WSA World: ‘Athlete Centred, Professional Direction, Transparently Operated’

All things have a starting point … by Patrick B. Kraemer

It will be a while before the World Swimming Association challenge to FINA as the governing body for international sport reaches the last battle field and D-Day beyond, one way or the other. SwimVortex caught up with World Coaches director John Leonard for a state-of-play reminder

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It will be a while before the World Swimming Association challenge to FINA as the governing body for international sport reaches the last battle field and D-Day beyond, one way or the other. SwimVortex caught up with World Coaches director John Leonard for a state-of-play reminder


Michael Tyson

Shut up and take my two dollars NOW!

Michael Tyson

BTW, has nothing on it yet.

Craig Lord

Michael – I think it’s being worked on and will be a while before anything concrete is up – but will ask…


There is so much valid in what’s said here, that I really regret that every time the so-called affront of not anointing Ledecky as swimmer of the year is included. I know, on this site it seems heresy to say it, but I don’t think Ledecky was the swimmer of 2015. For me, in individual performance, it was Sjostrom; and overall, it was Hosszu. I just think that the 400 to 1500 is basically the same race, with the same competitors to beat; and her only win outside that, in the 200s in 2015 was because of the failure of her competitors (in 2016 it may be different) , and was with a mediocre time: Sjostrom bested it by almost a second the next day. Hosszu had many more competitors to triumph over. Ledecky was stellar basically in what for me is one event. In points too, Ledecky did not perform as well as the others . Now, my reasons may not be yours, and they are not FINA’s (who seems to have followed a documented scheme, which one can attack, but they did not do it on a whim), but really, not choosing Ledecky is NOT at all on the same atrocious level as the other dysfunctional deeds.

Craig Lord

I think it pretty abysmal, Dutchin, to be honest – certainly a wrong call (swimmer of year) … first time in history 200, 400, 800, 1500m , WRs in 800, 2 WRS 1500, the grit swim of the meet in the 200 semi, and relay gold in the bargain… the award doesn’t say ‘single performance’ – it says ‘performance’, so who knows what they were judging it on. Ledecky was the swimmer of the year, no question whatsoever. I like your suggestion that the 400 and 1500 are the same event… what? like the 50 and the 100 ‘fly (same podium in Kazan) and so many other examples down the years. On single performance if measured on points beyond the WR, then the order was as follows:

Practically level:
55.64WR Sjostrom, Sarah SWE 100m butterfly final No1
8:07.39WR Ledecky, Katie USA 800m free final All-time rank No1
55.74WR Sjostrom 100m butterfly semi-final No2
15:25.48WR Ledecky 1500m free finals No1
15:27.71WR Ledecky 1500m free semi-final No2
2:06.12WR Katinka Hosszu HUN

Performance (single) is measurable in those terms and Sjostrom does, as you suggest, have a strong claim. Even so, back to back WR over… not 100 but … 1500m! 🙂 (not taking away from what S Sjo did, of course, but being in any way dismissive of Ledecky’s achievements compared to anyone else’s is off the mark.

The swimmer of the year is something else. It can’t be judged on the number of opponents someone has… (though I note there were seven other world-class swimmers in all finals and regardless of how many different ones there were all champions faced similar threat 🙂 … it is also about the swimmer and the standards they are setting ahead of the curve; it is also about a programme with the greatest race distance of the week in Kazan: 5.2km at a pace no-one matched in any event for a swimmer who has never been beaten in international competition 200, 400, 800 and 1500m distances. It is about so many other boxes ticked by Ledecky at the showcase event of the year – the only one that truly counts (the rest is in-house window dressing). Ledecky’s efforts were stunning, and marked a pioneering record beyond – one that ranked Ledecky as the clear Swimmer of the Year – readers and expert panel at this site … we think we called it right 🙂

p.s glad you think we got it right on the other stuff; and no need to regret … not heresy, we just disagree on KL and where she fits.


It’s alarming to read john Leonard speak of the testing procedure as being basically redundant. If better techniques are available, then WADA should be implementing them and it’s disappointing that this hasn’t happened. Has the question been asked of WADA as to why it hasn’t?

