As European Leaders Try To Help Silva Survive Integrity Ruling Portuguese Board Asked To Step Down In Face Of Existential Threat

2024-01-19 Reading Time: 6 minutes
Swimming needs an independent Integrity Unit - the Antonio silva saga

Members the General Assembly of the Portuguese Swimming Federation (FPN) have been warned by a delegate calling for the “silent” executive to resign en masse that they and the entire regulator face extinction if they fail to follow a Government instruction to dismiss the FPN’s president António Silva, head of European Aquatics, after a five-month inquiry judged him to have fallen shy of acceptable standards of transparency and integrity.

Silva is due to stand for re-election to the European presidency on January 27 but his candidacy relies on a mandate from the FPN, which cannot allow Silva’s continental election to proceed without demonstrating backing for a man judged unfit to lead at home.

Despite the Portuguese judgement, European Aquatics leaders are still intending to proceed with the January 27 election in the face of calls for postponement on grounds that a new candidate for the presidency must be found for a regulator whose board came to power on a ticket of transparency and integrity in a 2022 coup but now stands accused of double standards when their own leader has an ethics judgement against him.

Read more on the theme of “Where Sport Seems To Think Itself Above The Law” At The Inquisitor

Nuno Recarei is the president of the North Portugal Swimming Association who after posing a series of questions to Silva concluded that his trust in the FPN president and European Aquatics head has been “compromised”.

Now, in a letter to fellow assembly members seen by SOS, Recarei asks them to support the Portuguese Institute of Sport and Youth (IPDJ) instruction to dismiss Silva but he also calls on the executive to step down en masse as “a demonstration of [the FPN’s] willingness to find a remedy to the current situation”.

Recarei sets out why he believes the FPN board has dropped the ball. If he opines early in his appeal to delegates that “the silence of the current leadership of the FPN is … excruciating”, he concludes his note with a reminder of what happened in Portuguese Judo and a warning that the entire FPN and its General Assembly now face the same existential threat if it shows any further support for Silva.

Recarei reminds delegates of their moral and legal responsibilities and the risk they run of being complicit with “illegitimate acts”. He warns them: “It is not acceptable to claim ignorance or loss of memory of problems as being a reasonable argument for total abdication of your responsibilities.”

Going beyond the narrow scope of the issues on which Silva has been judged to have galled shy, Recarei raises a brewing row over suggestions of financial irregularity at the FPN.

He notes the “strange secrecy” around an “infamous … procedural and financial audit” with specific reference to “community funds and service contracts”, some of which Recarei cites in other correspondence in which he questions the nature of relationships between the service provider and governance figures at the FPN.

The audit and related matters were unanimously approved by the 15 delegates (out of 38) present at an Extraordinary assembly meeting called on July 1, 2023 but the minutes have still not been made available to those who bear responsibility, according to Recarei. Even so, board members who have yet to see the information have “accepted it without any embarrassment”, writes Recarei.

On the issue of Silva’s candidature for the presidency of European Aquatics, he asks the delegates: “… given the facts before us, does the current leadership of the FPN considers itself to have a “legitimate” right to take a position on Silva’s candidacy to represent Portugal as president of European Aquatics. Meanwhile…

European Aquatics & the E4AA “Integrity First” Group Back Silva

The leadership of the European regulator continues to resists all efforts to prioritise integrity and transparency by dismissing the concerns of a whistleblower as complaints that present no barrier to Silva’s ambitions. Croatia and The Netherlands have even proposed that his candidacy continues to stand.

The latter is being presented as reason why Silva does not need a mandate from the FPN but that is simply not true.

The European Aquatics Constitution states:

Swimming S.O.S – what does the Silva Saga say about Integrity in governance? – photo by Craig Lord

“11.2.3  Nominations of candidates for election as President, First Vice President, Vice President, General Secretary, Treasurer, and Bureau members may only be made by the Member Federation where the candidate is under the jurisdiction and with the full support (confirmed in writing to the European Aquatics General Secretary) of the Member Federation. Nominations must be received in writing, by the European Aquatics General Secretary at least ninety (90) days before the date of the Congress where the elections are to be made. “

European Aquatics Constitution

A brief reminder: the E4AA (Europe For All Aquatics) group ousted the former president, Paolo Barelli, on grounds of allegations of financial irregularities. At the time, Barelli was bounced out of office, none of the allegations against him had been proven.

