Why Maglione Must Not Win & FINA Winner Must Not Be Tweedledum To His Tweedledee

Spot the difference - a game that FINA can no longer play at a time when only a complete overhaul will do - image by Patrick B. Kraemer


The state of swimming governance, May 2017: what follows is long but not nearly as long as the issues suggest it could be. If you care where your sport is going, try to take the time. 

The House Of FINA has got a serious case of suspected rot on its hands. Exterminators to the rescue. Clue: start in the boardroom where you find feet off the ground.

The news that Husain Al Musallam has been effectively identified in a U.S. Department of Justice indictment as a co-conspirator who allegedly paid bribes to a football official, Richard Lai, added to all else that has unfolded of late in the world of FINA, including corruption charges laid against two other members of the FINA Bureau, raises several questions, including the ultimate one: can FINA survive?

Whatever comes of the legal challenge, the swimming vote comes down to this: If Julio Maglione is returned to the presidency of FINA this July, then Al Musallam will get one vote closer to the top seat of global swimming governance sitting on a $300m float in the aquatic bank.

Had it not been for the challenge to Maglione from Paolo Barelli, the Italian who heads the European swimming league and has cited Al Musallam in his case against fellow FINA executives now before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the Kuwaiti succession plan would be Maglione’s ill health or fatigue shy of completion.

On the cusp of 82 this year, Maglione was foremost among those clapping Al Musallam on the back last year when the Kuwaiti became the first ever first vice-president of FINA in moves backed by the other man cited in Barelli’s CAS complaint, Dale Neuburger, USA Swimming’s man at the top table of international governance.

What happens next may not only be the decision of the FINA Congress, that body described in the international federation’s constitution as its “highest authority” but often rendered eunuch by an all-powerful highly paid ‘volunteer executive’ when it comes to the questionable direction of a system that serves blazers far more than it does.

Husain Al Musallam

If allegations heading to a U.S. court fall, the game will go on as it has; if they find favour with those judging, then we can expect the following consequences among many:

  • questions galore on where any ugly trail of money leads us to beyond the beautiful game
  • the destruction of a number of ballot papers heading for the FINA vote in July,  the remains from the FINA furnace of reputation and political future to be sent to the International Swimming Hall of Fame “Exhibits X & Y” in the Book Of FINA’s Titanic Tale.

For now, let’s do a fast flyby of the seascape as it ebbs and flows:

  • three members of the FINA Bureau currently facing corruption charges;
  • two members of the FINA executive cited in a Court of Arbitration complaint lodged by a fellow member of swimming’s ruling group;
  • one of the central characters in FINA controversy hails from a nation – Kuwait – currently suspended by the IOC, FINA and others federations and yet still able to operate as if that penalty had never been imposed
  • links to a much bigger game under legal and governmental scrutinty, namely the FIFA scandal in the hot house at the top of the sporting food chain

Barelli Vs FINA – the links:

In play is the very state of international sports governance, the lack of checks and balances, independent oversight and the presence of systems, payments in the mix, that encourage those on the gravy train to stay silent not speak out when matters arise that really ought to be challenged. As yet, Barelli is refusing to talk about his challenges on a few fronts, including a test of big issues that was followed up by him throwing his cap in the ring for the leadership of world swimming. The survival of FINA is at stake, one way or the other.

The FIFA – IOC Connection

Any roles alleged to have been played in the FIFA scandal by Al Musallam and Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah will be put to the test in a court of law and the two men will have a right to state their case and defend themselves against the evidence of those who accuse them.

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

As noted in our news report, the Olympic Council of Asia, of which Al Musallam is director general and Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah is the top ‘volunteer’ executive, notes: “The OCA has been surprised by the allegations of illegal payments allegedly made to Richard Lai. The OCA strongly deny any wrongdoing and has asked the OCA ethics committee to carry out a full review.”

The case before a U.S. court will be the one to watch, the work of any ethics committees and the statements of the Kuwaitis denying any wrongdoing reliant on it.

