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Elections, Governance, Dues Increase Highlight Issues at USA Swimming Convention -- September 13, 2002

By Phillip Whitten

DALLAS, September 13. ELECTIONS, budget deficits and controversy over a governance study that would radically alter the structure of the US national governing body for swimming and proposed dues increase are the highlights of the 23rd Annual USA-Swimming Convention at the DFW Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Meanwhile, the US Masters Swimming meeting, along with USA Diving, Water Polo and Synchro, have been relatively uncontroversial affairs. All five aquatic disciplines are meeting together under the umbrella of US Aquatic Sports.

Here's a quick rundown of key issues:

Timing Controversy
Expected to be controversial at the USA-Swimming (USA-S) meeting, according to several reliable sources, will be a decision by Executive Director Chuck Wielgus, to be announced tomorrow, that Omega Timing of Switzerland, will be named an official sponsor (along with Mutual of Omaha and V8-Splash) and the official timing company of USA Swimming.

There are a number of outstanding American firms, including Colorado Timing and Daktronics, that are likely to be displeased by the decision. Several USA swimming staff members, questioned about the alleged decision, claimed to have no knowledge of it.

Presidential Elections
The elections, to be held tomorrow, feature a close race between Ron van Pool and John Wilson, with both men generally held in high regard by the delegates. Van Pool appeared to have a solid lead weeks ago, but his close connection with the Governance Study may have cost him votes, and most delegates questioned rate the contest a toss-up. This observer, however, sees Van Pool emerging as the winner.

Budget Deficit, Dues Increase
USA Swimming is running a projected budget deficit of at least $1.3 million. That figure includes an estimated $600,000 in profits on investments, a questionable assumption in these economically difficult times. At the same time, the organization has been adding staff, an action most corporations would be hesitant to take when operating at a loss, according to several delegates.

Even more controversial, but expected to pass, is a proposal to raise national dues by $15 (from $25 to $40) next year, followed by $1 increases for each of the next ten years. If passed, the measure should bring add an extra $4 million next year to the coffers of USA-S.

Originally proposed to be used entirely to increase swimming's television exposure, that allocation has been changed. Now only 25 percent (about $1 million) is to be used for that purpose, with the allocation for the remainder quite vague. Delegates are being asked to approve a large dues increase without being told how most of the money would be spent. Still, the measure is expected to pass.

Governance
Also generating a great deal of heat is a sweeping revision of the governance structure of USA-S. While most delegates acknowledge the proposal features many very good changes, there is also a wariness about a document that seems to call for radically increased centralized control of the organization, with most real power vested in a small number of individuals. The proposal also increases the influence of coaches and of large clubs. No vote will be taken on the new structure at this convention.

While the proposals seem to be generating reluctant approval, there is also some dissatisfaction with the process. For example, a "Town Meeting" was held yesterday in which the delegates were not allowed to speak -- a strange definition of a "town meeting."
The meeting was run -- many said in an "offensively patronizing" manner -- by an official from the company that oversaw the governance study.

Awards
Dr. Dave Salo, Head Coach of the Irvine (Calif.) Novaquatics Swim Club was named the USA Coach of the Year. Teri McKeever, head women's coach at the University of California-Berkeley, was recognized as the American Swim Coaches' Association's Coach of the Year, the first female to earn the honor.

Salo placed six athletes on this year's National A Team, including world record-holder Aaron Peirsol. Those swimmers combined for nine medals, including five gold, at the 2002 Pan Pacific Championships.

McKeever coached Natalie Coughlin to six medals, four gold, at the 2002 Pan Pacific Championships. Coughlin also became the first female in history to break one minute in the 100m backstroke when she broke the world record at the 2002 Summer National Championships.

There is a great deal of speculation as to who will win "Swimmer of the Year" honors: Natalie Coughlin or Michael Phelps.

Speedo (represented by Stu Isaac) is expected to win the Athletes' Appreciation award, though no USA-S official will confirm this information.

Masters Meeting
The US Masters Swimming meeting, has been sailing along much more smoothly, with only minor bumps, as President Jim Miller stamps his priorities on the organization in the first year of his administration.

USMS will bid to hold the 2006 Masters World Championships. It is expected to be the largest swim meet in history, with some 7,000 to 9,000 athletes from more than 50 countries participating. The last time the US hosted the World Championships was in 1992. The last time the meet was held in North America was 1994.