Craig Lord

Yes, Ger: they are considering it but have a system that needs improving in terms of where they take their research and expertise from and what they are open to. Part of the picture: researchers with a ‘new’ (to sports ant-d testing) idea must submit their idea and if it flies then they may get funded for further research. Not the fastest of procedures, as J Leonard suggests. Dr. Libardoni was invited to submit an application for funding, as I understand it. In fact, the WADA experts should be asking him to present the methodology and then work swiftly on a way of either making it work or coming to a conclusion that it won’t work (complete with explanations as to why they came to that conclusion). Given the costs involved, the potential savings, and given that no-one, surely, would wish to build an industry out of anti-doping and would instead wish to reduce staggering budgets … WADA should get this tried, tested and decided on. It may well be a very cost-effective way of going back on stored samples and testing in new ways to find old, hidden things… there will be some resistance to such things, I’d imagine.


Thanks Craig.


How can anybody call Ledecky’s racing at 200 in Kazan a mediocre performance. In Austin Ledecky actually completed unfinished in Kazan business, showing the level she was at prior WC. So if one makes just a little effort to understand why there is such a huge difference he/she will prize Ledecky’s achievement in Kazan even higher. This double that included BTW the spectacular world record, and winning the championship title in perfect tactical race next day showed how tough it was. Such an effort by itself is of historical value and can just by itself qualify her for the the best swimmer. There was no unfortunate accident with Pellegrini and Franklin. They swam to their best that could be shown by them this season being under huge pressure of WC’s final. Nobody knows what Sjostrom could be able of should she go through all stages of 200 competition. She never was successful under pressure at 200 LCM. We got so used to Katie’s success that sometimes are losing the feeling of how unreal is what she is doing.
We are blessed to witness performance of such titans in women swimming like Campbell sisters, Sarah Sjostrom and Katie Ledecky. Katinka Hosszu is not even close to them. Her 200im wr is the only thing that can be mention in this contest. But IM achievements is something different. It is a derivative from what basic swimming actually is. Something artificial to my opinion.
Winning from 200 to 1500 is not like just winning two races as someone tries to show it. There is some fundamental restriction of human body that prevents this from happening. It is like singing in more than two octaves. Whoever does it is a supper performer.
Should Sjostrom succeeded with her conquest of all sprinters medals in fly and free I would call it even greater achievement than Ledecky’s one. It didn’t happen last year. Let’s wait for another WC. Maybe next year. But don’t tell me that what Hosszu does or targeting is of the same level of magnitude of what Cate, Bronte, Sarah and Katie do.


I know I am in the minority here, and surely I do know that other arguments can be made and are made. (And yes, I do agree that the 50-100m has the same issue, that it is basically swum by the same people…) And that’s OK-and if Ledecky is going to improve as she seems to in the 200 and 100, I would not make the same argument for 2016.

But could we agree that FINA’s decision in this is on a completely different level than all the other horrendous issues?


DutchinUSA, I disagree that “this is on a completely different level than all the other horrendous issues”. Such FINA’s decision or purposely constructed controvertial ranking system creates minorities like yours and disrespect entirely the opinion of majority of swimming community. And that is strange because by definition FINA should be a leader of majority. So some other interests are in place since it isn’t the case.
BTW, what is the problem for you to join the majority. Or convince this stupid majority to switch its opinion so you can find yourself again within majority. Probably it is something cool to be a minority since neither first nor second scenario works for you.

Craig Lord

On the level of ‘no-one cares about FINA’s gala dinners and its silly in-house choices’, I agree the issue is way down the list, DutchinUSA … BUT, that’s the surface, the argument rests in the depths of FINA as a broken institution no longer capable of self-assessment (and terrified of even contemplating independent scrutiny) of the kind critical to the well-being of the sport and the membership (not the Bureau) to whom the sport belongs, the brand being ‘swimming’ not ‘FINA’, all the more so when a great swathe of the membership think FINA=inept, inefficient gravy trainers for life putting self before swimmer’ – and not even capable of coming up with a measure that matters in a sport that lives on measuring things properly – one of the founding pillars of FINA: standardisation, of pool lengths, of blocks, of all the conditions that create level playing fields where such things are possible – with counts and measures that the majority gets and agrees with (we’re not 6-year-olds making the yellow car win all races because that’s our favourite…).
The point Yozhik makes is a good one. This is symptomatic of FINA being out of touch with its membership, its key stakeholders, the general perceptions of the world beyond its realm; out of touch with what is ‘reasonable’ and can be sold to the world as such. KH as the swimmer of the year over KL is simply not credible nor does it translate to the wider world. It makes a mockery of FINA in the eyes of editors who decide things like “shall we run the feature on the ice-skater, the golfer or the swimmer today? … so, let’s see, we’ve got a swimmer from Hungary as FINA swimmer of the year… hold on, what – it wasn’t Katie Ledecky, the schoolgirl who the whole world of sports media coverage heard of and is watching with particular focus on the way to Rio 2016?”
‘No – that’s FINA for you’.
Ed – “hand me that great photo of the golfer (the one we can relate to in a sport that has got its act together in terms of what the athlete can get; what the story is; what the media service is whenever we turn up at major events) … wow, ok, tell me more about his life and skills – we’ll go with the golfer.”