What is more certain as things stand is that the latest news and much more from a catalogue of woe in the world of water has unfolded not only on the watch of FINA president and former Uruguayan IOC member Julio Maglione (his 81-going-on-82 years preclude him from playing on at the IOC but he will stand a third time for the top seat in FINA this July despite previous election pledges to the contrary) but with his support for the characters now facing court action.

FINA is frozen by challenges internal and external, the latter including the foundation of the World Swimming Association after the international federation refused in late 2014 (then 2015, 2016 and 2017) to even acknowledge a call led by Bill Sweetenham and backed by the World Swimming Coaches Association (as well as the national peer associations of at least 12 of the leading swimming nations – the USA, Australia, Canada, Britain in the mix – that made a point of adding their names to the charge sheet) for it to submit its governance structures, systems, rules and finances to the scrutinty of independent review.

No reply, no response at all from FINA’s leadership. The Times contacted FINA yesterday. No reply. SwimVortex‘s list of unanswered questions runs to more than 50 now, the latest five sent today. No reply as yet (please don’t hold your breath).

Those FINA leaders with their fingers crossed and thumbs tracing prayer beads, better get working on some answers soon, for the game has changed, the tipping point nigh and no half-measures and internal reviews dressed up in suitable clothes and wrapped with the ribbon of “friends of the Olympic family” will do.

Vladimir Putin and Thomas Bach

Take the Sheikh. He is called a king maker in Olympic circles where folk grant each orther and the world’s rich and powerful honours galore. In swimming of late, the recipients of FINA’s highest honours included Vladimir Putin, on the cusp of the Russian doping scandal, and the leadership of Qatar, that nation under attack from Amnesty and other human rights watch organisations on several levels associated with sport.

Al-Sabah’s honours lead us to the trail of those doing the back-patting. Australia is not alone but here’s an example of what we’re talking about, as noted by ABC: The Australian Olympic Committee gave Al-Sabah its ‘Olympic Merit’ award in 2013.

Gosh, how shiny will that look if a challenge that identifies him as a co-conspirator in US court documents focussing on alleged bribes worth almost $1 million from a senior member of Kuwait’s Football Association.

Al Musallam is all but identified as co-conspirator No 3, no other official fitting the description set out in those U.S. Court documents.

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, big wig at the IOC and the Olympic Council of Asia, a member of Kuwait’s ruling royal family and the man at the centre of national politics cited as the reason why Kuwait is currently suspended from the IOC, FINA and 16 other sports federations, has resigned from his FIFA roles (there is rarely one role for the superheroes of multi-tasking that would actually be humanly impossible if those roles required any serious level of work) pending judgment.

The judgement of Maglione will taken place in a different forum

Budapest, July, on the eve of world championships 44 years after FINA launched the global gathering that became its showcase. Delegates from a little over 200 nations each with two votes apiece regardless of the state of their swimming programmes will decide whether to back an 81-year-old Uruguayan who has broken two election pledges to get himself on the ballot paper once more or an Italian who is 20 years younger and has, after years of going along to get along, has broken the mould and is taking on the very issue that will be the death of FINA if FINA does not opt for radical change.

The bulk of those nations with as many votes as the United States, Australia, Japan, China, Britain, France, Italy, Hungary, Canada and so on (you know them, they’re the folk putting swimmers in big finals and onto big podiums) have nothing even remotely like an elite world-class swimming program to speak of. Most of them are unable to boast of swimmers travelling today at the speed of Shane Gould, Mark Spitz, Roland Matthes, let alone Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps and Adam Peaty.

The forum that will decide the fate of the Italian is a political one far removed from the daily dedication to performance sport that makes swimming a showcase, that provides the harvest for the aquatic feast topped by the Olympic Games, which generates the money that contributes to the $300m or so that FINA is sitting on while the bulk of swimmers around the world rely on paltry handouts for their survival. And that includes many of those making those big finals after four, eight and ten years of four-to-six hours of training on an almost daily basis.

