The Voice of Paolo Barelli Will Echo In the Ears of FINA

paolo barelli 2017
Paolo Barelli Photo Courtesy: Swimming World

Paolo Barelli is a seasoned politician having served three terms as a Senator for Italy.  In swimming circles he has risen from the ranks; first as an Olympic athlete in ‘72 and ’76, then as a voting member of the FINA Congress, and now as the President of Ligue Européenne de Natation (LEN).

It was his passion for the sport of aquatics that motivated him to seek the presidency of FINA last week.

Barelli understands leadership and the process for change. He has seen it on so many levels.  He also understands that voices are not often heard upon first shout but their echoes can haunt for years.

His candidacy lasted only a few months from start to finish.  It was a losing bid as his voice fell on the deaf ears of voting members.  But his message still rattles the walls of the sport.

I think I did announce my candidacy late in the process, but it was not something that I suddenly woke up and said, ‘Hey I want to be president’, I thought about this for a long time,” said a reflective Barelli.

The candidacy started with calls for transparency and accusations of ethical violations leading to legal actions and maneuvering.

The campaign quickly spiraled into questions about how to invest the large financial assets which are the result of the hard work of the national federations, underfunded programs, lack of athlete and coach representation and other poor initiatives.  It then evolved into the powers behind the scenes and long-term agendas.

From historical and modern standards, these issues seem universal among all political campaigns.   Maybe society has become numb to these ever-present and omnipresent arguments and claims.

Perhaps there is a thread of truth or even a mountain of it. In either case, FINA voting members chose to downplay all the talk and finger pointing to vote in statu quo and re-elected Julio Maglione as its president.

Barelli knows that change takes time.  He is happy that he was able to communicate issues and to articulate a vision.

“I am happy that many of the things that I fought for in my campaign were added to FINA objectives. For that reason, I think my campaign had success.  They say there will be better funding for federations and developing countries. They say there will be better ethics control. They say there will be better representation for coaches and athletes. We will see,” said Barelli. 

Often in politics the victorious party vilifies the person who delivers the unwanted message.  Barelli is in that unenviable position, but he still leads the LEN federation – which includes 52 Nations – and his support there appears solid.

“LEN stands strong on the issues that are important to its family. We have a traditionally strong continental activity and we feel that we are a positive driving force within FINA. We also have a solid structure in place whereby we support our member federations also financially” said Barelli

Barelli still has a voice and leads the most powerful federation within the FINA organization. Even if his first shout out to FINA was not heard, it will certainly echo in the years to come.