Paolo Barelli Challenges Julio Maglione & A Stale Status Quo For Presidency Of FINA

Battle of the FINA Bureau (clockwise from top left): Dale Neuburger, Husain Al Musallam, Paolo Barelli and Erik Van Heijningen


Paolo Barelli, the head of the European Swimming League (LEN) and member of the FINA executive, is to challenge for the presidency of the international federation, SwimVortex has been told.

The deadline for nominations to FINA’s top positions and places on the global governing body’s commissions and committees passed last weekend but not before Barelli, Honorary Secretary of FINA, got his name on the ballot paper for a battle with the 81-year-old incumbent Julio Maglione, say sources in the corridors of world swimming power.

The former Italian senator’s move follows hot on the heels of his challenge to the FINA leadership at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in which he alleges that his fellow executives erred under their own rules when they refused to refer his complaints against two vice-presidents to the Ethics Panel for adjudication.

In response to that refusal, Barelli took his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Barelli Vs FINA. The arguments underlining that challenge are set out in a two-part look at the Italian’s case against Dale Neuburger, of the United States, and Husain Al Musallam, of Kuwait.

In the midst of the argument, SwimVortex understands, is a plea from Barelli for the current president of FINA, Julio Maglione, of Uruguay, to allow his complaints to be heard by the Ethics Panel. “That was, the issues could be settled in-house and there need be no embarrasing headlines for FINA,” says a source.

Maglione, 82 this year, moved against Barelli in an executive vote to keep the Ethics Panel from hearing the cases.

Maglione’s troubles in the impending fight with Barelli are manyfold, including the fact that the governance review firm Carrard Consulting SA and the FINA Ethics Panel have both pointed out to the FINA leadership that the FINA Constitution and the Code of Ethics are in conflict when it comes to when and why any complaint can be judged on ethical grounds by the Ethics Panel.

Carrard has recommended that the Ethics Panel decide for itself which cases to judge, based on its own preliminary inquiries, without the need for the FINA executive to be involved. That recommendadtion has been described by one senior lawyer as “a very wise suggestion, especially in cases that involve arguments within the executive, the potential for a conflict of interets there for everyone to see”.

FINA in focus: Julio Maglione, top right, is the latest in a line of federation presidents going back to George Hearn in 1908

Among Maglione’s other troubles is a broken promise. In 2009 he came to the top seat of FINA on a campaign pledge of staying for one term only and reducing the full term of any future president to two-terms only. This July he will stand for a third term as an 81-year-old who would be 85-going-on-86 come the 2021 elections, six years older than the age limit set for IOC member status.

FINA’s leadership is under immense pressure: beyond the two vice-presidents who face complaints in the case before CAS, two members of the ruling Bureau are currently under police arrest on corruption charges related to the Olympic Games. Ben Ekumbo is under investigation in Kenya, while Coaracy Nunes Filho is under investigation in Brazil.

The battle for the FINA leadership about to begin coincides with moves outside the organisation to establish the World Swimming Association as an alternative global body for swimming governance. A series of questionable decisions by the FINA leadership in recent years included awarding Vladimir Putin its highest honour on the cusp of the doping crisis and despite warning from the World Swimming Coaches Association that Moscow was not a fit place for anti-doping controls to be conducted for the 2015 world championships.

Those issues and a lack of response to a request from major stakeholders in the sport for the international federation to submit to an independent review of its structures, processes and finances triggered the move to find FINA alternatives.

Maglione represents the FINA status quo, while Barelli has also been at the helm of decision making, too. Of late, however, sources tell SwimVortex that the Italian has been “cut out of the loop and … ostracised” by fellow executives. Omerta has been broken, a case is before the CAS and FINA’s status quo has a fight on its hands.

The battle is not from outside this time. It comes from a group of people inside the international federation keen to press for new direction at the helm of a global body that has not been led by a delegate from a major swimming nation for almost 30 years.

Thomas Bach, IOC president, with Sheik and FINA’s Julion Maglione – courtesy of Jens Weinreich

Should Maglione win in July, he may then give way to the FINA first president, Al Musallam. The position of first-president was only created in the past two years and is believed to be part of a Kuwaiti succession plan at a time when Kuwait is actually serving a suspension from the IOC, FINA and a swathe of other international federations over allegations of political interference in the running of Olympic business in the country.

Barelli, meanwhile, carries weight with nations in Europe that have 104 votes, about  a quarter of all votes, at the FINA Congress in Budapest on the eve of the World Championships this July.

Until now, it had been a one-horse race. The campaigning in a wholly different election is about to begin.

Sources close to the helm of FINA told SwimVortex this evening: “Maglione is livid and has refused to take Barelli’s calls since the weekend. The message will be that Maglione is happy about the challenge – but he is isn’t at all happy. This is war.”

SwimVortex has sent Maglione two requests for comment on the challenge at CAS in the past two weeks but he has not replied. Barelli was not available for comment this evening.



Paolo Barelli, the head of the European Swimming League (LEN) and member of the FINA executive, is to challenge for the presidency of the international federation, SwimVortex has been told. The former Italian senator’s move against incumbent Julion Maglione, the Uruguayan who broke his 2009 campaign pledge to stay for one term only and set rules of a two-term limits for future presidents, follows hot on the heels of his challenge to the FINA leadership at the Court of Arbitration for Sport


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