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

Things out of balance stand so long and no longer. The house of FINA is about to be tested like it has never been tested before: not only from those standing outside but those sitting at the top table.

Paolo Barelli Vs the rest of the FINA executive is about to spill beyond the Court of Arbitration case the Italian has forced and will play out in the fight for the presidency of the global body for aquatic sports.

We’ll learn more about Barelli’s campaign in the near future. It will unfold regardless of the outcome of the CAS case that centres on two of the biggest barriers to progress for world-class swimmers, their entourages and world swimming as a whole. Those obstacles are best viewed through the following prisms:

  1. Has FINA’s leadership changed, broken and manipulated its own rules to its own ends and agendas?
  2. Are FINA’s ethics rules in conflict?
  3. Has the FINA leadership sought to keep an argument focussed on alleged political interference and conflicts of interest from being heard by the federations Ethics Panel?
  4. Has the FINA leadership caused schism in swimming by driving a wedge between itself and major stakeholders who want the comply with best international governance practice and submit to truly independent review and then embrace the recommended reforms?
  5. Has the FINA leadership interpreted rules designed to protect athletes (not officials) to make sure that the suspension of Kuwait is not a suspension at all because the same officials in place before the ban are still there and operating in precisely the same way as they were?
  6. If the answers to the above are ‘yes’, then have all of the above contributed to limiting the prospects of swimmers and swimming?

No prizes for guessing that my answer to all the above is ‘yes’.

We are not talking about things that have happened in the era of Ledecky & Phelps & Peaty, nor the era of Michael Gross, Janet Evans, Matt Biondi, nor that of Gould, Spitz and Matthes. We are talking about events that have spanned all of that, with the very same men at the hlm all the while.

Think back to autumn 2015 and we find Sweetenham, the veteran Australian coach and mentor, telling coaches, officials and others who would grant a unanimous show of hands for the formation of the World Swimming Association as the starting point of a plan to replace FINA as the global governor of swimming (pool and open water) about the events of the past 40 years and all the swimmers and their guides and guardians who have been affected by FINA’s refusal to listen to the federation’s major stakeholders.

Ask a FINA leader who the stakeholders are and they may well mention themselves, their partners and sponsors and marketing agents that help to keep them – not athletes – in five-star hotels, business-to-first-class travel, on $500 per diems for upwards of 200 days a year in some cases in return for … well, very little indeed that speaks to serving clean athletes the way you might think an organisation sitting on a $300m pile might well be able to serve athletes and take swimming to what Phelps has described as “a new level”.

What chance of change under the choices before those who will get to vote at FINA Congress in July?

Barelli has made a good start. He has done what no other FINA leader has managed in the modern era: to challenge his fellow governors on the grounds of ethics, conflicts of interests and being the rules to have them suit the circumstance and wish of the blazer who seems all too often to place athlete interest at the bottom of the pool.

  • Are there conflicts of interest at the top table in FINA? Yes, no question in my mind, regardless of how such things may be judged by ethics panels and others charged in-house with judging such matters.
  • Was there interference in the European League election for president in 2016? Yes, no question…
  • Is there a conflict in the FINA rule book, as stated by lawyers? Yes, no question…

There’s three to be getting on with.

What Did He Ever Do For Swimming?

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

Meanwhile, set aside the Roman question for a moment. Let’s consider the incumbent, Julio Maglione, and ask: what did he ever do for world-class swimming?

The list was long when it came to the same Pythonesque ponderance and Romans. The ledger on Maglione is long, too – but little of it makes good reading for the octogenarian whose time ought to be up.

Step this way on a timewarp trip of just a few of the lowlights of Maglione’s time as a FINA Bureau member, treasurer and then president.

