Putin Putsch: FINA Must Cancel All Events In Russia To Guarantee Athlete Safety As No1 On 4-Point Priority Plan To Honour Olympic Charter “Neutrality” Key To Autonomy
Editorial – FINA, the global regulator for sport, must act swiftly to guarantee the safety of all athletes and other stakeholders working in aquatic sports by removing all its events and funding from Russia in the wake of the declaration of war and invasion of Vladimir Putin and his new Red Army on the sovereign territory and independent state of Ukraine.
Europe awakes to catastrophic confirmation this morning that Adolphus Napoleonus is in full swing on the Old Continent, Putin having launched an act of aggression with no justification, neither current nor historic:
Dear God, calamity again!
It was so peaceful, so serene;
We had just begun to break the chains
That bind our folk in slavery
When halt! Once again the people’s blood
Is streaming …
Extract from “Calamity Again” – Taras Shevchenko, 1859
Responsibilities Of IOC, FINA et al Under The Olympic Charter Provisions On Autonomy
FINA has so far said that it is keeping an eye on the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s border. The attack, launched as the United Nations met in emergency session and condemned by leaders worldwide, has now tipped over the border and into sovereign territory. New game. And the Russian population itself is being hurt.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has “strongly condemn(ed)” the breaking of the Olympic Truce that runs either side of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, a truce which is supposed to last until seven days after the closing ceremony of any Games.
There was no word on what the IOC intends to do about the breaking of the Truce by a nation already on its second whole-nation ban since 2014. Since then, the vast majority of Russian athletes have been able to continue to compete, albeit not ‘under their own flag’ at Olympic level, while Russia is a regular host of a large number of international competitions across many sports.
Now, matters have taken a dark turn for the worse just two weeks after Putin put his trust in Xi jinping at the Beijing Games. Close allies, did they know then what we all know now?
There is a growing view in sport and the political world beyond that neither the IOC nor its federations have been serious about penalising Russia for making a mockery of fairness in sport.
Back in 2014, the year Russia annexed Crimea the way the Nazis annexing Austria in 1938, FINA made a massive error of judgment when its executive, then led by Julio César Maglione, handed Putin its highest honour, an act that ran contrary to an Olympic Charter that names political neutrality as the reason why Olympic sports federations have “the rights and obligations of autonomy“, free from “outside influence”.
Part of Vlasenko’s job is to promote Russian interests and influence overseas. This he does through positions in the Olympics’ two big swimming subordinates, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) and the European Swimming Federation. Vlasenko has been especially successful with FINA, forging a close relationship with its 85-year-old president, Julio Maglione of Uruguay, and its 79-year-old chief executive, Cornel Marculescu, a Romanian former water-polo player who assumed the job in 1986, near the end of the Cold War. In 2014, before MAST-Bank went bust, Vlasenko struck a deal for the bank to sponsor FINA’s World Cup. He has also facilitated a friendship between Putin and Maglione. In 2014, Maglione presented Putin with his organization’s highest honor, the FINA Order, declaring Russia “one of the most important and major powers in world sport.” Maglione has since become a regular companion of Putin’s, sharing the stage with him at FINA’s 2015 World Championships in Kazan, in central Russia, accompanying him at international sports conferences, and attending his third presidential inauguration, in 2018, at his invitation. When I asked Vlasenko about the warmth between the two men, he beamed. “Our president adores him,” he said of Maglione. “He loves him.”Extract from Plot to Kill The Olympics – Julio In Wonderland – Tweedledum or Tweedledee? (images FI and Craig Lord)
Members of FINA’s 2014 leadership, which included figures who remain members of the executive, decided on Putin’s prize a year ahead of Kazan hosting the 2015 World Championships, without reference to the full, ruling Bureau, the top table of the global regulator and the body tasked by the international federation’s constitution with agreeing all prizes.
None of the members of the then nor the current FINA executive in positions of power in 2014 raised any official objection to the award being granted to Putin.
The timing could hardly have been worse: not only did Russia have the worst record of doping cases among all nations, with 23 prevailing offences in aquatics at the time and what would be revealed as unreported cases on its books, but Olympic sport was on the cusp of the worst systematic doping crisis since the days of the GDR’s State Research Plan 14:25, which continues to poison the pool to this day.
Grigory Rodchenkov is now an award-winning whistleblower whose name is on an Act that already has its first charge in process in the United States.
