When Money And Sport Shake Hands, Closed Eyes And Turned Cheeks Follow

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Photo By: Ben Pitterle for Driven – The Marathon Swimming Documentary Driven - The Marathon Swimming

Commentary by Brent Rutemiller

PHOENIX – With the withdrawal of Mexico from hosting the 2017 FINA World Long Course Championships due to financial limitations, three things stood out in my mind that tied the present to the past and future.

1. That Mexico was going to have to spend $100 Million dollars to host the championships. Evidently, as a democratic country, the financial responsibility to the people was more important than the glory of hosting a sporting event.

2. That in the words of John Leonard, Executive Director for the American and World Swimming Coaches Association…

“FINA will be mired forever into using facilities in autocratic countries where a ruling elite can make a decision to over-spend for the ‘sporting prestige’ of hosting such an event, which means that FINA and the democracies are finished with each other.”

A recent article by Joshua Yaffa from Bloomberg Business confirmed Leonard’s belief.

“At $51 billion, the Sochi Games are the costliest ever, surpassing the $40 billion spent by China on the 2008 Summer Olympics. The suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd on Dec. 29 and 30 have heightened fears of terrorism and given a renewed focus to security concerns as well as questions of cost. How the Sochi Games grew so expensive is a tale of Putin-era Russia in microcosm: a story of ambition, hubris, and greed leading to fabulous extravagance on the shores of the Black Sea. And extravagances, in Russia especially, come at a price,” wrote Yaffa.

Yaffa’s article is suggested reading for all concerned about the future of sports

It is not too far of a reach for one to believe that host countries like Russia and China will be rewarded for their support of these grand events. When big money and sport make deals, closed eyes and turned cheeks often follow. With Russia in the midst of a doping scandal and China now being accused of covering up a doping case, sport executives are already being called upon for stronger ethics, polices and greater transparency.

3. My third thought was a recent comment by Cornel Marculescu, FINA Executive Director that appeared in a public correspondence between Marculescu and Leonard where Marculescu tried to reassure Leonard that the FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia would be free of doping issues.

It was not the reassurance that caught my eye, although the results are still left to be seen, it was the second sentence that said, “We expect to increase the number from Barcelona 2013 of 4.5 billion worldwide tv viewers in Kazan.”

That sentence had zero relevance to the doping question put forth by Leonard. However, simply by its mere inclusion, Marculescu was sending a strong message that viewership of the event was equally, if not more important to FINA, than the real issue of systematic doping.

What I read was (In My Words), “John, don’t worry about the doping, be very excited that we are going to put on a great sporting event in front of billions of people.’ Subtle as that sentence was to some, glaring as hell it was to me! Money, Events and TV Viewership trump all issues.

I sense a steady drumbeat, from the entire swimming community, calling for change in the leadership and governance of our sport. Swimming World was privy to an email (see below) sent today to over 17,000 swim coaches from around the world as a call to action.

“We ALL Deserve Better”.

Everywhere I travel I hear from Coaches and Athletes that there is building frustration with FINA and its decision making process. I see FINA as a Fake Democracy. Fake because the Congress makes rules (often “guided” by the Bureau) and then the FINA office appears to ignore those rules…in Anti-Doping, in award procedures, and various other operations.

But, 208 of 208 Federations are “happy” with FINA…IF the “Federation” is defined as the 2-3-4-5 people at the top who benefit directly from FINA largesse on travel, accommodations and assistance. UNTIL THE FEDERATIONS express discontent with the FINA culture and operation, NOTHING WILL CHANGE.

Each day, for the past month, I have emailed the details of all communications expressing discontent with FINA to the International Relations Committee and the Board of Directors of USA Swimming, who, in my country, will ultimately decide whether or not to Confront FINA with our dissatisfaction. I do this so those bodies are FULLY INFORMED ON ALL THINGS FINA and thus can make appropriate decisions.

I ask each of you to consider WHO is doing that in your country?

Send the materials to your Board of Directors! IF you are unable to do so for security or similar reasons, feel free to send ME the email list of your own Board of Directors and I will send materials to them similar to what I am doing in the USA.

BUT, it is much more powerful if in each country, a coach takes the responsibility of educating his/her countrymen.