Issue No1: Follow The Money

Maglione claims ‘athlete prize money’ as one of the big successes of his time in governance. Let’s take a look (I’ll leave you to work out the percentages of what actually makes it to the athlete), with figures pertinent to single years from the past Olympic quad:

  • $300m – FINA net assets in the bank, according to impeccable sources
  • $32 million – Olympic revenues – what swimming will get in the next round of IOC share-out post Rio 2016
  • $26 million – expenses related to FINA events (inc $3.4m in prize money for athletes)
  • $6.9 million – cost of the new FINA Headquarters in Lausanne
  • $6.5 million – Travel assistance and ‘other contributions’ to federations to attend FINA events
  • $5.6 million – “FINA Family Expenses” in 2013
  • $5 million – hotel and per diem costs at FINA events for administrators/FINA ‘family’
  • $5 million – costs of the marketing agent, mainly associated with the world championships
  • $4.4 million – payroll for 21 staff and 11 part-time workers at FINA
  • $1.64 million – the total prize pot for pool swimmers at world titles in Kazan, 2015 (for some 120-150 swimmers based on Barcelona 2013)
  • $1.5 million – a conservative estimate of the likely cost of ‘per diems’ paid by FINA to Bureau, Committee and Commission members over 3 weeks, summer 2015

And on down to the chicken feed:

  • $150,000 – the budget for a three-point proposal from British PR firm JTA, plus roll-out, aimed at 1, cosying up to USA Swimming (no need to spend a dollar on that given the predisposition of the board of USA Swimming and its president Jim Sheehan); 2, making Michael Phelps a poster boy for Maglione (not a cat in hell’s chance); 3, discrediting critics (what a waste of money – the truth will out), this website included (how daft – and just imagine what $150,000 would have meant for your own kids and programs).
  • $100,000 – the top prize for the World Cup winner in swimming after 16 days of gruelling competition and season upon season of dedication (Therese Alshammar was the best part of two decades into her swim career when she collected the prize, for example)
  • $65,000 – the money available in per diems and meal allowances for one single members of the FINA Bureau if they ‘volunteer’ for 100 days of service.
  • $23,000 – what FINA was asked to pay for the JTA proposal – a short document that could not possibly have taken more than a few days to put together (even for folk whose knowledge of swimming is highly likely to pale by comparison to that of many of you SwimVortex readers)
  • $15,000 – what FINA pays for a world swimming title

And here are some Dollars from a different world:

  • $42,000 – prize money for a first-round loser at Wimbledon
  • $148.1 million – total prize money for all four Grand Slams in tennis
  • $42.3 million – total prize pot for Wimbledon 2014 (spread of share included 256 singles players)
  • $33 million – total prize pot for Australia Open 2014
  • $34.5 million – total prize pot for French Open 2014
  • $38.3 million – total prize pot for US Open 2014
  • $54 million – surplus (from tickets sales, catering and so on) Wimbledon 2013 (The All England Club is not a non-profit organisation and thus its surplus is taxed, receipts going to the exchequer; 90% of what is left is then ploughed back into the development of tennis)
  • $2.73 million – the top prize for one Wimbledon winner

My personal view: FINA has failed and is failing the athlete in monumental fashion.

Issue No2: Maglione’s Record On Clean Sport

I penned a piece last year headlined: Why Julio Maglione Is As Useful To Clean Swimmers As A FINA Fart In A Spacesuit.

I stand by every word written from a time when the FINA president was suggesting reasons why it would be wrong to impose blanket ban on Russia at the height of the doping crisis on the way to Star Wars in the pool at the Rio Olympic Games.

It came as no surprise to me that there wasa certain reluctance to do much about stopping swimmers towing a doping record from taking the plunge once more in the certain knowledge that the custodians of the sport would not be pressing for tougher rules and lifetime bans.

Maglione’s tenure at FINA dates back to 1984, smack bang in the middle of the German Democratic Republic’s victory march on a diet of State Plan 14:25. Of course he couldn’t say for sure that something was awry back then but by heavens he could have done an awful lot since. Which is why I asked:

Have you got that silver pin back yet, Julio? You know the one, the services-to-swimming award the Bureau you served gave to Lothar Kipke … for services to what? Well, monstrous abuse, as it turned out.

