Green Light For Aquatics Integrity Unit As FINA Congress Backs Reform Plans

2021-12-18 Reading Time: 5 minutes
Integrity - time for swimming to take the plunge and harness independent scrutiny to the governance of the sport
Integrity - time for swimming to take the plunge and harness independent scrutiny to the governance of the sport

An Aquatics Integrity Unit will be established and other reform plans put into practice after the FINA Congress, the ultimate authority of the global regular for swimming, approved recommendations of a Reform Committee already backed by the Bureau, or board, of the sports organisation.

The move (FINA statement below) comes around seven years after Bill Sweetenham, backed by fellow coaches at the World Swimming Coaches Association and peer national organisations, led calls for FINA to submit to a review and reform process at the height of a governance crisis.

Sweetenham and Co were ignored, by some of the very leaders who now back the reform process triggered by Husain Al-Musallam, the Kuwaiti elected president of FINA last June.

Al-Musallam stood on a reform ticket, made clear his support for the creation of an Aquatics Integrity Unit that will replace in-house bodies and processes through which FINA leaders have been their own judges on matters of integrity, corruption, doping decisions and conflicts of interest among issues that the international federation has been heavily criticised for – and divided over.

In light of the Sun Yang case, Al-Musallam has pledged “a 180-degree turn” in the way FINA handles anti-doping cases.

True to his word on reform, Al-Musallam has pressed his fellow leaders to make the right moves towards reform after decades of stagnation and malaise where action and progress were called for by key stakeholders. A facility such as the Aquatics Integrity Unit now on the cards and set to be in place by summer next year was first suggested more than 20 years ago.

The powers that FINA grants to its new Aquatics Integrity Unit will be key to its efficacy. Athletes have already indicated that they wish to refer to such a unit the reasons why they want a reconciliation process to handle the horrible history of the GDR’s State Research Plan 14:25 beyond what the work of this author has already led to, with Al-Musallam’s support when the details were presented to him eight years after they were submitted for FINA Bureau consideration but never made it to the top table: the stripping of honour from Lothar Kipke, the East German doctor who advocated clean sport one side of the Berlin Wall while abusing teenage girls and others on the other side of the wall as an architect and officer of systematic doping.

The damage was legion, the calls for redress and reconciliation gathering momentum once more. Al-Musallam has noted that the purpose of reform if too learn from the past while focussing on the future. He also acknowledge the harm down to generations of swimmers when he said:

Husain Al-Musallam – going to work on reform – Kipke now gone

“Fina understands the concerns of athletes who have competed against others subsequently proved to have cheated.

“Athletes work their entire lives for a mere chance to compete for a medal, yet alone win one. So when athletes are denied the reward they worked so hard to achieve, Fina must do everything it can to right this wrong. 

“Fina is committed to building aquatic sport on the strongest possible foundations. This is why Fina has begun a wide-ranging process of reform, part of which is the proposal – already approved by the Fina Bureau – for the creation of an independent Aquatics Integrity Unit.

“Once established, the independent Aquatics Integrity Unit will investigate the matter to determine what recourse may be taken in support of Ms Davies and all similarly-situated other aquatics athletes.”

Husain Al-Musallam

A craving and ambition for the big time in the global league in which swimming must compete, one topped by pro sports far and away wealthier and more popular in terms of attracting regular global audiences, led to aquatics leaders travelling down pathways that spoke much more about their needs and wishes than those of athletes, whose welfare often appeared secondary, at best.

In a review of Olympic Governance among international sports bodies in June 2020 that placed FINA at the bottom of a league of 27 summer-sport international federations, level with weightlifting and judo.

A reform process at FINA is underway and a Reform Committee has come up with a first line of responses and recommendations that have won the backing of the ruling FINA Bureau and are now heading to a vote of the Congress of 209 nations in December. 

Now, Al-Musallam, and the new executive director, Brent Nowicki, are leading a reform process that holds much promise but has a long journey ahead. Some of their challenges will be easier to handle than others. In a series on the FINA plans, SOS has looked at four the “Six Pillars of Reform” proposed by the committee charged with the task of making recommendations for change. The series so far:

The FINA Statement in Full From Congress Approving an Aquatics Integrity Unit Today:

ABU DHABI (UAE) – The FINA Extraordinary Congress, held alongside the 15thFINA Swimming World Championships (25m) in Abu Dhabi, today approved a series of key reforms that will significantly modernise the Federation, helping it better serve aquatics athletes.  

The FINA Extraordinary Congress voted to approve the recommendations put forward by the FINA Reform Committee at the FINA Bureau meeting in October 2021, including the establishment of an independent Aquatics Integrity Unit.

“The introduction of an Aquatics Integrity Unit is at the heart of all our reforms. It is this Unit, entirely independent of FINA, that will protect our aquatics community from ethical and discriminatory violations, match-fixing and all forms of harassment,” said FINA President Captain Husain Al-Musallam.

The Congress also approved changes to the FINA Constitution, FINA Rules on the Protection of Harassment and Abuse and FINA Code of Ethics. The adopted changes to the FINA Rules on the Protection from Harassment and Abuse will enter into force immediately, while the amendments to the FINA Code of Ethics will come into force on 1 June 2022, following the FINA Congress in Fukuoka.

Husain Al-Musallam – courtesy of FINA

“I am incredibly proud of the progress that has been made since my election. I promised you that in six months I would deliver a programme of essential reforms that would bring aquatic sports into the 21st Century. Today is the day that we deliver that promise, together. Today is the day that we confirm those reforms. We have demonstrated that our athletes and their welfare are at the heart of everything we do and everything that we stand for. I want to thank all those who have worked so hard to prepare us for today.”

Husain Al-Musallam

Announced by … Al-Musallam on his election day, 5 June 2021, the Reform Committee was formed to identify potential changes to FINA and provide strategic recommendations on a number of areas including governance, communication, marketing, gender equity, events, athlete safeguarding, sport medicine and sport development. The Reform Committee, chaired by Me. Francois Carrard, presented the work of the sub-Committees during a two-day meeting at the FINA Headquarters in Lausanne on 4-5 October 2021. The recommendations voted on today were the outcome of the extensive assessment.

Members of the Aquatics Integrity Unit will be elected and rules adopted at the FINA General Congress in May 2022 in Fukuoka. The Unit will be operational from 1 June 2022.

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