We need to educate those who can make change. If they refuse to see the truth and act on it, they will eventually find themselves in the dustbin of sports history.



  1. avatar
    Bill Bell

    And Boston wants to host the ’24 Olympics on the cheap?

    Good luck w/that.

    If they get the nod the price tag’ll mke Sochi look like a pittance.

    • avatar

      Swimming is an expensive sport! What makes this sport expensive is the construction and maintenance of the swimming and diving facilities. In Latin American countries for example, swimming is a status symbol, a sport which is only practiced by upper middle class and above. The optics for Mexico to spend one hundred million dollars to host a sport only practiced by the rich would be a political and social catastrophe. I am certain that if access to swimming facilities were more accessible in developing countries much more support will be had. FINA should sponsor more open water swim events. These events can be the catalyst for demystifying swimming as a sport for the wealthy.

  2. Bob Platt

    Although not alone in it’s corruption, FINA is and will remain a glowing example of greed in sport. The organization’s leadership proclaims to having the athletes best interests at heart but look no further than FINA once again awarding the UAE an Open Water event even though many of the safety recommendations need to ensure a safe event have yet to be implemented. If a member nation is to host a World Championships it must pay FINA what, 50-60 million? Where does that money go? Yes in need a very corrupt organization. The fact that the next World Championships is slated to be held in Russia is nothing short of appauling.

  3. Rob Dumouchel

    hey Cherie check it out, we’re photographically tied to FINA’s organizational corruption and ineptitude somehow… fun :p

    also, that picture was taken by Ben Pitterle for Driven – The Marathon Swimming Documentary

  4. avatar

    “Photo Courtesy of Open Water Swimming” is pretty much a meaningless statement. Steve Munatones is constantly using other people’s photos (intellectual property) without asking, and not providing proper attribution.

    • Brent Rutemiller

      Updated the credit. Thanks for the clarification.

  5. avatar

    USA Swimming immediately declined to be extorted by FINA in Guadalajara’s place. On a quick analysis, bravo; but we might want to re-think this strategy in the long term battle to re-shape FINA to serve the broader interests of the sport, its athletes and fans. We need to understand how monies produced in support of the sport, whether developed in democratic countries or extracted in autocratic nations, are allocated/spent. FINA needs to show where the money goes and justify how its allocation serves the sport and not individuals or oligarchies.

    What parts of the FINA fees requirements for assignment of their events can arguably be said to be spent to make a better event? I’m sure there may be some; I’m just as sure it is far below the amounts required for bids.

    For many years, the USA has been willing to build pools, whether permanent or temporary, in either open areas (Woolett; Long Beach parking lot) or indoor arenas (Jamail/IUPUI, Omaha’s Trials meets and 2004 SC Worlds in Indianapolis) with only the 2004 meet bearing the FINA label. US OTrials, Pan Pacific, Pan American, USA Nationals, ARENA Pro Swimming nee’ Grand Prix, NCAAs have all been held in the US, without unjustified FINA expense add-ons, which were all events of adequate quality to produce World Records. (except maybe the Indy Pan-Ams?)

    If no one steps forward in the next few months willing to take over 2017 under the FINA terms that drove Guadalajara under, I’d encourage USA Swimming to consider making a proposal to host the meet with at least the same type of production/event qualities as have gone into our recent Olympic Trials events. As a nod to appropriate FINA functions and their actual legitimate expenses, the bid could consider inclusion of additional items FINA can justify to a bidder as beneficial to the sport.

    If instead the event (or others in future FINA orbit) are granted either to: 1) federations where there is not great interest or demonstrated skill in the sport but simply available financing to further corrupt FINA activity, or 2) federations whose internal drug testing authorities, who would be responsible for testing at the event, are not in good stead with WADA, then —-


    Might at least create a little leverage to reach accommodations on the most egregious FINA problems ($ & drugs & corrupt administration).