You honoured the GDR beyond Kipke, of course. You’ll remember at least some of these:

GDR, state plan 14:25: victims of abuse included young athletes used as guinea pigs

The FINA Eminence Prize

  • Kornelia Ender (GDR) – 1975 … that was the year she won two solo golds, a solo silver and two relays golds at the world championships, while Shirley Babashoff (USA) won two solo golds, a solo silver, a solo bronze and two silvers in relays behind the GDR and State Plan 14:25. Ender would later recall the little blue pills, the injections and the growing out of t-shirts in three months in her mid-teens.

The FINA Prize:

  • Kristin Otto (GDR) – 1988, six golds at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games. On the image to the right, Julio, you’ll spot the ‘positiv’ anabolic steroid test result she returned in-house at the IOC-accredited Kreischa laboratory, that a process not to reveal the cheating inherent in State Plan 14:25 but to hide it from the world.

Where were you, Julio, when the evidence flowed like a river of blood all through the 1990s and culminated in the criminal conviction of coaches and doctors and officials for abuse of minors?

Stasi (secret police) documents emerged in the 1990s naming scores of Olympic champions and world record holders had been doped

What did you do, Julio? I ask because you were right there at the top table throughout all those years in the GDR and China-crisis era. Here’s a reminder in case you’re forgotten:

  • 1984: voted on to the FINA Bureau
  • 1988: promoted to Vice-President
  • 1992 (beyond the first very clear evidence that State Plan 14:25 fuelled the GDR success from 1973 to 1989): promoted to Honorary Treasurer. And, then, all through the years of the China doping crisis, your journey as a career politician earning a vast wage in per diems even though your every expense is covered beyond the need for any per diem … did you, Julio, ask whatever happened to Yuan Yuan and her generation? Did you care to know if they are of good health, Julio? What can you tell the world about the health of the GDR girls long since women and the Chinese girls long since women and their offspring and the doctors who treat them? Is there anything you’d like to say to them, Julio – if so, do feel free to pen your thoughts and we promise to publish every last word you write.
  • 1996, 2000, 2005-2009: returned to the treasurer’s position which you held for 17 years until…
  • 2009: voted into the president’s chair on the back of a campaign in which you pledged to stay for one term and set a two-terms limit for all future presidents. It was on that basis that many voted for you. They must now look at an 81-year-old who changed the constitution to get their vote and  then changed it back again to keep his status and wonder if you really deserve their backing this time round.

When you were arguing for a reversal of what you’d reversed, Paolo Barelli was among the few who, for whatever reason, thought that FINA might be better off with some younger blood to steer the ship into new waters and get the organisation out of the stagnant pond and stench of inaction and inability to deal with the ghosts of the past.

Back to prizes.

FINA Honour Plaques

  • 1980 – Vitali Smirnov (URS) and Vladimir Rodichenko (URS) … For those too young to recall, the URS is the Soviet Union and this is what Putin said of Smirnov, Maglione’s age peer, last year as he recommended him to lead the ‘independent’ anti-doping commission in Russia at the start of a process of ending the bad old days:

“The question is, of course, who would head the commission? Clearly, the answer is a person with an absolutely impeccable reputation, somebody who has credibility and the respect of the Olympic family. We have a person like this in our country. It is Vitali Smirnov, Russia’s representative in the International Olympic Committee, a member since 1971. I think we should ask him to head up the commission. I hope that he will accept as a person who has devoted so many years to the Olympic movement and the development of sports in our country.”

Absolutely impeccable… ? Well, 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.”

So, Mr. Maglione, we press on with those 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:

  • Gold: Georg Zorowka (GDR) 1984; Gerhard Hecke (GDR) 1988
  • Silver: 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. For those who want to be reminded or learn the gory detail of what went on, here’s a piece we penned on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Oh, back to those prizes, forgot one:

The FINA Order:

  • October 2014, on the cusp of crisis – Vladimir Putin

Well done, Julio. A hero knows a hero when he sees one.

