The Portuguese Swimming Federation (FPN) General Assembly of delegates from all regions of the country will vote on Friday March 2 on a Government instruction to dismiss António José Silva from the presidency of the domestic sports organisation after a five-month integrity inquiry found against him.
When they gather at the Meeting Room of the Jamor Pool complex at 5.30pm for an Extraordinary Session of the Assembly, delegates face a stark choice: either they dismiss Silva under their own “Loss of Presidential Mandate” rules or go down with his sinking ship under legal powers vested in the government to withdraw funding, mandate and rights that extend to being stripped of the right to organise and select national teams in aquatics.
Effectively delegates must vote in favour of the instruction from the Portuguese Institute of Sport and Youth (IPDJ) under Article 51 of the Legal Regime of Sports Federations (RJFD) to sack Silva or sack themselves and allow the entire federation to fold.
Precedent for such a move was set in 2022, when the national judo federation refused to come with an instruction to dismiss its president. Within days of shut down, delegates thought twice, arranged new elections and the president was gone. What will the FPN do?
Article 51 of the RJFD, which dictates the loss of mandate when “the heads of federative bodies who, in the exercise of their functions or because of them, intervene in a contract in which they have an interest, for themselves, as business manager or representative of another person, and also, when your spouse, any relative or similar in the direct line or up to the 2nd degree of the collateral line or any person with whom you live in a common economy is interested in it”.
Backdrop To The FPN’s Silva Saga
The FPN meeting was called by the president of the General Assembly, Alberto Mota Borges, a friend and close associate of Silva’s, who was instructed to act on January 16 and given 15 days in which to set a date for the extraordinary session.
Borges opted for a date long after European Aquatics was scheduled to vote on Silva’s re-election as president of the continental regulator, which took place on Saturday, when the level of sycophancy shown to a man with an integrity ruling against him was described by one delegate as “disgusting”.
Britain, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Greece, France, Denmark and many others bet their swimming houses on Silva.
Of course, delegates do not have to refer to their memberships back home when voting in such closed-shop elections that are part of the troubling landscape of Olympic sports governance. In the clubby atmosphere at Congress in Athens, where board, commissions and other jobs were up for grabs as nations clamoured for positions of power and influence, delegates voted to ignore every red flag waved by whistleblower, national Government and General Assembly members in Portugal, not to mention the many integrity related questions left hanging in the air for two years since this journalist put them to Silva and his media right-hand man Nick Davies.
Not a peep, which breaks reform commitments made when World Aquatics president Husain Al-Musallam and all under him at global and continental federations approved all recommendations made by Francois Carrard, the long-time Olympic lawyer who has since passed away.
It seems memory and commitment passed with him. For Carrard’s recommendations included this on communication with media (regardless of how tricky questions may or may not be):
“Finally, the Reform Committee is mindful to note that FINA’s historical “no communication communication” approach with its members, partners, Athletes and the media must immediately cease.”FINA Reform Recommendations – approved and in force but not enforced – image: Installation, Bauhaus – photo by Craig Lord
I have news for all of them gathered in Athens last Saturday, including Mr. Al-Musallam: it still hasn’t ceased and your reform process has stalled not only to a standstill but the lack of transparency and integrity on display at European elections last weekend was a back to the future moment, complete with the sound of Cornel Marculescu laughing his socks off from his retirement eyrie after 35 years at the helm as director.
I say that from a position of experience.
The votes in Athens were cast on a day when Victor Pataco, the head of the Portuguese Institute of Sports and Youth (IPDJ) hit back at a week of statements from Silva with a damning statement of his own, and, ironically, the birthday of the European Aquatics Integrity Unit.
Worth mentioning: however flushed with integrity any of those chosen to serve on that unit are, independence is not a word one could attach to the group for very obvious reasons. We’ll be returning to that theme here and at The Inquisitor in due course.
Neutrality and independence, meanwhile, will not be the most obvious thing on display at the Assembly session on Friday in Portugal either. Take Borges. After the vote on Saturday, he was among the first to congratulate the self-suspended president with an integrity ruling against him.
Friends are friends, of course, but Borges is the man who must preside over and chair the session on Silva’s dismissal. The question is, how does the chair take the neutral stance that would befit his office and coming role at assembly when everyone in the room knows that Borges sent his chum a public pat on the back in a message reading: “As always, for the common good! Congratulations.”
The common good is not how the authorities in Portugal appear to have viewed Silva’s registration of intellectual property rights to a water-safety scheme (with a fee of more than euros 2,000 attached to it for each participating organisation) a full year before those rights were transferred to the FPN after the then secretary of the General Assembly, Alexandra Jorge, sought answers to questions but came up with against a proverbial brick wall.
Assembly members such as Nuno Recarei, president of the North Portugal Swimming Association, also challenged Silva but the lack of clear answers from the FPN president led him to say that his trust in the man has been “compromised”.
Jorge, meanwhile, resigned from the FPN in spring 2023 and turned whistleblower not long after. The concerns she raised last summer sparked the sports institute inquiry that found against Silva in favour of Jorge on January 16.
In the wash if it all, Borges told the Correio dos Açores in 2017 that he had accepted an invitation to become general assembly presidency in late 2016 after eight years leading Açores swimming association “on grounds of the admiration I have for the project and the person of … Silva”.
That admiration for Silva seems to be just as strong in Borges, who has now set a date that takes a slight edge off Silva’s embarrassment at being European president and a World vice-president but only a self-suspended not yet sacked domestic president.
Borges still have Silva’s back despite the integrity ruling against him and the many questions he is facing on multiple fronts. It remains to be seen if Borges will take his admiration to the top table with him at FPN assembly on Friday March 2. Assembly members are surely watching, not to mention Portugal’s highest sports authority.