WSA ‘Ready’ As Shadow Global Swim Manager During Review As Feds Tell FINA ‘Set Up Integrity Unit’


FINA is under pressure to stop dragging its heels and fast-track the establishment of an independent Integrity Unit, the absence of which could result in a cut in Olympic funding as swimming lags Track & Field and other sports on ethics.

Leading swimming federations are preparing to take up “critical issues that need addressing” with a FINA leadership under fire in the wake of its widely-criticised support for Sun Yang, the Chinese controversy slapped with an eight-year ban by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

As calls grow for FINA’s leadership to step down, George Block, the president of the World Swimming Coaches Association, said that the World Swimming Association (WSA) set up by coaches and others with a shadow constitution for swimming designed to show “how FINA ought to be built and where its focus should be”, is ready to step in as an intern management for the sport during a review and reform process.

Block told Swimming World:

“The great management guru, Dr. Tom Peters, said that with large organizations, it is easier to blow them up and start over, rather than to try to reform them. The WSCA would like to work with FINA, but that is not going to happen. These organizations are built to NOT change, not reform themselves. The WSCA has built an international organization, the WSA, that is ready to take over the swimming side of FINA, if the time comes. In the meantime, the WSA is responding to our members’ needs all over the world.”

Any move to replace FINA is likely to be resisted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and their national-federation members but the WSA, which on its website invites coaches, swimmers and the wider world swim community to “Join Us & Change The World Of Olympic Sports!”, could be a part of the interim solution for the sport in any review and reform process aimed at bringing the crisis in global governance of swimming to an end.

Leaders of top national federations are discussing what CEO of Swimming Australia Leigh Russell called “the “critical issues” that FINA faces before they take their views to the international federation they are members of. Some of their messages were put to FINA long ago.

USA Swimming has led calls in the past year for FINA to establish an Integrity Unit. To date, there is no sign of any plan of action that would lead to the establishment of a unit, let alone a truly independent unit.

Sun is to appeal the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport to side with WADA in it’s challenge to a FINA Doping Panel decision to let the swimmer off with a caution despite a clear case of tampering that broke the WADA Code when a blood sample submitted and signed off by Sun was then taken back from the chain of custody. The CAS delivered its full report on Wednesday after announcing its decision last Friday.

FINA’s leadership has since faced widespread calls to step down and for the federation to engage in an independent review and reform process aimed at bringing governance of aquatic sports into the 21st Century.

Many of the voices heard, however, have been those of athletes, coaches, parents, fans and media commentators, while national federations have been notably silent.


Sun Yang – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Block praised “the brave Australian athletes” who stood up to FINA in the Sun Yang case and urged federations to step up and back athletes in their “fight for what’s right”:

“Unfortunately, only the athletes have been engaged in this fight. Both FINA and the National Federations either punished, or threatened to punish, any athletes who stood up for clean sport. The WSCA has issued statement after statement, but FINA can freely ignore them all. That makes this a big win for the athletes, especially the brave Australian athletes who stood up to both FINA and their own federation.”

Many of the concerns of swimmers, coaches, federations and others, regardless of whether their comments are made in private or for public consumption, centre on the lack of transparency of processes at the helm of FINA by an executive and top-table Bureau protected by a Constitution worded to actively forbid dissent, criticism of policy and whistleblowing and even insists that the leadership decides which complaints the federations self-appointed Ethics Panel can hear.

World Athletics established its Integrity Unity three years ago in line with recommendations from the International Olympic Committee and its Agenda2020 reform process.

FINA has failed to act and now risks loss of IOC funding, an Olympic source with a legal background telling Swimming World:

“Swimming was put on the same pay scale from IOC broadcast revenues as Track and Field for Rio 2016. There’s been a lot of concern expressed that FINA just hasn’t stepped up and embraced Agenda2020 and other recommendations to catch up when it comes to integrity and ethics. FINA hasn’t put anti-doping into independent hands, Travis Tygart among those noting that correctly since the Sun verdict; and FINA has no integrity unit. Its ethics rules are not fit for purpose and the leadership still seem to feel that they can take all decisions on all matters in a locked room with no oversight and no light let in. It has to end – and soon. There are rumblings from athletics and others suggesting they should be rewarded for being on a new track. FINA is now at risk of being demoted from the top tier of rights funding.”

Block confirmed that USA Swimming’s deputy boss Mike Unger had been charged in the past year with getting FINA to see sense on the establishment of an Integrity Unit. Words have not turned into action and FINA’s leadership flounders yet, while the sport is facing a cliff-edge: in July 2012, the presidency of FINA is on course to be handed to Hussain Al-Mussalam, the Kuwaiti cited in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Justice as a co-conspirator in the almost $1-million fraud case of Richard Lai, a Guam soccer official.

