The International swimming federation has finally reached the tipping point on doping. Just when you thought FINA could sink no lower, it will have Park Tae-hwan* and the asterisk he tows for falling foul of the WADA Code as ambassadors for its showcase 2019 World Championships.
Forgiveness is essential. To forget and wipe the slate clean and expect that to send the right message on clean sport is folly.
Having failed to remove any of the honours granted to GDR officials after the full poison of State Plan 14:25 was poured into the public domain in the 1990s, criminal convictions of FINA officers in the mix; having spent much of the 1990s denying there was any problem in China; having failed to secure consistency of treatment for athletes who fall foul of the WADA Code; having failed to challenge a 3-month retrospective ban on Sun Yang* that was never actually ever served; having failed to penalise a director who called Sun’s offence “minor”; and having failed to keep a singled returned doper from the waters at Rio 2016 despite the fine opportunity afforded by the Russia-focussed crisis, FINA has now made clear where it stands on those who fall foul of rules designed to keep sport clean: they simply don’t give a monkeys.
The news was released by Yonyap, the Korean news agency: Park and fellow South Korean swimmer An Se-hyeon were named honorary ambassadors for the 2019 FINA world championships today.
The meet will be held in Gwangju, 350km south of Seoul, where Park attended a hospital in 2014 and received a testosterone injection which landed him in hot water. He claimed he wasn’t told; the doctor who appeared in court said that she had made it clear to the swimmer what was in the injection granted to give a boost to an athlete feeling under the weather.
Park was Olympic 400m free champion in 2008 and claimed silver over 200m. He was the first from his country to achieve the ultimate accolade in the pool. Four years on at London 2012, he took silver in the 200m and 400m free.
At the foot of this editorial is the last article we penned before Park fought his case all the way to CAS and won the right to return to Olympic waters. He did not, of course, earn the right to be an ambassador for world swimming after having served two years in the sin bin and caused controversy during that period by training for some of the time with a coach linked to the national program, an act forbidden under WADA rules.
Today Park said:
“It’s a privilege to be an honorary ambassador for the world championships held in my home country. I’ll try to ensure the success of this competition.”
How about trying to introduce the words “clean” and “sorry” and so forth?
Park raced to FINA gold last December in the little pool. He should have left his days of winning prizes at what he picks up in the pool. Given the events that tainted his career, regardless of the arguments for an against his innocence, an ambassador for world swimming he cannot be.
The 2019 FINA world championships will take place from July 12 to 28, 2019. The meet will mark the first major global event in Korea since the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games.
Park, meanwhile, has one big thing in his favour: his remorse was genuine; he said sorry; he made a humble return and kept his head down. His best response to being invited to be an ambassador for FINA’s showcase event would have been to decline on the grounds of sending the right message in the fight for clean sport. He could have done that, attached a fine message to it and emerged with head held a touch higher.
What has happened since he spoke today is clear: he has raised the hackles of large swathes of the world swimming community that is fed up to the back teeth of watching those who fall foul of doping rules continue to prosper and be held up as heroes.
FINA should step in and ask the 2019 organisers – including its member federation from Korea – to think again. Will it?
Then again, how could it? After all, when Sun* was allowed to shine again after a positive doping ban in the same year as Park’s, 2014, he did not get the two-year ban available to FINA under the WADA Code.
In fact, China sought to impose no penalty at all. FINA said ‘but you must’, so China slapped Sun’s wrist with a three-month suspension that was never served, the swimmer having swum to three gold medals ahead of Park at the Asian Games in Korea. Irony of ironies.
Cornel Marculescu, director of FINA, when pressed by ZDF, the German TV station, at the 2015 world titles in Kazan at the height of the Russian doping crisis, had this to say on Sun*:
“You cannot condemn the stars for minor doping offences”.
