mine retired some years ago and has been a constant source of electronic ‘conversation’ and communication in the intervening period. If I asked a question, or requested a critique of an idea, the response was usually within 24 hours and it was considered and thoughtful. However, a few months ago he took a temporary role back on deck to help out his club. Now he is, to all effects and purposes, incommunicado. He has immersed himself wholeheartedly to the immense benefit of his swimmers and I am the loser! Poor me.

Coaches are like that. They are single minded, they are dedicated, they are committed to their purpose – helping, encouraging swimmers swim faster. For the most part political machinations don’t press their buttons.

Which brings me to WSCA: The World Swimming Coaches Association is a defunct organization. It was great on paper. In practice it is useless. The American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) kindly offered to take on the organizational, leadership and administrative roles when WSCA was formed and grandiose documents were produced. Then nothing. No other organization has taken up the mantle. ASCA were to be congratulated for kick-starting the Association, but now? Nothing. From anyone.

The ASCA website ( devotes some pages of its site to a list of member’s countries and a statement of membership ‘benefits’. The pages don’t look as if they’ve been updated since January 2013; two years ago. In other words, the WSCA is a defunct organization.

The benefits are listed as:
1. “The WSCA represents YOUR interests as a coach at the highest levels of the sport, the FINA organization. (Three Board members of WSCA, including a former President, are also members of the FINA Coaches Commission.)”

Well, Craig has been very clear in the effectiveness of the FINA Coaches Commission.

The benefit numbering stops at ‘1’ but there are bullets:

“WSCA is a professional coaching credential recognizing all national coaching credentials, on a universal basis, in every swimming country around the world.”

That convoluted sentence beggars belief. Should WSCA really recognize ALL coaching certification and accreditation models in every country? Are they all equally comprehensive and robust? Are any of them what they should be? Do any of them actually teach and educate and contribute to the development of coaches in the fundamental truths of the amazingly complex watery world of swimming? It would appear not.

Some months ago Vern Gambetta posted on his blog “ranting” (his word) about the younger generation of coaches who were following “these people who have never had to put their ass on the line and get a team or an individual ready to compete but they know it all.”

Vern’s blog was answered by Bill Sweetenham who specifically identified two of the swimming world’s leading nations saying their educational practices were, “a diseased approach.”

Back to WSCA: “You get a bi-monthly educational bulletin, the WSCA Newsletter emailed directly to you.”

No you don’t. The newsletter ended with the third edition of 2012 which led with a reprint of a conference talk from 9 years previously.

“You get a DAILY swim news bulletin emailed to you, to keep you totally current on developments in swimming around the world, each day.”

No you don’t.

“You get access to Member prices with the American, Australian and UK Coaches Association website stores.”

Maybe you do, but I doubt it and there is no UK Coaches Association (it’s Great Britain).

And then the WSCA benefits page ends with a plea for membership in order to “build the political base of coaches.”

The calendar section of the WSCA pages ends at November 2013. The latest newsletter is dated May 2013.

When you click on the link to the September 2009 Board minutes (only two Board minutes are “linked”) you get the minutes of the RSA Coaches Association AGM.

The Board of Directors is listed for 2009-13 and includes one member who has unfortunately passed on.

‘Why’ any organization should be a member of WSCA is answered by:

a) Participate in the most effective advocacy group in the world of swimming coaches.
b) Help make decisions that affect our sport worldwide.
c) Strengthen the coaching profession world-wide.
d) Have a vote in the WSCA General Assembly, held once per quadrennium, at the Gold Medal Clinic.
e) Be eligible to have one of your members serve on the WSCA Board.
f) Receive WSCA newsletters and daily information to share with your national members.
g) Support the organization that represents you within FINA.

I am sure I don’t need to comment on those tempting offers.

Then: How to join: Send a cover letter and a check for $500 (US) annual membership* to: ….

Membership for individuals has since become free but the web site hasn’t been updated.

We have to get our own house in order. If we do then maybe, just maybe, we will start to develop our “political base”. If we don’t then we deserve to be fed the sparse diet of corn broadcast by those who sit on thrones.

Craig Lord

Excellent points Clive … indeed, it would all have to be on a much more professional and sustained basis and the coaching fraternity would have to find leaders to stand for positions and work at roles beyond their daily commitments (as you note, few will or could). Your last note cuts to the chase: if coaches are happy to put up with what they’ve got they will indeed have made the bed they must lie on… if not, they have to find a way to be represented at world governance level by peers who have the time and will to change their world for the better.
I name “WSCA” just as “WSA” as nominal entities — WSCA would have to be a global version of ASCA, of course, as you suggest. And part of why ASCA is effective comes down to the fact that USA Swimming works with and values coaches and coaching, considers it an essential ingredient, tool, asset, etc.


FINA’s membership more or less reflects the globe and because most of the world is corrupt and undemocratic FINA inevitably adopts the same culture as do the IOC, FIFA and IAAF. Rorts, favours and poor governance are the norm in all these organizations. Sad but true.

