Mexican National Team Athletes Pleading For Support; Olympic Dreams Hang in Balance

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Mexican National Team Athletes Pleading For Support; Olympic Dreams Hang in Balance

By Daniela Navarrete

A group of 14 national team members are desperate for support from the Mexican Swimming Federation (FMN) and the National Commission for Physical Culture and Sports (CONADE) Many of the athletes have achieved Olympic B cuts and are close to hitting an A cut for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. However, they have been ignored by these two government-run sport bodies for more than a year, leaving most training and meet expenses to out-of-pocket cost for the athletes.

Hopefuls With Olympic Dreams

In a recent interview with the Mexican magazine, Proceso, Nicolas Torres, one of the coaches of the Mexican National Team, claimed that B cut swimmers who are just hundredths of a second from A cuts are being abandoned by the FMN and CONADE.

“There is no support in any way,” Torres said. “No logistics, no planning. It feels like they do not care about the best national team Mexican swimming has seen in years. We have swimmers that could achieve Olympic semifinals and we don’t see the minimum intention to help us.”

Mexican Relay

Photo Courtesy: Nicolas Torres

One of Torres’ swimmers is Melissa Rodriguez, a former Penn State All-American and Central American gold medalist. Rodriguez is currently the best-placed Mexican swimmer in the world and Olympic rankings, as she is just .02 from the Olympic A cut in the 200-meter breaststroke and .25 from the 100 breaststroke standard. Meanwhile, University of Arizona All-American and Central American record-holder Jorge Iga is not that far behind either, just .07 off the 200 freestyle cut.

Other national team members who are very close to achieving Olympic A cuts are Pan-American bronze medalist Miguel de Lara in the 200 breaststroke; Central American record-holder and former All-American for Texas A&M, Monika Gonzalez-Hermosillo, in the 200 individual medley; University of Michigan NCAA finalist and Central American gold medalist, Ricardo Vargas, in the 800 freestyle; and former Arizona NCAA qualifier, Ayumi Macias, in the 1500 freestyle.

Miscommunication With the Federation

Most swimmers stopped receiving financial assistance from the Mexican Federation at the end of 2019 without notification if they will ever receive that support at some point later. Currently, they only rely on a monthly scholarship ranging from $750 to $1,200 (USD) provided by CONADE. This amount is not enough for them to cover personal, training and meet expenses, as being a national team swimmer is just as demanding as a full-time job.

More than a year ago, national team coaches sent the Technical Coordinator of the Federation, David Callejas, training and competition plans in an effort to help athletes prepare for the Olympic Games in a more organized manner. However, since May 2020, they have not received a response. They have also tried to get in touch with the Federation’s president, Kiril Todorov, but he has not responded either.

Athletes have also experienced miscommunication from FMN authorities. For the 2020 Pro Swim Series in Des Moines, Iowa, which took place right before the COVID outbreak, Gonzalez-Hermosillo texted Callejas in January asking if all meet expenses were going to be covered. He confirmed right away, but it was not until a few days before the competition that she was notified she did not have a flight or a hotel reservation booked.

“I have been part of the Mexican National Team since I (was) 14 years old and I don’t think I ever experienced the treatment we are receiving from them (Mexican Swimming Federation) throughout the past year,” Gonzalez-Hermosillo said. “There is little to no support. It is almost like $1000 (USD) or more per meet and there are people on the team who are finding it really hard to keep afloat.”

No Help From CONADE

Due to the absence of the FMN and its president, both coaches and athletes have contacted CONADE, but they have also been neglected. Since March 2020, there have not been any swim meets in Mexico and no announcements have been given regarding when aquatic activity will resume. Therefore, national team members have done their best looking for competitions overseas. Last December, Coach Torres organized a trip for his swimmers to attend the 2020 Brazil Trophy in Rio de Janeiro.

Although some athletes joined, not all of them could afford to go because the trip was sponsored by each athlete’s mode of support (family, friends, individual sponsors, etc.). No assistance was provided by the Federation or CONADE.

National teamers complain about the fact that members of the Federation are not giving them proper answers and CONADE, as the top sports governmental organization, is not intervening to help them, either. With less than 100 days until the Tokyo Games, swimmers are in urgent need of competition and need support from the respective authorities.

Breaststroker De Lara emailed the head of Mexico’s Sports Commission, Ana Gabriela Guevara, on February 12 to inform her about the ongoing situation with the Mexican national team and the need of resources to travel to three more competitions in which Olympic hopefuls could try to achieve A cuts. However, on March 3, High Performance Director Guillermo Alonso Soto, told the swimmer in a letter that CONADE is not allowed to manage and/or provide resources for swimmers if not requested and approved previously by the Federation.

Discrepancies Among Team Members

National team members assert that these two institutions seem to be helping and supporting only one swimmer, Liliana Ibanez, a former All-American at Texas A&M and the Mexican record-holder in the 50 and 100 freestyle in both long course and short course. Currently coached by two-time Australian Olympian Brett Hawke, Ibanez has received benefits that none of the other national team members have during this pre-Olympic period.

In a letter published on her social media accounts, Ibanez explained that when Ana Guevara took charge of CONADE, the swimmer approached her with individual concerns, and Guevara was committed to help not only her but the whole national team. Guevara then offered her a coach and a place to live at the National Center of High Performance.

“It is not favoritism,” Ibanez said. “I am not responsible for how the rest (of the national team members) have processed their cases and manage their resources. I am a swimmer, and I am not in charge of administrative issues. I cannot speak in the name of anyone. The only thing I would say is that we are all Mexico.”

The last thing national team members are seeking is to be divided. According to a statement by Rodriguez in the Proceso article, they just want impartiality and fairness in opportunities and resources given.

“She is getting support and that is awesome,” Rodriguez said of Ibanez. “But why don’t they treat all of us the same? Don’t take stuff away from her, but give those of us with fast cuts what we deserve, too. We want to be equal so that when we race, we are all under the same conditions.”

Hoping for the Best

Time is running out and Mexican swimmers are begging for resources to help them achieve their Olympic dreams. Authorities and sponsors are aware of the issues and can come to the rescue for what can be the best Mexican swimming generation ever. As Nelson Mandela once said: “Sport has the power to change the world… It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does… Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

Disclaimer: Swimming World reached out on multiple occasions to officials from both CONADE and the Mexican Swimming Federation, but these overtures have not elicited a response.

2 comments

  1. avatar
    Anonymous

    Guevara and Ibáñez have become close friends…maybe, and sometimes in Mexico we really like to support our friends. Maybe.

  2. avatar
    Anonymous

    It’s so sad to read all this, and you don’t mention actual mexican’s swimming federation president Kirill Todorov, who wants to be re elected for his fourth period, when he doesn’t even care about anything but the re election, he’s not even mexican, he’s making fun of the mexicas sterling dreams, and money, he’s being persecuted by the mexican law, FINA has to help mexican athletes to come out of the big black hole they’re right now

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