The world elite swim community replied “Oh, yes you can” – and gave the director and others among FINA’s woeful top-tablers an earful of boos and jeers at Rio2016. Even as the heckling rained down on the Olympic deck like never in history before, Marculescu was to be found running up to Sun after he claimed 200m gold and hugging the Chinese controversy. He did not do the same for any of the champions with no doping asterisk in tow, like Sjostrom, Peaty, Ledecky, Phelps and others. They got no hug. Perhaps they wanted none from folk who really haven’t delivered the kind of love required.
Sun* referred to Marculescu as “a grandfather” to Chinese swimming, a realm that accounts for the worst count of doping positives, tens and tens of the steroid cases belonging to teenage girls abused by their guardians, just as revealed in the East German doping trials of the late 1990s.
Marculescu is one of the senior leadership figures of an organisation that is both promoter of “stars” and hunter of cheats as a signatory of the WADA Code. Two conflicting roles that are untenable and have nothing to do with any genuine effort to cut cheating out of swimming.
Time for Marculescu to resign. Time for FINA to fall. Time for a new start for swimming.
Time for those who care about clean sport to back the World Swimming Association and the move to grant priority where priority is due: clean athletes. More on that before the week is out and we make some changes ourselves…
Meantime, on the watch of Julio Maglione, Cormel Marculescu and others still at the helm of FINA since the 1980s:
The FINA Eminence Prize
Kornelia Ender (GDR) – 1975
Go down a peg and we have …
The FINA Prize:
Kristin Otto (GDR) – 1988
FINA Honour Plaques
- 1980 – Vitali Smirnov (URS) and Vladimir Rodichenko (URS)
Here’s Smirnov’s record:
- IOC member from 1971-2015, now an honorary member
- First Vice-Minister of Sport of the USSR (1970-1975)
- Minister of Sport of the Russian Federation (1981-1990) among other senior positions
- Executive President of the Organising Committee of the Games of the XXII Olympiad Moscow 1980 (1975- 1981)
- USSR National Olympic Committee President (1990-1992)
- President (1992-2001) then Honorary President (2001-) of the Russian Olympic Committee.
- A player in the Olympic bids of the 1990s (St. Petersburg and Sochi in early stages) which were connected to allegations of money laundering and other olympic deals.
- Involved in a costly and failed Olympic Lottery scheme that was the subject of ligitation in Russia and Switzerland
- Cited by IOC inquiry in several olympic schemes of alleged bribery (Atlanta 1996, Salt Lake City 2002)
According to a Russian historian, Mr Smirnov was also a KGB agent. As German journalist Jens Weinreich noted so well this week, the historian, Yuri Felshtinsky, wrote in his book “The KGB plays Chess”, published in 2009:
“Vitaly Smirnov, the Vice President of the International Olympic Committee and head of the NOC of the USSR, was recruited in 1978 by the deputy head of the Fifth Directorate of the KGB, Major General Ivan Abbramov.”
More FINA Honour Plaques:
- 1982 – Juan Samaranch (ESP) – IOC President and former ambassador for Spain in the Soviet Union
- 1991 – USSR Swimming Federation
And on to the Pins, gold, silver and bronze:
- Georg Zorowka (GDR) 1984; Gerhard Hecke (GDR) 1988
- Georg Zorowka (GDR) 1980; Gerhard Hecke (GDR) 1985; Lothar Kipke (GDR), 1985; Eberhard Bade (GDR), 1985; Egon Muller (GDR), 1988
A quick trawl of all pin awards 1977 to 1997 – 20 years of honour for services to aquatic sports: 210 pins handed out – 200 to men, 10 to women.
Those GDR awards were handed out during the years when State Plan 14:25 was being rolled out. Maglione, Marculescu and Co – what did you do about it since? Where is that determined stance in support of clean sport?
From the archive: 2016
The Korean Olympic Committee is to give way to Park Tae-hwan‘s appeal to be included in the nation’s team for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled in favour of the banned swimmer and crushed the status of a domestic code designed to keep those who fall foul of anti-doping rules from competing at the Games following their positive test.
