On The Record with Fernando Delgado, New President of the Puerto Rican Swimming Federation

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Fernando Delgado (arms crossed), head coach for the Puerto Rican squad at the 2016 CCCAN Swimming Championships in the Bahamas. Photo Courtesy: CCCAN

Assuming leadership of the Puerto Rican Swimming Federation (FPN)—the island’s national governing body for diving, open water swimming, synchronized swimming, water polo and competitive swimming—during a pandemic presents distinct challenges. But Fernando Delgado, elected Saturday to lead the FPN, is ready. Inheriting a stable, financially sound organization from departing president Miguel Toro, Delgado, who leads both the Guaynabo Mets and the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón swim teams, is equipped to take charge in a crucial moment.

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A protégé of German Rieckehoff, the legendary sports administrator who for years led the Puerto Rican Olympic Committee, Delgado began his swim career as an athlete then advance to became a well-regarded local and international swimming coach. From 2004 until last month he oversaw the Puerto Rico Triathlon Federation, instituting vital structural changes.

Delgado will have his work cut out for him leading the FPN during the current health crisis. Over the past three years the island has been pummeled by Hurricane Maria, an earthquake, a financial crisis, political uncertainty and now Covid-19. All sports on this idyllic island in the Caribbean have suffered, but none like swimming, with a number of aquatics facilities damaged by Maria still awaiting repairs.  

Delgado’s first order of business is to work with politicians, administrators and pool operators to get aquatic athletes back in the water, ideally as soon as November. He will have to step up efforts begun by Toro; the CCCAN (Central American and Caribbean Amateur Swimming Confederation) Championships are scheduled for June 2021.

On the day after he was elected by a narrow margin over Karen Oyola, Delgado spoke with Swimming World about his vision for the FPN, emphasizing that unity and cooperation are necessary to get Puerto Rican swim athletes competing again.

– A statement about your election as president of the FPN.

As soon as I was elected President of the Puerto Rican Swimming Federation, in my first statement I asked for unity from all of the delegates, especially of those who didn’t vote for me. Our campaign focused on being inclusive; we want to hear, understand and work for every member.

To be able to achieve excellence in our sport, we need the help and collaboration of everyone. We will be meeting again with all the teams, and choose the different commission members in hopes of being all back at the pool by March 2021.

– Like many countries, Puerto Rico is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. What is your vision for leading the FPN during these times?

The government has given us the opportunity to start training again. Clubs are being educated on strict protocols to be able to operate. We do have a big challenge because out of 27 clubs, I believe only 15% are training. Most have been training at the beach. In my particular case, my team rents four pools in private facilities, we are ready to begin and start training but the owners are not. We want to be a liaison in these cases to help get most teams back in the water by December 2020 and 100% of teams by March.

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Fernando Delgado. Photo Courtesy: Universidad del Sagrado Corazón

Another challenge was the hit of Hurricane Maria in 2017, some pools are still closed because of damages left by the cyclone. We will be meeting with all clubs to learn about their needs and help them operate.

The national elections are near and there will be a change in the government administration. Our board of directors has scheduled meetings with all candidates, to start making strategic partnerships in benefit of our federation.

– As you’re saying, competition will not take place at the earliest until March. Yet a desire to compete is what drives athletes. How will you maintain interest in swimming and other aquatic sports without competition?

At our Olympic training center in Salinas, there is right now authorization to train there. What are planning to make training camps for the different disciplines. Every weekend we can bring a [number] of swimmers there to [train], have an examination, do some test for the possible detection of the coronavirus.

We will also make use this time [for] the education of our coaches, our referees and the volunteers who administer our clubs.

We want to be ready to come back. Every Saturday we are hosting an international training session with 10 countries of the continent together and that was very good for maintaining athletes’ enthusiasm. To stay active with dry land sessions we are doing physical exercise instruction through video calls—we would like to duplicate that in Puerto Rico with all our clubs.

The real problem we have is the government. We depend on the government to reopen pools and permit to practice the different disciplines. Right now, the government has permitted the practice of swimming and open water swimming. We need permission for the rest of the disciplines, synchronized swimming, water polo and diving. But because of elections, we have to wait until after November 3 for the one who wins [the governor’s seat] in order that we’re going to start that in January.

– One focus of your campaign to lead the FPN is to get more young athletes interested in swimming. How do you imagine that will happen?

One of the biggest problems that we have even though we are and island, most of the population does not know how to swim. We want to stop that. For years we have been trying to educate the government that swimming should be an essential class, people would do more recreation in our natural bodies of water. This can potentially result in a rise of aquatic athletes and clubs.

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Devastation: damage to the Albergue Olympic Training Center in 2017, after Hurricane Maria. Photo Courtesy: Al Bello

We want to work hard on that. We want to send a letter to six of the [candidates]  running for governor that they stress what to do to improve this situation. We already spoke with FINA, PanAm Sports, and UANA because we need help for the special camps in our Olympic facility in Salinas [which] is opened for certain programs coordinated with the National Olympic Committee in Salinas.

Also, all the facilities that are [not available] because of Hurricane Maria. The mayors and the shareholders of those places have to get together and send the money to start repairing the [pools]. It’s more than a year and a half.

Pools that are already open need to give time and space to more than 10 clubs to train in the same facilities. That’s an issue that very important; to open the Natatorium in San Juan. The facility is ready but the mayor, she lost in the primaries—she won’t yet [open the pool].

We have a meeting today with one of the possible new mayors of San Juan and we want to work together in order that you can use the Natatorium San Juan as an option for the clubs that are nearby.

– You mention international partners such as FINA, the Pan American Games organizers and UANA. How much of a driver is international competition for all the Caribbean and Central American countries to get back to training?

Maureen Cores, president of  UANA, told me that the CCCAN competition already has dates at the end of June 2021—and it’s very important for us to be ready for that competition. For example, for water polo it’s going to be the qualification for the Central American Caribbean Games in 2022. That is the reason why I tell you that we have to wait until [we know] who won the governor’s [election]. We will meet and tell [them] how important it is to start training for our national teams.

Jul 13, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, USA; Luisa Jimenez Aragunde of Puerto Rico competes in the women's 3m springboard final during the 2015 Pan Am Games at Pan Am Aquatics UTS Centre and Field House. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Puerto Rico’s Luisa Jimenez Aragunde in 2015. Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher

This week were going to have the first meeting with people in the water polo group. This is a very important because they have another program and want to work together. The most important thing they have to understand is they have to be ready for competition in June 2021.

Again, that depends if we have the other pools open. We have to work hard with the other clubs in order to bring back the swimmers.

That’s not only a Puerto Rican problem. I talk with my friends from other countries, in America; I also talk with [people from] FINA. This is a problem for the whole world: getting back the swimmers.

We read on the USA Swimming webpage that they are doing virtual competition and we want to copy that [and] bring swimmers back to the pool.

– Your opponent for the presidency was Karen Oyola. How will her experience benefit the FPN?

In times of crisis we need everyone’s contribution. She has been a diligent leader of San Juan Caribá Swimming Club and has worked with Junior National Teams. We are open to work with everyone.

It is very important that we have a unified effort with my team in order to have all swimming people in Puerto Rico to benefit.

4 comments

  1. Frank Keefe

    Congrats Fernando enjoy the challenge, there are many talented athlete and coaches for you to lead

    • avatar
      Fernando Delgado

      Thanks Frank

  2. avatar
    Francisca Mendoza

    We are sure that the swimmers will return with much more desire to work their times and achieve and improve their best times.

  3. avatar
    Francisca Mendoza

    We are sure that the swimmers will return with much more desire to work their times and achieve and improve their best!

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