SII Focus 30th April 2015

WSCA to form new body to rival FINA

The World Swimming Coaches Association (WSCA) is to form a new body which it plans will replace the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) by September this year, after a number of frustrations about the way in which FINA conducts its affairs. “WSCA has washed its hands of FINA, and is forming two organisations”, John Leonard, Executive Director of the WCSA and of the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) told the Sports Integrity Initiative. “The first of these is a professional swimmers’ association, which we’re now working on. The second is to form a World Swimming Association, which is a governance model that will be a counterpoint to everything that FINA does. In other words, it will be based on transparency; will be athlete-centred; coach-directed; and administratively and professionally managed.”

Leonard said that FINA had consistently resisted calls for an independent audit to take place, including a request from respected Australian swimming coach Bill Sweetenham. He also alleged that as calls for an independent audit recently intensified, FINA has engaged in a “dirty tricks” campaign in order to maintain the status quo. These allegations were outlined in a 28 April letter from the WSCA to its membership, and include suggestions of secret meetings and a PR contract designed to disseminate misinformation.

“We have asked for FINA to allow or to be cooperative with an independent audit”, said Leonard. “We would like an audit of finance, governance and operations. We’ve had zero response directly from FINA. We will have a separate organisation in place by September. If FINA continues to resist what is common best practice in every corporate entity in the world, which is occasional outside review, then we don’t have much choice but to suggest an alternative. If FINA doesn’t improve, what choice do we have?”

Leonard alleged that FINA Vice President, Dale Neuburger, has been sending out a variety of FINA PR documents within the US, including FINA’s quadrennial financial statements, in order to resist calls for an audit. He also said that Osvaldo Arsenio, Chairman of the FINA Coaches Committee, had authored an article suggesting that the movement for change represented US imperialism.

“The Argentinean Chairman of the Coaches Committee wrote, in Spanish, a very twisted and convoluted piece that alleged that this is American imperialism. This is a ludicrous idea. The Vice President of FINA, Dale Neuburger, send out a variety of FINA PR documents within the United States, including the prior quadrennial financial statements. These are so unbelievably obscure that they are of absolutely no use to anybody. You can’t even see what amount was allocated as athlete prize money.”

“They used the highly-respected PricewaterhouseCoopers financial firm to impress”, continued Leonard. “This is insulting – nobody audits anything unless you ask them to audit it. It’s a completely inadequate audit. They have also used a couple of other dirty tricks, which will come out in the coming weeks.”

Although Leonard said that the WSCA had “washed its hands” of FINA, he said that the ASCA was still keen to work with them, which places in doubt any suggestion that the movement for change is spurred by US imperialism. “The ASCA is hoping to persuade FINA that the best thing would be to do an outside audit or evaluation. We will be meeting this Friday and Saturday with USA Swimming, hoping for them to support that call. If the strongest swimming federation in the world supports the call for an audit, then we will have made some progress. My guess is that no federation in the world will say that an audit is a good idea until US Swimming does, so our efforts now are to persuade the board of USA Swimming that an audit is a good idea. I think that we will have some success, because USA Swimming has had an audit four times over the past four decades. They’ve been highly useful and productive each time. I am hoping that US Swimming will support us and then other federations will jump on board.”

Leonard also suggested that swimming was concerned about testing and sample analysis at the 2015 World Championships, which are taking place from 24 July – 9 August in Kazan, Russia. FINA yesterday announced that all testing would be carried out by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), and that all sample analysis would be carried out in the Moscow laboratory, which is accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

“You’re talking about an organisation that is under active investigation by WADA”, said Leonard. “How can you have confidence in that, given the story by ARD in Germany, which from my conversations with people I believe to be 100% accurate? While there are good people working in FINA anti-doping, the political pressure for this to be all OK and fantastic is gigantic.”

Leonard said that this pressure may mean a political attempt to take the heat off Russia, following the allegations made in the ARD documentary ‘Geheimsache Doping – Wie Russland seine Sieger machete’ last year. “I’m worried about false positives. If RUSADA want to take the heat off themselves, they may try and report some samples from western athletes as positive. They could then simply state that the B samples were inconclusive, but you’d have taken the heat off Russia for the World Championship period.”

However, he did say that FINA’s pledge to bring in outside experts to assist RUSADA and the Moscow laboratory would help, if they have any power. In its statement yesterday, FINA said that it had ‘approached other WADA-accredited laboratories to invite some of their experts to collaborate with the WADA-accredited laboratory of Moscow for the analysis of the samples during the FINA World Championships’, however it is not known who the invited experts are, or if they have accepted. The Russian Ministry of Sports is collaborating with FINA on this procedure, which is understood to be the same as the one deployed for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

“They are incorporating experts from outside – in other words, they are going to have some watchdog people overseeing them”, said Leonard. “If this is correct, it is a move in the right direction. The solution is dual samples – one sample analysed by RUSADA, one analysed by another lab. If they match, then we have a positive.” However, it is understood that Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has signed an order requiring all samples to be opened at the Russian border, which would render them useless for any meaningful analysis.

Leonard highlighted that, as ever, the real power for change remained with the athletes – the swimmers. “All of FINA’s resources fall on the backs of elite athletes, who are getting crumbs in comparison to their compatriots in golf, tennis, track & field, etc.”, he said “If the athletes decide that they’re going to do their own thing, they are the people with the ultimate control.”

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