This week, we are considering the issues in play. Next week, we will post the questions we put to key players as swimming wrestles with its own #metoo and #Time’sUp challenges; we will ask those players to respond and, the week after – providing plenty of time to reply – bring you their replies and note any ‘no comment’ returns and explanations as well as any lack of response. Our series so far.
Today, we start with a cry for independent oversight in the interests of athlete safety, clean sport and Fair Play.
The World Swimming Coaches Association has issued a call to athletes, coaches and the leaders of aquatics sports around the globe “to unite and fight to ensure that clean sport still is the cornerstone of swimming and all Olympic sports”.
The Russian crisis of systematic doping has highlighted, says the WSCA, that “the International Olympic Committee is no longer interested in either Clean Sport or Fair Sport”, while the IOC’s ‘Independent Testing Authority’ (ITA) will simply “fix a failed system with a broken system”.
The WSCA calls on FINA to reject membership of the ITA and establish a Swimming Integrity Unit to match the IAAF’s Athletics Integrity Unit initiative, designed to ensure that checks and balances are provided by overseers and a system “completely independent of the IAAF governance structure”.
Every “coach and athlete should be contacting their own National Federation to insist that their federation supports real independence”, says the WSCA.
The call follows a presentation in which Bill Bock, the General Counsel of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) said the world had witnessed the “abject failure of the international anti-doping system” in the past few years.
He might have gone back a bit further, given an Olympic sports library of records and results soaked in doping, including proven cheating that neither the IOC nor bodies such as FINA, nor their member federations, such as USA Swimming, did anything to set right. The record of systematic cheating on a massive scale is there for all to see, from Olympic book to courtroom documents and the testimonies of abuse victims.
The WSCA will have support far and wide but it faces two key barriers to progress in the sport of swimming:
- FINA’s habit of ignoring, completely, any calls for action from its key stakeholders. Calls from coaches for a review at FINA almost four years ago have gone unanswered: not even a polite ‘got your note, thanks’.
- The inaction, silence and disengagement of large numbers of athletes and coaches far and wide around the world when controversy reared its head at the heart of a system of grace and favours in which swimmers and their mentors fear of being sent to Coventry and locked out of funding, selection and the national programs that, in many parts of the world.
In Full: The Open Letter From George Block, President, World Swimming Coaches Association, to the global swimming community
The “Russia Crisis” that has loomed from Sochi, through Rio and now, on to PyeongChang has clearly demonstrated that the IOC is no longer interested in either Clean Sport or Fair Sport. 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).
The current “solution” being proposed, the Independent Testing Authority (ITA), is not the solution, as it attempts to fix a failed system with a broken system. In fact, ITA will be neither Independent, nor an Authority, with 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.” We should have recognized how broken the proposed solution was when the first positive response came from TASS (the official Russian news agency).
There is nothing we can do to affect the IOC; however, we can affect FINA. To start, FINA must get serious about anti-doping – now. That means that FINA should push back and not succumb to massive pressure from the IOC to become part of the ITA. Rather, FINA should create its own Swimming Integrity Unit that is completely independent of the FINA government structure with a committed, long-term funding structure. Fortunately, that path has been blazed by the leaders of the IAAF, the International Federation for Track and Field. The IAAF has 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.
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 supporting the creation of a FINA Swimming Integrity Unit.
Working together, around the world and across the aquatics sports, we have the opportunity to return respect to FINA sports, and once again have clean and fair sports. Let’s all work together to turn this into a reality.