European Aquatics Decision To Avoid Integrity Check May End In Silva Losing Throne

2024-01-12 Reading Time: 5 minutes
António Silva, LEN / European Aquatics

There is no need for an ethics inquiry into António Silva, the Portuguese president of European Aquatics, an emergency meeting concluded, according to an official statement from the continental regulator for swimming.

Business as usual? Perhaps not this time. “We disagree”, say nations now campaigning for change on the way to a January 27 vote that raises serious questions about the entire reform process in aquatics, a promised commitment to transparency and integrity and the treatment of whistleblowers who may now be dissuaded from raising a red flag about the men in charge.

It’s not a good look to tell a whistleblower that after a short meeting and at least a day of effort, the swim-boss patriarchy involved believe her complaint to be too trivial for referral to ethics assessment of issues at the heart of a five-month Portuguese Government inquiry.

The version of events sent to media by European Aquatics did not mention significant information, such as the absence of Olympic-host France, Britain and Austria, and the discontent inherent in some of the questions Silva faced from those who were present.

Instead, we learn from the official statement that the team of ‘referees’ asked for their opinion about Alexandra Jorge‘s complaint is composed of these three men Christopher Magnusson – Sweden – Arno Pajek – Austria – and Erik van Heijningen – The Netherlands.

“Van Heijningen is not an elected member at the continental federation since relinquishing* the leadership of the Dutch federation under the terms of prevailing rules, while still able to serve on the top table at World Aquatics via a continental quota and able to retain decision-making roles at continental levels under international rules that shape governance structures. In such circumstances, lawyers are not just lawyers, of course: they are sports politicians.”

Whichever hat he was wearing on Wednesday, Erik conducted the meeting, according to delegates who tell us they were “deeply disappointed with how it went”.

As we note over at The Inquisitor, where you’ll find deeper insight on what actually happened at the online emergency meeting on Wednesday and in the hours that followed the leadership’s “move along; nothing to see here,” decision, questions will now run and run because the Silva case raises matters that call into doubt the entire reform process at World and European Aquatics.

The case draws the eye to the significant periphery. For example, a lawyer who works for the firm providing legal opinion to the Portuguese federation sits on the World Aquatics Integrity Unit. There is no suggestion of impropriety but such matters raise obvious conflict-of-interest questions, all the more so where the boast is that of “independent” unit.

The European Aquatics decision, say senior figures including top-table decision-makers in swimming and sibling disciplines, could be perceived to mean, in the words of one, that Integrity units help keep the shop clean “… as long as you don’t expect the leadership to face independent ethics checks in the same way as the rest of the membership of athletes, coaches and others”.

One European delegate was deflated by the decision: “It was really, really disappointing. I felt sad, beaten and cornered to just go along with it and it was the same for others, too. He [Silva] didn’t face any serious questioning at all. He was confident and laughing. He was questioned by the Swiss delegate and the athlete representative but it was mostly Erik telling us what was best and silence from many others. Erik took the floor and told us that Silva was a man who had no judgements against him, was not sanctioned and there was no reason to have the ethics people look at anything”. 

At the heart of the matter is why there was a year in between Silva, a physical education professor when not on the road on World or European Aquatics business, registering intellectual property rights to a Portuguese Swimming Federation (FPN) water-safety scheme and the registration of such rights to their own brand in the name of the FPN.

The question is one Nuno Recarei, the president of the North Portugal Swimming Association, put to Silva but says it was one of several key questions he got no satisfactory answer to and was left to conclude that his trust in the FPN president and European Aquatics head has been “compromised”.

The issue is one of those subject to an ongoing Portuguese Government inquiry as a result of Jorge’s whistleblowing. A verdict in that case may be imminent, depending on procedural decisions of those running the investigation.

Meanwhile, the treatment of the whistleblower may well come back to haunt at some point. Jorge is refererred to as being “of Portugal” and “Portuguese citizen”. There is no respect shown nor acknowledgement of the whistleblower’s status as a masters swimmer wishing to use her athlete voice and a font of knowledge and, more poignantly, her role and experience as a former secretary to the Portuguese Swimming Federation’s General Assembly of all regions and roles in the sport who in her letter of resignation in April 2023 noted:

“… since July 2021 I have witnessed some situations on the part of the FPN Management that, in my opinion, may be in contradiction with the most basic legal principles, such as equality between practitioners and clubs and legal security, in contradiction with the FPN’s own regulatory standards.

“… I was unable to ask for some clarifications formally and informally on issues that make me absolutely apprehensive about the way the FPN is acting/ managing some issues. Therefore, I am left to make this decision because I do not agree, and because I do not want to be bound by certain decisions that in my opinion are unequivocally incorrect and, as I said above, violate the most elementary principles.”

Alexandra Jorge, extract from April 2023 resignation letter – image: Swimming S.O.S – photo by Craig Lord

Full story at The Inquisitor

The European Aquatics Statement in Full:

European Aquatics Bureau meets to discuss complaint against President and finds that there has been no breach of European Aquatics rules

On 3 January 2024, a letter was sent to representatives of European Aquatics and World Aquatics by Ms Alexandra Jorge, of Portugal who: “wanted to draw your attention to situations taking place in Portugal” and that you should all “analyse these situations in light of the code of ethics and transparency”.

A letter from Ms Jorge had already been sent to Portugal’s Institute for Sport and Youth. When he was made aware of this, in the interests of transparency, Mr Silva informed the World Aquatics Integrity Unit in detail about this matter and supplied them with all relevant documentation. On 10 November, Mr Silva received the following communication: “After review and analysis of your self-report letter to AQIU as well as of additional documents…. Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer of the Aquatics integrity Unit decided to take no further action at this stage”.

On 5 January 2024, the General Secretary of European Aquatics convened a meeting of the European Aquatics Bureau online for 10 January to allow a full and open discussion of this topic. In addition, the General Secretary asked the Legal Commission ad hoc to comment on the letter of Ms Jorge.

The members of the Commission (Christopher Magnusson, Arno Pajek and Erik van Heijningen) have studied the letter including annex, documents from the Portuguese federation (FPN) and World Aquatics and a letter of clarification from the European Aquatics President to the Bureau dated 6 January 2024.

The European Aquatics Bureau meeting took place on 10 January.

The Legal Commission expressed their view that the information Ms. Jorge had presented did not justify any doubts about the integrity of Mr Silva as European Aquatics president or candidate for the European Aquatics presidency. In the light of paragraph 15.2 of the Constitution there is no reason to present a case to the Panel.

The European Aquatics Bureau, unanimously, agreed with the recommendation of the Legal Commission that there is no reason for any action.

Nonetheless, Mr Silva has sent the letter of Ms Jorge of 3 January as well as all documentation arising from the Bureau Meeting and Legal Commission meeting and correspondence to the World Aquatics Integrity Unit.

European Aquatics believes that Ms. Jorge’s letter has been carefully dealt with according to European Aquatics rules and that the information presented by her does not justify doubts about the integrity of Antonio da Silva either as European Aquatics president or as a candidate for the presidency.

11 January 2024

  • – * – the original report suggested that Erik Van Heijningen had lost the domestic election in 2017 when in fact he relinquished the role after serving four terms of four years (2001-17). We are happy to set the record straight.
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