Now, members of the E4AA group appear determined to apply a different set of standards to the man they placed in charge citing “transparency and integrity”. Two of their key policies were:

  • “Promote transparency in all business practices and keep Member federations informed”
  • “Implement independent integrity function, including whistleblowing”
  • “Athlete representation into the LEN Bureau …”

The sincerity of the first two of those aims are now in serious doubt as January 27 approaches and the state Portuguese Institute of Sport and Youth (IPDJ) concluded a five-month inquiry on Wednesday with a judgement against Silva that comes with an instruction to dismiss. The penalty for not doing so is, effectively, closure of the FPN through loss of mandate and rights to even organise a national team in aquatics. The instruction must be carried out by the end of January.

After The Bomb Dropped…

The Wednesday bombshell was followed by two more emergency meetings as European swimming’s integrity crisis deepened.

  1. The FPN board.

The board met Silva and was told by the president that he was ready to step down. They must, he also told them, understand that he did not need their approval to continue his candidacy for European Aquatics. His name would go forward on proposals from Croatia and The Netherlands. But, he added, according to those present, in a gesture of goodwill, they should sign a paper confirming they were happy to have his candidacy proceed as long as he resigned from the Portuguese federation presidency.

Actually, Silva needs that paper signed because the FPN is the only body that can put him forward for any Bureau position under European Aquatics rules in place for many decades.

Precisely why the man serving as president of a federation with the clear constitutional obligation set out a few paragraphs north in this article should suggest that he does not need the approval of the FPN is another question on a list of many questions Silva has yet to answer.

They include his statement that he was never sanctioned by a Portuguese university, where he works for as a physical education professor, in the decade-long scandal of Brazilian students who parted with their money to study in Portugal but cannot receive their diplomas because the money never reached the university. According to documents seen by SOS, the highest authority of the university imposed a sanction on Silva and four others in 2019. Two years have passed since SOS asked Silva and his press attaché Nick Davies about that but we are yet to receive a reply.

  1. The European Aquatics Board.

When Silva faced the continental group after the ruling against him, he told them that he did not wish to cause the FPN harm, was ready to step down as its president, but wanted to proceed with his candidacy for LEN.

That would require rules to be either broken or mangled into convenient shape to get round the fact that no candidate can stand for the presidency in the absence of a mandate from the candidate’s national federation – and a mandate cannot be given with any sense of integrity by a federation that has dismissed the same man on integrity grounds.

Which is why Recarei has now challenged the FPN forum to do the right thing.

European Aquatics board, meanwhile, concluded its emergency meeting with a general agreement that, despite the red flags now flying high, it would proceed with the election on January 27 despite the obvious constitutional crisis it would be inviting if it allows Silva to stand for re-election.

Ambitions and hope of survival rest on this: Silva, as he told delegates at the FPN and European Aquatics, believes he has the support of at least 21 of the 38 delegates at the FPN’s General Assembly and they could reject the Portuguese agency instruction to dismiss, keep him as president or accept his resignation as long as they agree to allow his European candidacy for re-election to proceed with the critical support that only the FPN can provide.

Not a single one of the manoeuvres above would result in no harm being done. The constitution of European Aquatics could only be upheld if he FPN votes for its own demise.

The writing is on the wall: in 2022, Judo’s assembly in Portugal refused to dismiss its president under instruction from the IPDJ using the Legal Regime of Sports Federations law that all sports organisations must adhere or face extinction. Cue consequence: the Portuguese Government withdrew all funding, all legal rights and mandates, in line with the law. The assembly got real, voted again, sacked its president and survived.

The FPN is now in the throes of the same debate and journey. As Recarei notes, it can avoid the cliff edge if it does the right thing.

The chairman of the FPN’s General Assembly board, Alberto Borges must now call an Extraordinary General Meeting by the end of the month. If more than half of the delegates vote to back Silva in the belief that they are above the law of Portugal … cue consequence.

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