Questions Of Integrity Over China’s ‘Iron Lady’ of Diving Zhou Jihong Will Test Reform Pledge To Extend Scrutiny To FINA Leaders
Editorial: The case of FINA vice-president Zhou Jihong, a former Olympic diving champion for China, raises one of the biggest tests of the seriousness and strength of the reform process at a global regulator with a history of protecting its governors almost at all costs is truly ready to go deep diving into old culture.
The history of aquatics is stacked with moments where an athlete, a coach, a lowly official gets the heavy hand treatment, is slapped with warning and suspension while the governor sent to jail back home over matters directly related to sport slips from the election process at the next Congress, disappears under the carpet with other inconvenience, is never called to account and continues to be listed as a blazer celebrated by the organisation with an award for services to sport.
This year will mark the launch of the Aquatics Integrity Unit as part of FINA’s Reform Process. The independence of the unit will be key, as will the terms of reference, engagement and the scope of its jurisdiction.
If the unit is allowed to operate as one might expect it to, then no-one affiliated to or working in the realm of FINA’s governance and competitions should escape scrutiny if and when a complaint is received by any reasonable and competent source with good reason to raise a red flag.
The case for referring Zhou Jihong to the Integrity Unit is strong and that should not be influenced by China’s status as a sponsor and hosts of various FINA events nor any internal reluctance to take matters further because the “Iron Lady” of Chinese diving is a vice-president of FINA on a Bureau where women’s representation remains a significant minority after decades of it having been an exclusive men’s club.
Indeed that need to remove all influence of FINA’s leadership from such processes of inquiry and recommendations for action is the whole point of having an Integrity Unit such as that in place at Work Athletics since 2017.
A brief recap on the story: Lisa Wright, an elite-level diving judge from New Zealand, arrived in Tokyo for the Olympic Games last year thrilled at the prospect of putting all the years of experience into practice on the most important moment of all in elite diving: here was her “chance to adjudicate at the sport’s premier event at the Olympics”, as CNN’s George Ramsay puts it today in the latest feature among many being run in mainstream media across the world since complaints against Zhou’s behaviour were first lodged with FINA last autumn.
“Harassment and abuse” are cited in the official complaint lodged by Diving New Zealand and Wright against Zhou after she launched a verbal tirade at Wright during the conclusion of the Olympic 10m platform final. Zhou was forced to write an apology to Wright in February.
Zhou, whose position requires her to be neutral, was angry at what she alleged was the “underscoring” of Chinese divers. Wright tells CNN: “She was on poolside screaming at me and yelling at me … it was definitely one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.”
The story does not end there, however: Zhou stands accused of using her position in a way that extends her apparent lack of neutrality and poor behaviour in the heat of the Olympic moment into providing assistance to and currying favour for Chinese divers on various occasions in a sport in which, unlike swimming’s measure of ‘first hand to hit the wall gets gold’, results depend not just on the performance of the athlete but the judgement of officials handing out points.
Here is a part of the evidence that critics of Zhou want FINA to take action on beyond a mere letter of apology. It shows Zhou Jihong caught coaching a Chinese diver at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The diver is preparing for a platform event and Zhou ought to be nowhere near either the diver nor the judges and yet, there is clear evidence of her coaching a diver from one country – her own – and then launching a tirade against judges she disagreed with when Chinese athletes did not get what the FINA vice-president thought they deserved even though judges from elsewhere in the world thought otherwise:
As CNN puts it today: “… some members of the diving community view Zhou’s actions at the Olympics as a flashpoint amid a wider pattern of conduct they believe is harmful to the sport.
“One of those who holds that belief is New Zealander Simon Latimer, a former diver and judge and now a member of FINA’s Diving Technical Committee (TDC).
“Following the incident at the Olympics, Latimer sent a whistleblower complaint to FINA’s executive director Brent Nowicki in December detailing Zhou’s alleged “unethical behavior” which he says stretches back several years and “compromises the integrity of both diving and FINA.
“This contains allegations that Zhou has routinely coached Chinese divers during major events –– including the Tokyo Olympics — and has manipulated judging panels in order to benefit Chinese athletes.”
CNN also notes what tallies with many incidents down the years when journalists contact Chinese sports authorities but get no response: “Zhou has not spoken publicly about these allegations. CNN has contacted the General Administration of Sport of China and the Chinese Swimming Association for a response from Zhou but has not received a response.”
A must read – the CNN article in full, outlining why Zhou is facing several complaints from a variety of figures in diving.
An Integrity Unit referral should now follow. If the allegations outlined are proven and the complaints are stood up through an Integrity Unit process serious sanction should follow.
That is all the more important in a sport that is reduced to farce if competitors, coaches and the wider world cannot have faith in a fair process of judging far from the influence of powerful figures within FINA who should be as close to the outcome on competition day as the Communist Party of China (CPC), the founding and sole ruling party of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since 1921, is to declaring China a democratic state with free elections in a multi-party system in which citizens can vote for whoever they wish, without fear or favour.