EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH FORMER LEN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR LASZLO SZAKADATI PART 3

BARCELONA, Spain. August 1, 2013. LASZLO Szakadati discusses the conflict between LEN and FINA over the calendar of aquatic events, the slowness of innovation at FINA and the one area of failure he sees for LEN and aquatics in general.

LEN and FINA
SW: Tell us about LEN and FINA.

Laszlo Szakadati: FINA is the governing body of the aquatic disciplines in the world and without doubt has enjoyed a huge growth curve over the past couple of decades in all its aspects. However, in general, there needs to be “fresh-blood” and a “stir-in-the-pot” in order to prevent the organization from becoming to stagnant, comfortable, resistant to change and introverted.

LEN is the governing body of the aquatic disciplines in Europe, and no question it is the strongest continental organization under the FINA umbrella.

As I mentioned before, LEN has also made tremendous progress over the years. But, now there needs to be a steadiness combined with superior and experienced professional sports management that enables and empowers continuous development and improvement to prevent decline. Too much is at stake.

SW: What is right about the relationship? What is wrong?

Laszlo Szakadati: FINA and LEN in general, have had a good relationship over the years. In my experience, nothing more and nothing less than the usual relationship between World and European federations of other sports.

There were two disturbing factors (at least from my prospective).

First. We were never able to fix the diverging viewpoints and operational discrepancies related to the competition calendar. And on several occasions situations were resolved from a position of power and superiority rather than what was in the interest of the athletes and all parties. This was really pathetic.

Second. We were never treated like one of the most valuable continental organizations and a trusted strategic partner. But rather sometimes, we were treated like enemies.

We introduced a number of innovations in the past decade, and sooner or later these “arrived” at FINA. Nothing wrong with that. Nobody expects thank you’s and handshakes from FINA. But, at least a small amount of gratitude and recognition for the work we have done would have been appreciated and would have gone a long way in organizational relations.

At the end of the day both organizations are sitting in the same boat, trying to do something for the aquatic sports. So? Why not more openness and willingness to collaborate? Why not more discussion and constructive dialogue for the benefit of our mutually shared common interest? It’s just pathetic.

SW: Sport politics. How do we minimize it? What would you change? ?

Laszlo Szakadati: I don’t think sport politics can be minimized. We have to live with it. It’s part of the game. Wherever you look, left or right, you hit politics. Sport is no exception.

Some sports are doing well, some are not.

Once it is becoming selfish, pointing to individual interests and benefits, ignoring the interests of the athletes and sport, and with leadership giving way to positioning and elbowing… then, that is when it is when it becomes really annoying.

SW: Hey… We’ve experienced from others, some of those situations that you’re talking about, back when we were working together on some issues before…

Laszlo Szakadati: (Laughing) Exactly. It’s all about Change Management in these large organizations. Having the will to change something and knowing how… that is a difficult question to answer.

As we know politics is all about motivations, power and money. Does anybody know how to change that really? Look, I am just a molecule in a system.

SW: Who really runs aquatics globally? In Europe? What influence do the athletes have?

Laszlo Szakadati: The answer here is very simple. FINA runs aquatics globally, and LEN runs aquatics on the European continent.

In my view athletes have just minor and insignificant influence. That needs to change.

SW: Why does LEN and FINA attract so little money?

Laszlo Szakadati: This is THE QUESTION! I am not a marketing expert, therefore I can’t really reply.

We struggled for years and years to attract major sponsors, but for some reason swimming (aquatics) is not fancy enough with banks, insurance companies, telecommunication companies, energy companies, car manufacturers, electronics, cosmetics, soft drinks, etc. ?So, consequently, we miss the first tier of global sponsors entirely.

I was always wondering about this, and I couldn’t find a proper answer.

I also asked myself, when will somebody (a neutral marketing agency perhaps) will prepare a detailed study on this? In comparison with other sports?

Maybe this was done already? But never published? Nothing has been done, not to my knowledge.

SW: Did LEN ever get their marketing and television plan figured out?

Laszlo Szakadati: Yes, we did actually. LEN had a proper Marketing Plan. However as I said before, it never functioned.

The Television Plan was prepared some time ago together with Eurovision (EBU), LEN’s long time TV rights partner. It functioned really well. Broadcasters and audience were equally happy and we always had excellent feed-back and recognition.

End of Part 3
Part 4 will continue tomorrow where Mr. Szakadati discusses the sensitive topic of post-careers for athletes and where Europe is lagging behind the USA.

Part 1

Part 2

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