Take that act of aggression on the world of Olympic sport, combine it to the damage now being done and the risk of a human catastrophe predicted to cause the deaths of many thousands, the migration of 5 million and the starvation of people far removed from the bomb blasts heard across Ukraine this morning, and FINA can no longer hide in any autonomous bubble.
If FINA is reformed, it must, of course, show it, particularly at a time when sanctions, including economic penalties and the freezing of assets among those linked to sport in Russia, may well mean that many nations will simply not allow sports teams to travel to Russia.
Putin has declared Ukraine a nation with no right to exist, he has called the West an “evil empire” and turned history on its head by even citing among reasons for his invasion his wish to “prevent fascism” from taking hold in a neighbouring country, even while he looks on Ukraine the way that Hitler looked on his neighbours: with avarice and a will to conquer and convert to colony. He is a danger to the world and it is to FINA’s shame that the federation honours him yet.
There is only one four-point plan that will save FINA from condemnation:
In light of the Putin Putsch, Athlete safety must be paramount.
- FINA’s priority must be to cancel the following events, all planned for Kazan this year (*and reschedule somewhere far beyond the nations directly involved in conflict*):
Apr 08 – 10 FINA Artistic Swimming World Series 2022
Apr 08 – 10 FINA Diving World Series 2022
Aug 23 – 28 8th FINA World Junior Swimming Championships 2021 – sending any athlete into a war zone ought not to be an option; sending children would be a matter for the International Criminal Court in The Hague
Dec 17 – 22 16th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) 2022
*- depending on where the conflict goes next, Budapest World titles in June may also be a risk too far, air space among reasons for concern for any nation bordering Ukraine, as Hungary does.
- FINA must recommit to the Olympic Charter and, as part of its ongoing Reform process, must acknowledge that the organisation made an error of judgment and acted against the letter and spirit of the Charter when awarding Putin its highest honour in 2014 and, as such, close the book on “The FINA Order”, a prize tainted by a list that includes dictators, warmongers and regimes accused of serious human rights abuses.
Political neutrality and the autonomy it grants demand two things: an end to cosy relationships with rogue states and an embracing of a key requirement of autonomous status: “keep your distance” from anything that makes a mockery of neutrality.
- FINA must declare its intention to allow referral historic unreported doping cases to the new Integrity Unit that is scheduled to be in place by June this year (the terms and conditions of operation of the unit have not yet been finalised: retrospective action must be a part of the unit’s brief because the past is still playing out in the present lives of FINA members)
Given the news of the Putin declaration of war this morning and how those acts threaten to blow apart the lives of millions far beyond the impact of the COVID pandemic, neither FINA, nor the International Olympic Committee steeped in the controversy of Russia’s refusal to Play Fair, with rivals in sport, with rivals in politics, with its own athletes and the culture they are forced to accept, can sit on the fence. Appeasement and omertà are not the options of organisation and governance operating on a pledge of integrity.
As such, FINA’s No4 4 on the four-point plan must be this:
4. Kazan is a development centre, which is funded by the money generated by the revenue-generating stakeholders of FINA, namely world-class athletes whose skills attract broadcast-rights money and other partnership finance.
FINA must close down its development centre in Kazan and shift the money to a solidarity fund designed to help federations around the world provide aid to the millions of clubs struggling to survive under the weight of a pandemic that has just been joined by another curse: war.
In such circumstances, there is no hiding place for Olympic sport: governors must act now, and swiftly.
Meanwhile, the people of Russia will get caught in the crossfire too. They might heed the words of Shakespeare in Julius Caesar: “And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind is closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and do it gladly so.”
Let it not be so.
Lessons for Putin:
The IOC Statement in Full
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) strongly condemns the breach of the Olympic Truce by the Russian government. The respective UN resolution was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 2 December 2021 by consensus of all 193 UN Member States. The Olympic Truce began seven days before the start of the Olympic Games, on 4 February 2022, and ends seven days after the closing of the Paralympic Games.
At the Opening Ceremony, he called on the political authorities: “Observe your commitment to this Olympic Truce. Give peace a chance.”
At the Closing Ceremony, he asked the political leaders “to be inspired” by the “example of solidarity and peace” set by the Olympic athletes.
Following recent events, the IOC is deeply concerned about the safety of the Olympic Community in Ukraine. It has established a task force to closely monitor the situation and to coordinate humanitarian assistance to members of the Olympic Community in Ukraine where possible.