    • Brent Rutemiller

      Great Perspective, Duncan… As for your boycott comment, FINA already circled the wagons on that one with a recent FINA Bureau Declaration inked on February 12th of this year. (Skip to the Last Line of the Declaration)

      FINA Bureau Declaration
      At its meeting in Lausanne (SUI) on February 12, 2015 the FINA Bureau unanimously made the following Declaration regarding participation of National Federations in FINA events:

      “Acknowledging the United Nations resolution adopted by consensus at the 69th regular session of the UN General Assembly in New York “recognising that major sport events should be organised in the spirit of peace, mutual understanding, friendship, tolerance and inadmissibility of discrimination of any kind and that the unifying and conciliative nature of such events should be respected, as recognised by fundamental principle 6 of the Olympic Charter”;

      Acknowledging the Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter specifying that “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement”;

      Recalling FINA’s Constitutional Rule C 4 prohibiting any form of discrimination against National Federation or individuals on the grounds of race, gender, religion, or political affiliations and FINA’s Constitutional Rule C 8.2.7 on the obligation of its members “to participate in international Aquatics’ Competitions especially in the FINA World Championships”;

      Recalling Rule IV.1 of the FINA Code of Ethics affirming that “no discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, or political opinion shall be tolerated”;

      The FINA Bureau makes a strong appeal to the participation of its 208 National Federations at FINA events. The strength and popularity of our Sport, Aquatics, is based on the values of Universality, Excellence, Friendship and Fair-Play. That is why FINA does not tolerate any form of political motivation to justify the non-participation in our events, as this is clearly incompatible with the FINA Rules, the Olympic Charter, the Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly and the values of Aquatic sport.”

  6. avatar

    This is what competitive swimming is: Two people sitting on the edge of a small lake look toward the other side. Both love to swim. One says to the other, “I bet I can beat you to the other side.” Should the whole world be watching? Why not? Does anyone care how comfortable the seats are? Who really cares about opening ceremonies? Or even what country the swimmers are from? What we care about is who wins. We who are fair also care about how each won — how they trained and raced; whether the winner won fairly. But how much was spent and how ornate the venue is not really as interesting as we’ve been advertised to believe. Swim suits should not be an issue. But you don’t see those who take great sums of money from the swim suit manufacturers to run magazines and coach’s organizations refusing that money. I would venture to say that most college teams spent more money on swim suits this year than on buying training equipment for their swimmers. There should be a cap of say $100 per swim suit for swimmers. That seems egregious itself, but fair enough. That should be one nice looking swim suit. But no… you have to buy $500 swim suits which obviously are essential to break world records now (in spite of the broken rules of FINA which guarantee otherwise.) Leonard is right when he points out what is almost comical — leaders of poor countries make swimming available only for the rich.

    Brent makes great points here. But solutions have to start at the local level. If we allow people to swim faster as a result of expensive swim suits, then it stands to reason we will turn another cheek ourselves when Fina allows the Chinese, the Russians, and dare we say the U.S. to compete knowing they have members on their National teams who have been “temporarily” banned for cheating. Should people be “temporarily” sidelined for cheating while they continue to train and then come back without getting caught? Should time standards be shifted because of swim suits? If you say no to both of those questions you then have the right to require Fina to find ways to make hosting affordable for democratic nations and to require federations who have athletes testing positive to withdraw their billions from consideration for hosting. In the U.S. swimming is an expensive sport and drowning is a leading cause of childhood death for various reasons. One of those reasons is the money involved in the concrete lobby which makes having inexpensive and quickly built above ground pools nearly impossible due to “zoning” laws in most areas of the country, including in my state, California. Ask USA Swimming’s Facilities expert Mick Nelson.

    So, here’s the thing. I agree with Brent: “follow the money”. But I also would repeat – start at home. Don’t buy swim suits that improve performance– not from me, not from anyone. If you want to improve your performance, then work on your flexibility, strength, endurance, stroke, pacing, etc. and do so without drugs. Once committed to that, whether a coach, a swimmer, a magazine, a parent, an LSC, a board member of an NGB, etc. then you should go after FINA. Yes, the venue should be safe. Yes the press should be interested. The lane lines and backstroke flags should be tight. The rules should be economically fair (no $400 underwater backstroke “blocks” when it would be simpler to allow toes to grip the top of the gutter, etc.). Competitive Swimming is a hole in the ground with water in a pool or a buoy to buoy in open water, and two swimmers finding out who is faster. I love this sport, but it’s no more complex than that and shouldn’t be. Steve Friederang, President, CompetitiveSwimmer.com