That kind of scenario and split-second, clear editorial decision (one that speaks to ‘what we think most folk might want to read’; what’s popular and topical) plays out around the world every day and feeds directly into the more-real-than-caricature reasons we can turn to when we ask ‘why is swimming not ‘bigger’ than it might be’.

Let me give you a real example: rome 2009 worlds – every day when I spoke to the sports ED and desk at The Times, I had to start with “another 7 WRs (or whatever it was) today – by day 3 they had lost interest, the shiny suits overshadowing the entire championships and the hard work, athleticism and skills of the swimmers in the bargain. Result, in terms of media coverage: less wordage, fewer pictures (when you’ve seen one shiny suit showing more than it should and the whole news desk has fallen about laughing at swimming, you’re done); far less emphasis on the swimmer and the swimming, day after day. It was a farce – a FINA farce that had Cornel Marculescu saying ‘the suits gave us lots of coverage’ in the sense all publicity is good publicity even when its bad. Not so: swimming suffered in the editorial choices made every day during those championships as a result of FINA farce.

As I look at the media archive from the weekend/Monday I see relatively little about FINA’s swimmer of the year – I see nothing but the odd round-up in most places; I see a great deal of apathy and ‘so what’; I see US publications totally ignoring the whole thing. That can’t be good for swimming.

Imagine a year in which Serena Williams wins three out of four grand slams and player X wins 1 and then 7 other minor tournaments and trophies along the way. Guess who will be player of the year in tennis – and that is what fans, media and the wider world would expect: elite sport is about elite moments.

The World cup series, is an environment where fourth home in a great many events wouldn’t make it past heats at world champs (also a series with a complex points system that is of no use nor interests to editors akin editorial choices anywhere sports sells most when its simple – swimming is big at the Olympics not just because it is the Olympics but because the show is simple to understand, easy to fathom). Back to the mediocrity of a world cup that feeds into ‘swimmer of the year etc: why would we want to build a relatively new concept of ‘Gala Dinner; show of stars (one where the blazers far outnumber the stars in the room)’ and FINA swimmer of the year’ without first gathering stakeholders together and confronting the tough questions: why is this not working; how can we build something better for swimmer, sponsor, sport and all that flows?

Those questions have been asked for more than 20 years (the world cup was in many ways better when FINA didn’t run it): during that time of inaction and failure to tackle what matters, we have seen the FINA beast of blazerdom grow, the budget grow hugely, the luxury lifestyles with it; we have seen many events added to the heap, plus clinics, galas, dinners, congresses and conferences added to the heap, too. But we haven’t see the substantive, significant issues tackled; we have seen no care and attention paid to the things that matter more than anything else, unless when tragedy and crisis has forced proactive response (and that often weaker than it should have been/should be).

Failing to make KL the swimmer of the year is yet one more exhibit in the catalogue of ‘why we know FINA must be completely restructured or replaced’. Whether it is Exhibit A or Exhibit G, S or Y is, ultimately, neither here nor there: the weight of woe in the catalogue as a whole is the context in which I view FINA’s individual decisions (Putin, awards, ignoring rules, contriving with domestic feds to bypass very clear rules on facilities there to preserve the safety of swimmers, and on and on). We are well past the moment we can say ‘well, that wasn’t so bad’ as if that somehow excuses the rest of the catalogue of ‘wow, that was really stupid, bad, damaging and the stuff of bringing the sport into disrepute’.

Overlooking KL matters. As FINA will come to learn, not for that decision alone but in the sense of one of those last strands of straw that broke the camel’s back.

I respect your view to think differently on the KL issue – I don’t respect their’s: as Yozhik says – they carry a responsibility to the whole sport.

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