At a board of directors meeting, the KOC had said that it would wait until CAS rules on Park’s earlier appeal before determining the swimmer’s fate for the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games. However, it noted that if things went in favour of Park at CAS, it would respect the court’s decision.
The ruling from CAS is now in – and so is Park Tae-hwan*, who joins a long list of swimmers back from doping suspensions and heading to the Olympic Games in Rio, including Sun Yang*, Natalia Lovtsova** and others. Russian track and fielders may be out but the Games will be heavy on those who have been found with banned substances in their blood streams. The case of another Russian, Yuliya Efimova**, is pending.
The ruling in full:
Lausanne, 8 July 2016 – The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has upheld a request for provisional measures filed by the Korean swimmer Tae Hwan Park in the course of his arbitration procedure with the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee (KOC) and the Korea Swimming Federation (KSF). The decision issued by the President of the CAS Appeals Arbitration Division means that he is eligible to be selected to swim for the Korean team in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
In March 2015, the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) imposed an 18-month period of ineligibility on Tae Hwan Park following a positive anti-doping control for testosterone. His ban started on 3 September 2014 and ended on 2 March 2016. KOC regulations prohibit an athlete from competing for the Korean national team for three years after the completion of a doping sanction. Accordingly, the KOC announced that Tae Hwan Park was not eligible for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Tae Hwan Park challenged the enforceability of such regulations before the CAS and sought an urgent ruling by 8 July 2016, the cut-off date for selection to the Korean national swimming team for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Two Sides Of The Coin – But No Profit For Clean Sport
The case has two sides: Park’s wins adds him to a wave of others who tested positive for banned substances but will race in Rio; Park’s win comes at a great cost, namely the destruction of the anti-doping strength in a domestic borderline that rules the next Olympic Games out of bounds for any Korean athlete who tests positive for banned substances, regardless of whether any international suspension ends before the Games comes round again.
CAS considered the case after Park appealed against the KOC’s rule and its holding firm on that rule in the face of repeated pleas from the swimmer, including one meeting at which the tearful Park got down on hands and knees to beg for a place at the Games.
Park raced at Olympic trials in May, his 18-month international ban having ended in March. The CAS ruling coincides with the deadline for Rio entries to arrive with FINA in Lausanne.
When Park arrives at his blocks in Rio, he will have an altered image in tow for many in swimming tired of watching those who test positive return in time for the next Olympics and prosper once more.
Meanwhile, the Seoul Eastern District Court ruled last week that Park is eligible for the national team and that the KOC has no grounds to keep him from representing the country. That ruling is not binding, say some lawyers who question the right of a local court to override the rules of the KOC.
However, Lim Sung-woo, Park’s attorney, told Yonyap, the Korean news agency:
“I think it’s regrettable that the KOC still wants to wait for the CAS ruling, even though a South Korean court has already said Park is eligible for the national team. The KOC is disregarding the court’s clear explanation that Park should be named to the national team for the Rio Olympics, regardless of the CAS ruling, and the KOC is also distorting the content of the court’s decision.”
All a matter of bureaucracy now, it seems, Park all but on the plane to Rio.
The issue cuts to the heart of the IOC/WADA/FINA “zero-tolerance” on doping. The position is highly questionable at a time when repeat offenders from Gatlin to offenders such as Sun and Park are eligible to return to racing for the ultimate prizes in Olympic sport.
The latest killer to that stance was born in 2011, when CAS ruled against the International Olympic Committee’s “Osaka Rule,” which barred athletes with a doping suspension of at least six months from competing in the following Olympics. The CAS said the Osaka Rule, adopted in 2008, was “a violation of the IOC’s own statute and is therefore invalid and unenforceable.”
Comment: Time for a new rule that does indeed bar access to the Games for those who fall foul of the WADA Code. Only that would match “zero-tolerance”. We look forward to a class-action by clean athletes being slapped on the table at CAS for the damage caused by the court returning to the Olympics those who many feel should have lost their right to be there.
- * – swimmer tested positive for banned substance in career
- ** – swimmer tested positive for banned substances on more than one occasion in career