Issue No3: The bending of rules and the lost records

The Wellington pool in question

A quick reminder of an example of bending the rules and knowing you can because the system you’ve built void of checks and balances and the encouragement to speak up when you see bad things happening is not one in which anyone is likely to challenge you:

Terrific New Zealand swimmer races to a world short-course record over 1500m free. No question, she’s quality, absolute world-class. But organisers of the nationals in that country held their showcase in a pool (the set up of that pool for said competition, to be accurate) that does not comply with minumum facilities standards set out in FINA rules. The pool must be at least 1.37cm deep for at least 6m out from the wall, that standard set to avoid children and young athletes smashing their jaws, teeth and heads into the tiles on diving in. The issue was raised by folk – in New Zealand and beyond it – who care about things designed to protect athletes and their welfare. In the course of doing that I asked FINA: so, what about the facilities rules? In those days they were still replying to those media questions they’d rather not have to answer – and the answer came down to: facilities rules don’t apply when a world record is set.

Really?! Well, could you explain why the World Record Application Form asks for the referee or responsible other to sign on the dotted line below a request for confirmation that “all FINA rules have been met”? No they could not.

And so to those lost records …

British bounty in 2014 (L-R) Jemma Lowe, Christopher Walker-Hebborn, Adam Peaty and Francesca Halsall – finally, a world record by March 2016 Photo: Patrick B. Kraemer

In summary, we broke the story with these words in 2015:

Dozens of swimming records, including three world standards and more than 20 European marks have not been ratified because of bureaucratic bungling and a lack of care in registering new standards. In the case of two world records, the anti-doping samples provided were destroyed many months before blazers woke up and asked ‘why are these records still ‘pending’ nine months on’?”

There was no ticked box for the blood-booster erythropietin (EPO) on the paperwork so the lab didn’t test for it – even though FINA rules say that for a world record to count EPO test must be negative.

Between European champs 2014 and three months later, FINA, although it had received world record application forms, did not follow through with the question: where are the anti-doping returns for EPO? Having heard no word from FINA that it would like samples stored or that there was an issue with any finding long since sent back to client, the German lab destroyed the samples.

To cut a long story short, FINA dug its heels in even when anti-doping expects backed the positon of British Swimming, one of the federations affected, when it sought to have the records ratified on the basis that the swimmers involved had supplied several samples that were tested for EPO, all negative, as an indication that there was no issue to worry about.

The matter went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport – and FINA lost, the record were ratified.

Issue No 4: The World Swimming Association

Bill Sweetenham

“The founding principles of the World Swimming Association, officially adopted in Cleveland this week as the organisation that intends to take over the global governance of the sport, were backed by a unanimous vote of approval from more than 650 coaches this weekend.” Read on for the rest of that 2015 article.

How did we get there?

Bill Sweetenham, the man FINA failed to reply to when he suggested they shopuld submit to independet review with a view to improving the organisation, turned a question on its head as the World Clinic and asked all in support of “drug-free, clean, risk-free, transparent, sport” served by “athlete-focussed professional management” to stand. No seat was left with a butt in it.

Sweetenham concluded: “The olive branch was offered. Replacement is the only option if swimming is to set a new course.”

And it is on that note that we some to this: Paolo Barelli has been presented by Maglione as a part of the status quo. Not quite. He’s been there just over a decade. It can take that long to work out what the hell is going on and why no-one is challeging the status quo. Barelli has now done that – and how.

Omertà is shattered. As such, Barelli is not at all like the beasts about him. You can tell that, say sources in Lausanne, because the man is being ostracised by those he opposes, those who did not want his complaints to be heard by an Ethics Panel.

