A fault line has opened up between athletes, coaches on one side and federations on the other when it comes to holding FINA’s feet to the fire on anti-doping (not to mention other issues). Here is a thread of communication and appeal attached that speaks to the schism between clean sport and the lack of determination in swimming governance to have FINA follow the pathway of the IAAF and get to grips with issues that are as much a cancer in the pool as they are on track and in field.
Guest Editorial – John Leonard, Executive Director Of The American Swimming Coaches Association
Apologists will say that USA Swimming has no more responsibility for “fixing” the “doping issue” than any other national federation. I say that USA Swimming is the historically strongest swimming program in the history of the sport. If we don’t lead the fight, no one else will sign on to challenge FINA. Do we lead or “go along to get along?”.
The following feedback from George Block, President of the World Swimming Coaches Association, following the January meeting of the International Relations Committee Meeting of USA Swimming, tells a significant story.
John, Sitting in the IRC meeting last Friday felt a bit like the Twilight Zone. Bill Bock, the General Counsel for the USADA, gave one of the most sobering and damning testimonies I have ever heard (if I don’t count you). You and Don were there, so I don’t need to go in to great detail, but what I heard was Mr. Bock eloquently explaining, in great detail, how the “Russian Crisis” of the past 4 years demonstrated the “abject failure” of the international anti-doping system. Then he got specific.
He said that FINA needs to get serious about anti-doping. He said that, “It has never been more obvious how sport institutions have failed our athletes.” Most damning to the traditional USA Swimming approach, he said, “This is not a time for incremental change.” He asked everyone in the room to be willing to re-think the way they have done things in the past (Did the Board create an action plan the next day or charge Mike and Tim with anything?) and to “Be willing to make others feel uncomfortable.” That is something USA Swimming has never wanted to do.
Bill also stated the obvious. He said there has been a complete “failure of will” by the IOC to run a legitimate process. For a deliberate attorney like Mr. Bock to question the IOC’s legitimacy was stunning. (I think only you have done this in the past.)
I was completely unaware that FINA outsourced all its drug testing to IDTM and that IDTM’s lack of connection to the sport (and anything other than a paycheck) have allowed many violations to be overturned. Mr. Bock pointed out many instances where IDTM demonstrated a lack of professionalism, a lack of oversight and a lack of management. He said that this was not corrected in the FINA office, because there is no one in the FINA office with any expertise in anti-doping. FINA has no testing of its own, no collection of its own, no investigators of its own and no prosecutors of its own. According to Mr. Bock, that is deliberate.
Now, FINA will face incredible pressure to join the new, IOC-run Independent Testing Authority. As he pointed out to us, the ITA is anything but independent. It’s board is made up of 1/2 IOC board members. We are back-to-the-future with the fox guarding the henhouse again. The IOC has been embarrassed by the constant stream of Russian revelations and now it is shutting them down, along with all others in the future. They are all about protecting their brand, not their athletes.
Bill did hold out some (faint) hope. He said that the IAAF (the IF for track and field) is doing it right. They have formed a completely independent Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU). It is independent both because it is not a part of the IAAF’s governing structure and it has a guarantee of significant funding well in to the future. Their AIU will completely run the IAAF’s anti-doping, anti-corruption and anti-bribery efforts. They will have their own testing, investigators and prosecutors – all independent of the IAAF. This is the model that Bill said FiNA should adopt, while rejecting the fraudulent ITA.
Finally, he pointed out what you have been pounding on for years, “The athletes have the power.” In order to use that power, they will have to be organized domestically, then internationally. To date, that has been an uphill battle.
I have attached a DRAFT memo to the WSCA Board. I would like to get your and Don’s take on it. Please edit away. If Don agrees, I would ask him to either copy the final product exactly, so the ASCA and WSCA can be completely in step, or draft one of his own for the ASCA Board. Bill Bock’s urgency got my attention. I don’t know if it got USA Swimming’s attention. I think the first step we could take would be to have simultaneous press releases to the world swimming media stating our mutual positions on this issue. Please review it ASAP and let me know what you both think.
This may be the right moment to do something. Three years ago (?) when you gave the exact same message to the exact same group (the IRC), the person who publicly called you a “liar,” looked near to tears sitting next to Mr. Bock. This probably isn’t the time for an “I told you so,” but Bill certainly got the group to accept a message that you have been futilely trying to deliver for 2 decades. He was probably a better messenger, but your message has been received. I think now, both the ASCA and the WSCA should get behind Mr. Bock and support an independent integrity unit for FINA, while rejecting the (non)-ITA smokescreen from the IOC.
Waiting to hear from you, George
Coach Block then sent the below to the members of the World Swimming Coaches Association Board of Directors In February:
The “Russia Crisis” that has loomed from Sochi, through Rio and now, on to PyeongChang has clearly demonstrated that the IOC is not interested in either Clean Sport or Fair Sport. The current “solution” being proposed, the Independent Testing Authority (ITA) is clearly not the solution.
We should have recognized that when the first positive response came from TASS (the official Russian news agency). As it turns out, the ITA will be neither Independent, nor an Authority. Everything in the IOC press release announcing the establishment of the ITA sounds good, until the vague statement in point 11: “The ITA board to include representatives from public authorities (governments that fund the ITA), the Olympic Movement (the IOC) and WADA as well as elected athlete representatives.:
As of today, the ITA board is 50% government representatives (for whom this is the last thing on their to-do list) and 50% IOC board members (for whom this allows control of Olympic anti-doping efforts). We are back to the “fox guarding the hen house.”
What the world has witnessed over the past four years is the “abject failure of the international anti-doping system,” according to Bill Bock, the General Counsel of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). There is nothing we can do to affect the IOC. They make sure of that. There is something we can do to affect FINA. It is also extremely difficult, but if the world acts together – now – it can be accomplished.
FINA needs to get serious about anti-doping. The IAAF, the International Federation for Track and Field, developed an independent “Athletics Integrity Unit.” This unit will be completely independent of the IAAF governance structure, but with long-term, guaranteed funding. It will handle anti-doping, as well as bribery, corruption, conflicts of interest, and more. It will have jurisdiction over anything that threatens the integrity of the sport. This is the model that FINA should follow.
Swimming should not become a part of the (non)-ITA. There will be massive pressure from the IOC on FINA to join, but it should not. FINA should create its own Swimming Integrity Unit that is completely independent of the FINA government structure with a committed, long-term funding structure.
Instead of going along with the fraud that is the (non)-ITA, FINA should insist on fully funding and supporting the independence of WADA, while forming its own SIU. Every coach and athlete should be contacting their own National Federation to insist that their federation supports real independence, by not succumbing to IOC pressure, but instead, following the example of Track and Field and forming our own SIU.
As ASCA director, II now appeal to American coaches who would like to help. Here’s how to do that:
- Send an email to USA-SWIMMING PRESIDENT JIM SHEEHAN at SheehanJJ@optonline.net
- Copy Coach Block at GeorgeBlock511@yahoo.com
- Ask President Sheehan to stand up to FINA and demand that FINA form an integrity unit based on the IAAF model of independence, so we can protect our athletes from those who cheat with drugs.
Editorial NB: Repeat points 1 to 3 in every domestic situation of every leading swimming nation, whether you think this is something remorse from your situation now or not. It takes just one world-class swimmer in any one program; it takes just one child aspiring to that status for this to be relevant to all coaches the world over – and parents, too. CL