Lai was found guilty, while his evidence included documents showing that more than $800,000 was transferred to his bank account, the money sourced back to a bank account in the control of Al-Mussallam and his boss, the “Olympic kingmaker” Ahmed Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti Sheikh who stepped down from his FIFA roles after the details of the Lai case came to light.

Both Kuwaitis deny wrongdoing. That has never been put to the test in a court of law, while FINA’s leadership responded to the case by backing Al-Mussallam and confirming him as “First Vice-President” and thus heir-in-waiting to the throne when 84-year-old Uruguayan Julio Cesar Maglione steps down in 2021 after the rules were changed in 2017 to allow him to have a third term, in contradiction of IOC guidelines and its own term rules.

Pending a court challenge to the Sheikh in Switzerland, he self-suspended as head of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC).

When Konstantin Grigorishin, the founder of the International Swimming League, showed up at FINA headquarters in Lausanne at a time he was trying to persuade the international federation to relinquish control on who can hold what swimming events and who can swim in them, he found the Sheikh sitting on the other side of the desk.

Grigorishin says that the Sheikh told him: “You can talk to me: I run world swimming”.

In fact, the Sheikh has no function at FINA nor in world swimming governance. He also hails from a nation with no experience nor knowledge of world-class performance programs in swimming nor anything remotely like a world-class swim team.

The dramatic rise of Middle East representation in FINA leadership and on committees and commissions at the international federation coincides with a large drop in European representation in FINA.

In the wake of the Sun Yang verdict, Block now confirms:

WSCA, ASCA (American coaches peer body), the USA Swimming International Relations Committee (IRC) and the USA Swimming Board have all called on FINA to form an Integrity Unit modelled after the Athletics Integrity Unit. Mike Unger was appointed as the point person to work with Cornel [Marculescu, director of FINA] on this.”

Swimming World has asked FINA what plans have been made to establish an Integrity Unit and who is involved in any decision-making process that may be underway. Questions have also been sent to federations, including USA Swimming, with a view to understanding how near (or far) swimming is away from having its own Integrity Unit.

The Conflicts Of Interest That Can Be Avoided By Having An Independent Integrity Unit


The FINA Handbook

If the AIU deals with doping under terms of engagement alien to FINA, namely “The Athletics Integrity Unit has a clearly defined remit and structure that is fully independent of World Athletics”, the unit also deals with matters that to date in swimming have been in the exclusive control of the FINA leadership, this section of the AIU Reporting, Investigation and Prosecution Rule – Non-Doping, offering further explanation.

As things stand, the FINA Code of Ethics includes such anti-checks-and-balance clauses such as:

“No FINA staff or Bureau member shall make adverse comments on a policy adopted by the FINA Bureau once the FINA Bureau decision has been taken.”

Questions related to that clause came into clear view in 2014 when fewer than a handful of members of the FINA executive decided to grant the federation’s highest honour to Vladimir Putin on the eve of the Russian doping crisis and at a time when Russian had the worst record of cheating in aquatic sports, with 23 cases on the books in the period between securing the rights to host the 2015 World Championships and that event being staged in Kazan.

In 2016, despite seven FINA Bureau members having confirmed that they had never been asked to vote on the Putin award, FINA president Julio Maglione confirmed “yes, it was a Bureau decision”. Under the Code of Ethics, had any of those saying “I was never asked” issued a statement to that effect, let alone one in which they might have said “not in my name nor the names of all the athletes, coaches and others in my nation that I represent in FINA”, their position would have been untenable.

And if anyone had wanted to challenge the decision before the Ethics Panel, the decision to have the case referred to that Ethics Panel or not would have been taken by the very people who voted to honour Putin. In 2015, FINA was given warning by its own legal counsel that its rules were in conflict and needed changing: two separate parts of the FINA rule book grant the FINA Executive and the Ethics Panel itself the poor to decide which cases the Panel can hear upon submission of complaints. The executive, in a 2016 letter of clarification to Bureau members, granted itself the upper hand in any decision on whether the Ethics Panel can hear a case or not.

With the establishment of an independent Integrity Unit, FINA leaders and others working in and with the federation would be held accountable for their actions under the codes established by the integrity unit – and not by themselves.

Swimming World’s coverage of Sun Yang & FINA Vs WADA At the Court of Arbitration for Sport