Welcome To The State Of Swimming – S.O.S

2019-05-27 Reading Time: 6 minutes
The Swimming Slipstream - (Cate Campbell - by Patrick B. Kraemer)

Welcome to the State of Swimming (SOS), an oasis for occasional news and thoughts on governance and the climate set by the guardians of the sport and how such things play out in the life of the swimmer, the coach, the parent, the sponsor, the kit maker, the media and more.

In the year since we waved goodbye to SwimVortex, its daily news and its courting of conscience and consciousness in the swimming world, much has come to pass, seen and unseen.

The seascape and tide of the sport have shifted in significant ways, courtesy of a backer with the character, drive and money to trigger change and provide leadership where others could not. Athletes, not just for the money but because of a craving for fairness and a frustration and, indeed, anger with the status quo and the woeful state of self-serving governance of swimming, have made a stand.

Made a stand together: a powerful force.

Some things have not shifted at all, however. The lack of transparency is as great as it ever was. A question for all you people who consider yourselves stakeholders, even key stakeholders, in swimming, in world swimming: has the FINA leadership consulted you or even your representatives at the highest authority of the international federation – namely, The Congress of all nations, according to the Constitution – over changes it plans to make to that Constitution?

Another question? What do you suppose these planned changes might be, given the events of the past couple of seasons? Surely, something along the lines of changing rules that must be changed to reflect new circumstance, such as:

  • FINA’s leadership has verbally – and in a press release – committed to NOT pressing member federations to ban their swimmers if they race in International Swimming League competition
  • FINA’s leadership has said that it will not recognise the results of any competitions that coincide or clash with FINA competitions: so, the first ISL round of the inaugural series, in Indianapolis, won’t count – at least not for FINA (they will make our ranking lists and record of results because they will have been achieved in a controlled competition environment under FINA rules)
  • The EU competition authority has, through a ruling in another sport, sent out a clear message to all Olympic sports federations, FINA/swimming included, that rules preventing athletes from earning money in competitions organised beyond the remit, but not the rules, of the federations break international law. The competitions law in question has been adopted by the member states of Europe – and is therefore also national law.

Logic tells us that the FINA leadership ought by now, in this first year of ISL competition and with the very best of world-class swimmers having committed to that, to have called an Extraordinary Congress to debate which rules need changing with urgency and how they should be changed to cater for the changed circumstance. Further, a schedule would need to be drawn up of all the issues that need to be taken into consideration if the rule-maker is to make sure it has a rule book fit to cope with the challenges of new ways of doing things and competition formats and circumstances and environments that may and will be different to anything the rule book has had to take account of in the past.

Logic is not what we’ve seen from the FINA leadership for a very long time. Self-preservation and defence of the status quo is what they plough their time and energies into yet.

Here are some moves the FINA leadership is considering, in-house and behind the scenes, as serious suggestions for changes to the Constitution:

  1. What we might call the ‘Barelli Blocker’, after the challenges of 2017:
  1. Term-of-office rules demanded by the IOC – but, “please”, not just yet for those who have been there forever:

And this gem of arrogance and insult to intelligence:

  1. Placing FINA rules above national laws there to protect the welfare and rights of citizens, including those who take part in sport and belong to the elite world-class community of sportspeople:

Again, stakeholders: were you asked? And what do you think of all that? What do you think of a leadership that thinks it reasonable to suggest that FINA rules should be above the law of your country, your continent, even (for they are the same in a vast number of FINA member nations)? What will those who represent you and your interests do about it?

To date, athlete representatives have been either delegates from their own federations (voted in without the say or vote of swimmers) and/or athletes nominated for representation via the federations (voted in without the say or vote of swimmers) too often because their qualities fit the international-relations profile required by the status quo seeking to preserve the status quo.

Athletes are making efforts to get their act together. They need to do so fast. They need representatives, including labour relations experts, acting on their behalf and insisting on a seat, a say and a vote at the top table of a rule-making body that must let the light in and let go of structures built to ensure that the priorities and interests of blazers always take gold ahead of the priorities and interests of athletes and their welfare.

Athletes need representatives who understand the history of challenge and the challenges of the future, representatives capable of getting to grips with the issues raised by the Committee To Restore Integrity To The USOC (United States Olympic Committee).

The Watchmen of the Water have been wilfully blind, as in:

“I ran past the first watchman. Then I was horrified, ran back again and said to the watchman: “I ran through here while you were looking the other way.” The watchman gazed ahead of him and said nothing. “I suppose I really oughtn’t to have done it,” I said. The watchman still said nothing. “Does your silence indicate permission to pass?” – The Watchman by Franz Kafka, from Parables and Paradoxes

The poor to woeful and even corrupt governance that has accompanied that wilful blindness has had consequences in swimming that many swimmers and other key stakeholders have been slow to wake up to, dazzled as they are by each passing showtime and showcase, flick of curtain, slight of light, all part of the art of the conjuror holding the cards and controlling the fall of coins.

A sport sinking even as the bulk of VIPs, the ranks below – to use the ticketing terms of the Titanic – of first, second and third-class passengers, the crew, engineers to deck hands and all other hands to the pump, accept a state of being kept in the dark? That may sound overly dramatic. It is not. Alas, we cannot say that no-one died.

Why ‘a sport sinking’, given all the glamour of the stars lining up for big money prizes and the hope of a new Pro start?

Birthing pools, that’s one why, for starters. Take participation in swimming, In a recent lecture on the subject, performance coach top coaches Wayne Goldsmith noted statistics showing that participation in swimming in his native Australia has failed 60% in the past decade. The issue is global. The consequence obvious to anyone who ever mentioned ‘performance pathway’ or other such terminology describing where the champion came from ands how the champion got to be a champion.

What is causing the decline?

The answers are more simple than many appear willing to grasp because to do so would mean acknowledging serious problems without having a clue what to do about them. Faced with challenges that require long-term processes involving debate, compromise, arriving at a decision and then taking action based on all of that, humans are – in realms and on issues far and wide – torn between sticking with the familiar and comfortable (even when neither of those things are healthy) and revolution.

Sports organisations are to be found on a spectrum from inaction and stagnation through to a scrambling for ideas and solutions required to get the kids through the door, to keep the kids, to coach the coaches, to keep the coaches, to make the money to pay the bills, to cut the ties with a subsidised world that controls an environment less than ideal, to work hard and smart in a world tending to the easy fix a million leagues from the reality of performance sport.

Faced with such challenges, many will opt for safety and comfort when neither of those things will get the job done and improve the lot of the athlete, the coach, the parent, the club, the sport and its potential to be spectacular and entertaining and income-generating – and safe and fair on a number of levels where fairness and Fair Play have not felt at home for far too long.

There’ll be more news in the weeks ahead on where to go for pure then kind of swim news and vortex from the fast pool in these post-Vortex days.

Here at the State of Swimming, there will be no constant flood of news and views. We’re here – Craig Lord and guests – for the occasional long-read in places where the light needs letting in and where the tide needs turning for a finer future.

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