There are many excellent suggestions here to make the governing body more democratic, transparent and accountable. However, the cultural problems that exist are so serious that the sport can only be saved if the leading swimming nations formed a new organization. There are just too many vested interests not to mention the complicating factor of FINA acting as the peak body of sports other than swimming.

It is a matter of urgency because the sporting landscape is a tough, competitive place. I don’t have hard data to prove it, but there is no doubt in the minds of people who have followed the sport for many years that it is falling further and further behind – whether you measure it by fan interest, media attention or corporate dollars.

Swimming needs better quality people at the top. Start by widening the gene pool. Yes, give representation to swimmers, coaches and the national federations but best practice suggests roughly one half of the board should be appointed for their achievements outside of swimming. The sport needs men and women who view a board seat as a further challenge in their careers rather than as some kind of reward or prize. Of course, they must share the common goal of wanting to see the sport grow but their real contribution will be their independence and the different skills and insights they bring.

It doesn’t matter if they were the CEO of a public company, partner-in-charge of a major consulting firm, government Minister….. What matters is that they should have a record of success and because they were high-flyers in their fields they are not dazzled by the trappings that go with the role or feel overwhelmed heading a large, diverse organization.

Swimming needs board members who understand strategic planning and know how to set ambitious but achievable goals. They will ensure a talented CEO is appointed who is assisted by good quality people in finance, marketing, administration etc. They will use their skills and experience to support and assist the full-time executives they have picked to do the day-to-day work and hold them accountable if they fail to perform

Does the current FINA bureau possess those kinds of skills? Will they ever move to create a governing body that is modern, efficient and representative of its true stakeholders? I don’t think so.

Craig Lord

Quite so, longstroke. Agree with those sentiments and thoughts, including the need to cast the net wide. The sport is at a watershed: it can stick with what exists and fall further behind, with all risks associated with pegging your world and financial model to people and places with scant connection with elite swimming; it can try to move FINA in the direction along the lines suggested here by you, me and others, thoughts in line with those being discussed by several key players out there in the world; or the main swim nations, led by the USA, must come to a point where they opt for the first choice or make a new start, which will dictate a period of pain for at leads one Olympic cycle but under the right circumstances could be achieved fairly quickly (FINA is nothing if it loses the bulk of the best 50 swimmers in the world across all events, for example). FINA and swimming as we know it is all but in its last-chance saloon.


Craig, we all agree the current voting system is at the root of all problems. Your suggestion that a majority of the bureau or board come from the world’s top ten swimming nations is an excellent one. I was thinking the same outcome could be achieved by weighting the voting system based on the number of registered swimmers in each nation.

The people who sit at the top table should have technical expertise and understand the ethos of the sport but wider business skills are also important. That’s why once elected, the board should appoint a number of leaders who are skilled in finance, marketing and administration to sit alongside them. But will it ever happen under the current structure? It’s a bit like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

The leading swimming nations should just bite the bullet and form a new organization.

Steve Levy

Craig, while I’m going to have to re-read this a few times to pick up on all the nuances, one thing did immediately stand out:

“FINA sees itself as a brand”

Craig, in order for something to be a brand, it must have some inherent value for which companies are willing to pay a fee in return for some “financial” outcome be it monetary or goodwill.

IMO, there are 2 definitive “global” brands in swimming (and with no disrespect intended to other countries with their unequivocal swimming superstars): Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin.

FINA takes bids and the “awards” that go with them, for consumer brands to have access to individuals whose brands in turn are used for influence and revenue. FINA is functioning like old-style bankers who take pride in claiming that they give their customers 0.8% interest on their accounts when the bankers are using the money to get 10-15%+ on their own investments.

When a new FINA is formed, one of their first hires should be the hiring of a CMO who has actually built and managed true global brands.

(I’ll comment on other elements later)

Craig Lord

Steve. Thanks – I agree – and your point about bankers and percentages is spot on … and one of the reasons no-one should be too impressed with world cup prizes etc… they could be better, more meaningful and they could be better distributed to the wider benefit of the sport (of course, the whole event should be uprooted and transformed, regardless of what money is there and how it should be distributed, for one of the other main reasons you mention – if the key brands of the sport are not even there, year after year after year, then ‘world cup’ stretches a point to ‘breaking’)

Steve Levy

Craig, I’v tried to read their “financial reports” to figure out FINA’s admin load; this would be an interesting figure.

The IOC’s Marketing material ( – Chapter 2 is Marketing) claims that they “[retain] less than 10% of Olympic marketing revenue to help cover the operational and administrative costs of governing the Olympic Movement.”

Here’s what I’d like to see FINA disclose; this is from Charity Navigator (I selected one of the “orgs” identified as Top Notch:

BTW, anyone you know buying swim caps with the FINA logo on them to display at home?


Is there any clause in the Constitution which limits the number of people and how long they can serve for on FINA Commissions?

If not, and I know an amendment like that will never get passed, limiting these kinds of things might be good way to get some fresh air through the doors of FINA to prevent it becoming an old gentleman’s club.

Craig Lord

No, correspondent, no such rule … and no rule proper and no adherence to the rules that are there, either, when it comes to how people are elected to committees and commissions.

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