The battle has only just begun. There are verdicts to come in and then a vote in July. And then beyond that there is the true test of whether FINA will be led by those who understand that things cannot go on as they have done; understand that the three doping experts who resigned last year and Jacco Verhaeren, the coach who quit his peer commission, are not “the enemy” but the best friends of FINA.

Only by listening to such people and then taking their expert advice can FINA hope to survive in the long term, for it is truth, not politics, that forms foundations fit to stand the strongest storms.

FINA has become a highly subsidised, poorly run organisation whose work speaks to the needs of the blazers not the athletes. Scandals doping, financial and political of the past decades have mounted to a moment where the autonomy of sport is not worth saving. External regulation and oversight is required. There is more talk than action when it comes to visions 2020 at the IOC, greater transparency and the checks and balances long called for.

Today brought one more example of that: as if they needed another meeting to come up with a statement that tells us nothing at all. Words. Intention. Goal. Plan. Resources. Daily Action that gets you closer. The kind of determination, dedication and discipline that world-class athletes and their coaches know feels yet a long way from the world of international sports governance.

Barelli’s Challenge:

To make Clear That This is no battle of Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Divided club: l-r, Pipat Paniangvait (the treasurer from Thailand), Paolo Barelli, Julio Maglione and the executive director Cornel Marculescu in Budapest, where the 2017 world championships will be held this July

Barelli, a former Italian senator, knows how to win elections, his fight with Van Heijningen a case in point. The Italian is yet to set out his stall and tell us what he intends. He’s tight-lipped right now, presumably because he is bound not to talk about his case before CAS and that has a bearing on his unwillingness to speak out on his challenge to Maglione until he must.

Come the moment Barelli’s barometer must show us all that his campaign for the FINA leadership is not simply a battle of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. He must make a radical departure from the past.

In the meantime, one thing is clear: there should be no vote for Maglione, the status quo, the Kuwaiti succession plan nor any of those American, Australia and other blazers backing all of that and who go along to get along in a system that cannot survive if swimmers and swimming is to move on and up.

A win for Barelli, however, would not be the end of the story. If the head of the European League and his backers achieve what they have set their political futures on, then holding on to that seat of power and keeping swimming in the hands of those who … well, swim and have swimmers and show the way in the pool … will take much more than business as usual in different hands.

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

The independent review of FINA called for by coaches, swimmers, offcials and others, is essential. The international federation, its system and style of governance and the structures through which it receives its expertise and how that is then fed through the machine and what comes out the other end can only benefit, along with athletes, from oversight of the kind that FINA has treated with a blind eye and a deaf ear.

  • Handing over a governance review – conflicts of interest, the rule book and much more in the mix – and anti-doping roles to truly independent bodies would be the starting point for the survival of FINA.
  • Next step: coaches, athletes and others would have to be granted a genuine and much greater say in the way the international federation is run and how the money is used and distributed, including a far larger share to the show-makers (not those suits not the shiny ones – the swimmers, of course).
  • Next step: working in close conjunction with major stakeholders (that’s your active membership, FINA, not just the commercial partners you chose and the political connections you make) on a new competition calandar and model fit for the second century of organised global swimming.

Today, the house of FINA might best described in that insulting term used by Glaswegians when peering east at Edinburghers: “All fur coat and no knickers”.

There’s a chill wind – and fur coats are about to be banned.

The House Of FINA has got a serious case of suspected rot on its hands. Exterminators to the rescue. Clue: start in the boardroom where you find feet off the ground. The news that Husain Al Musallam has been effectively identified in a U.S. Department of Justice indictment as a co-conspirator who allegedly paid bribes to a football official, Richard Lai, raises several questions, including the ultimate one: can FINA survive? That remains to be seen and the Kuwaiti’s case can only be judged in a U.S. court. But even before the news this week, the writing was on the wall: if FINA is to have a chance of survival, then Julio Maglione, the president, and a Kuwaiti succession plan must fall


No comments are available.

Leave a comment

Post a comment with your SwimVortex Account. Don't have a SwimVortex Account, Sign Up?

(*) Fields are required!