Portugal’s Sports Boss “Repudiates & Condemns” Silva Statements & Questions Veracity Of The Newly Re-elected Head Of European Aquatics
The head of Portugal’s leading sports institute “repudiates and condemns” the lack of truth in statements made by António Silva, he has told national media on a day when the controversial, “self-suspended” boss of Portuguese swimming was reelected president of European Aquatics in Athens.
This morning, as European delegates, encouraged by a speech from World Aquatics president Husain Al-Musallam, ignored all the red flags of integrity inquiries to put Silva back on the continental regulator’s throne, Victor Pataco, the head of the Portuguese Institute of Sports and Youth (IPDJ) hit back at a week of scatter-gun statements from Silva with a damning statement of his own.
A week that included an interim judgement from a global Aquatics Integrity Unit (AQIU) that expressed its doubt about the relevance of an argument over how Silva financed his 2022 campaign to become European Aquatics president at an extraordinary Congress, has now ended with the boss of Portugal’s leading sports authority suggesting Silva has fallen shy of the truth in public statements.
Victor Pataco told A Bola, Portugal’s leading newspaper in relation to a hugely long four-part interview with Silva in the past week (and specifically parts 1, 2 and 4):
On the reputation of the Institute:
“The IPDJ repudiates and condemns the statements made by the president of the Portuguese Swimming Federation (FPN) regarding the Institute’s supervisory function. The IPDJ is the public institute with the greatest responsibilities in the area of sport and the independent work carried out is publicly recognised, without external interference and much less persecutory conduct from its president”.
On the process of an Integrity investigation:
“The process to which the president of the FPN refers, like all such processes at the IPDJ, was conducted in a transparent manner and in compliance with the procedural rules of timeliness and with total impartiality. Contrary to what was stated by the president of the FPN, the interview of witnesses was scheduled for December 28. As not all of them responded to the inquiries, the possibility of a subsequent response was given, including in writing, complying with all the procedural acts provided for.
On allegations against other federations made by Silva:
“In relation to alleged bad practices in other sports federations, the IPDJ is unaware of such cases and has already asked the president of the FPN in writing to deign to inform him of what specific situations he is aware of in order to investigate the facts that are the subject of the complaint.
On Silva’s declaration that the IPDJ had approved and financed his candidacy for European Aquatics:
“At no time did the president of the IPDJ mention, promise or declare specific public financial support for the candidacy of the president of the FPN for the presidency of the European Swimming League – European Aquatics. Please note that the IPDJ does not approve, nor does it have to approve, as it is not part of its competences, the activity plans of sports federations.”
Pataca’s points clearly call out the veracity of Silva’s response to an order of dismissal from the IPDJ based on a series of concerns and questions raised with the Government institute by Alexandra Jorge, former secretary of the FPN General Assembly who resigned in 2023 on grounds that she had witnessed events that challenged the “most basic legal principles” and did “not want to be bound by certain decisions that in my opinion are unequivocally incorrect … and violate the most elementary principles.”
The Imminent Dismissal Of Silva
By the end of the month, the Portuguese Swimming Federation (FPN), including the officials voting at Congress in Athens today, will have to confirm the date and mechanism for the dismissal of Silva as president of the FPN after a five-month integrity inquiry concluded in favour of a whistleblower against the physical education professor now spending the bulk of his time engaged in sports politics.
By mid-February, either Silva will be gone from the domestic federation he led until he declared himself “self-suspended” – an act for which there is no provision in the FPN’s constitution, according to members of the sport’s highest authority, the General Assembly – or the entire FPN will effectively be shut down.
The Legal Regime of Sports Federations in Portugal allows funding, mandate, status and legal rights including organising national sports teams, to be withdrawn if a sports organisation refuses to comply with judicial instructions handed down under national law by the IPDJ.
The law is not a threat but a promise: precedent was set in 2022, when the IPDJ ordered the national Judo federation to dismiss its president on integrity grounds. When the federation failed to act, all salaries, funding, mandate and legal rights were withdrawn with immediate effect. Its bluff called, the Judo federation sacked the president and saved itself.
Now, FPN, including delegates in Athens voting in favour of Silva this morning, must dismiss Silva. We’d like to tell you who those delegates are but the woeful lack of transparency surrounding the European Congress and elections means that, as things stand, we cannot.
We asked delegates in Athens for a list of delegates or at least the names of those voting on behalf of Portugal/FPN. This response from one delegate summed up the responses of others: “… it seems that the list of Delegates is in the hands of Secretary and Director: unfortunately, no info.”
So, if delegates with a mandate to vote are not provided with the most basic form of transparency – Congress information such as who is there and who is voting – the wider membership of European Aquatics can rest assured that it will continue to be nurtured like mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed…
Why is it important to know who voted for Portugal? Because general assembly members who wanted to know who is there to represent them were not told but “understood” that one of the men travelling to back Silva was a delegate who is officially signed off work suffering from “psychological stress” and claiming state benefits under rules that oblige anyone in that position to remain at home.
It does and does not matter whether that understanding is true or not. The important question is transparency, the very ticket that the European leadership has now campaigned on in two elections after having ousted the former leadership over complaints that it lacked both integrity and transparency.
Congress information the membership of European Aquatics, including assemblies that form the ‘highest authority’ of the sports they regulate in their countries, can see:
- The election results wrapped up in sugar-coating and completely ignoring integrity and transparency issues
- Positions for the new integrity unit, including names that cannot possibly be regarded as “independent” by virtue of holding a specific type of paid employment
Congress information the membership of European Aquatics, including assemblies that form the ‘highest authority’ of the sports they regulate in their countries, cannot see:
1. A basic list of delegates voting on their behalf
2. The event livestream. If athletes are always on tap when they race and compete, why are politicians not treated to the same transparency and openness?
3. The discussions that led to a decision to ignore a Portuguese Government verdict against Silva and wave aside a line of red flags marked “questions of integrity and transparency”
The vote was unanimous, even Italy, where Paolo Barelli says he’s back at the helm, among those who voted for Silva, although possibly because they understand the storm that European Aquatics has now stored up and will face in the weeks and months ahead, despite talk in a pre-vote speech from Al-Musallam, a man with his own integrity challenges, of the “need for Europe to be united”.
United in what way? So united that all will look the other way when a Government says “your president and ours is not fit for office”?
One of those present at the voting in Athens emerged to say: “I’m disgusted with what’s just happened. The World Aquatics president told everyone to be careful in the way they voted because ‘we don’t want Europe voting in a political way’.”
The context of that comment will have to be clarified in time but if a Government verdict of an institution that has the law of the land on its side within the European Union states “your president and ours is not fit for office”, trust in its integrity and the process of a five-month inquiry could be said to be a far smaller political act than what unfolded in Athens today.
Namely, returning to the continental throne a man under instruction to be dismissed without any serious integrity investigation having been conducted in the international sports realm, including what the World Aquatics Integrity Unit managed to come up with this month to arrive at an interim conclusion ‘nothing breaks the rules as far as we can see so far but the case file will remain open’.
As things stand, European Aquatics has made a complete mockery of any so-called reform process in aquatics, including the global picture.
Just why we think so will become all the more clear in the weeks and months ahead, a pattern that has repeated itself a nauseating number of times in more than three decades of this author covering crisis after crisis in swimming.
All of them have ended in one form or another of “case proven” sooner or later – with harm to athletes and/or the sport all-but guaranteed.