How FINA’s Reporting Lines Run Against The Tide Of True Athlete Representation

Lane lines - photo by Patrick B. Kraemer

Editorial

The SwimVortex Safe Sport Series

As part of our series, SwimVortex sent questions to various parties, including coaches, official bodies, advocates and athlete who represent athletes. The latter include athletes within the House of FINA. They are a long way from the realm and scandals of USA Gym, the responsibilities of USOC and even what USA Swimming’s leadership must answer to when it comes to abuse that unfolded on their watch.

The purpose of asking the FINA athletes committee for its view on serious issues that directly affect the welfare and safety of the athletes they supposedly represent was two-fold:

  • to gain deeper understanding of how much those athlete representatives feel on issues that, without a shadow off a doubt, directly affect the health, welfare and safety of athletes
  • to gain deeper understanding of how much those athlete representatives feel empowered and able to respond to serious issues unfolding in aquatic sports

The answers – grateful as we are to receive them at a time when FINA is top of the league of organisations that simply ignore media, coaches, athletes, stakeholders, when the questions are not to their liking – fall well shy of demonstrating that athlete representation is in the hands of independent people prepared to put up a vigorous fight in the interests of those they represent, regardless of whether that causes FINA’s leadership to sulk and stamp their collective feet or not. The answers also tell us that the athletes feel protected in their roles provided they don’t stray from the play pen any has out them in. The controlling hand is all too visible. Not good.

There are two rays of hope and light:

  1. the note from athletes places far more weight in explaining its in-house position and what I would call a cage than it does to providing reasonable answers to the questions posed. Change starts with awareness.
  2. facilities rules do indeed count and must count if athlete safety and welfare are to count, the athlete representatives indicate, despite an official view from FINA that world records can be set in pools of any depth, regardless of any danger to swimmers, regardless of rules that set out, on the advice of experts in safety what the minimum depth of any pool that complies with FINA Minimum Pool Standards – must be.

In general, the answers show a lack of awareness on some issues and highlight that athlete representation in its current form falls very far shy of where it needs to be. Clearly, it cannot be left to athletes who feel they are not so much representing athletes as a priority in all cases, regardless of how challenging those may be, as they are representing the House of FINA and feel that that means “collaboration” not confrontation, even when confrontation is likely to be the only way that athletes will be best served.

Penny Heyns and Britta Kamrau, the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Athletes’ Committee, confirming that they have yet to put the questions sent by SwimVortex to the wider committee they lead, note that, while they appreciate that Safe Sport is the important issue at hand, they are, nonetheless, part of the House of FINA and feel that their role is not to challenge but to coollaborate:

“The AC is able to engage in communication without prior FINA consent, however, for the sake of clarity, we are part of FINA and not an independent body representing the athletes as a counterpart to FINA. We can only be effective in strongly promoting athletes interests (as we see them) including but not limited to welfare, safety and health if we work in collaboration with the respective committees and FINA Bureau.”

The obvious questions, rhetorical in the current environment and structure of swimming governance, are: “What happens when you fundamentally disagree with a FINA leadership that either ignores you or, if while paying attention, says ‘our decision is final’ on an issue that has a direct and in your view negative influence on and consequence for athlete safety?”; “How then do you represent athletes; to whom do you turn?”

Key solutions, some of them raised in poignant and powerful fashion by Nancy Hogshead-Makar in San Jose yesterday as she highlighted that the issue is one pertinent to all Olympic sports,  are both very clear and bound to be unpalatable to FINA and all such bodies:

  • FINA should have no hand nor say in which athletes represent athletes
  • Athlete representation should be professional and independent
  • FINA and such bodies must change their rules in keeping with the tide: they must deal with athlete representatives from outside their house, with people they have no control over
  • The same principles should apply to coaches
  • FINA should agree to having seats, with votes, at the top table for those representing athletes and coaches own an independent basis to avoid precisely what the athletes point to: they are in-house and therefore unable to represent athletes when the heat is on and the leadership rejects the demands of athletes, leaving those in-house representatives between the devil and the deep blue sea.

To avoid those issues is to leave athletes sitting at a table with the likes people there for decades and who knew about the recommendations of a USA Swimming ‘Abuses Committee’ since 1991 but did nothing to make the Safe Sport program forced into being in 2010 a part of preventative measures designed to ensure a safe and healthy environment for athletes.

The SwimVortex Safe Sport Series – so far:

Questions sent out this week to pertinent parties:

Answers provided:

 

 

Safe Sport- Editorial: The answers, sincere as they may be – and having highlighted a clear dividing line when it comes to Facilities rules that do indeed count and must count if athlete safety and welfare counts – are, on the whole not encouraging. The answers also highlight that athlete representation in its current form falls very far shy of where it needs to be. Clearly, it cannot be left to athletes who feel they are not so much representing athletes as a priority in all cases, regardless of how challenging those may be, as they are representing the House of FINA and feel that that means “collaboration” not confrontation, even when confrontation is likely to be the only way that athletes will be best served.

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