Uzbek Swim Bosses Dismiss Allegation Of Cheating At Tashkent Open On Grounds It Received No Official Complaint

2021-04-30 Reading Time: 3 minutes
Likith Prema and (inset) the blank scoreboard at the Uzbek Open - courtesy YouTube

The Uzbekistan Swimming Federation has issued a statement to say that nothing was awry at the Uzbek Open despite allegations, backed by video footage, of big and widespread manipulation of results in order to ensure Uzbek swimmers achieved FINA A times for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Indian swimmer Likith Prema raised the red flag after witnessing what he said was manipulation of results stretching to all eight finalists in one race, a pattern repeated in other races, at the Uzbek Open earlier this month. Uzbekistan’s federation simply says that no official protests were lodged, suggesting there was nothing to see.

In the case of one swimmer, personal best times of 48.5 over 100m freestyle and 52 flat over 100m butterfly were recorded on the result sheet but Prema says that swimmer was nowhere near those times and backs up his statement with video evidence showing an Indian team-mate beating the Uzbek swimmer on 54sec when the win was supposed to have taken a 52-flat.

The Uzbek federation and FINA, regardless of what may have happened at the Open in Tashkent, face the prospect of having the new soaring standards of 22-year-old Aleksey Tarasenko put to the test in front of a global audience at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in July.

FINA, which has failed to answer media questions on the issue, has not included the Tashkent meet in its world rankings as yet. The moment it does, if it does, it will be seen to have accepted the Uzbek organisers’ word over that of Likith Prema and the serious allegations he brought to light beyond a mere result sheet.

What the Uzbek statement does not address is clear: the serious issues of what Prema says were bribes of “a lot of money to keep my mouth shut” nor the allegation that he was told he had to sign a form to say that he was mentally unstable. Instead, the Uzbek federation focusses on one single line of explanation: that no team present lodged an official complaint. The statement included:

We have carefully studied all the accusations made by Likith Prema and during these few days, we have conducted an investigation, based on the results of which we are informing you of the following.

According to the final results of the competition, all the timing protocols of the competition were provided every day to all teams, including foreign delegations from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, India, and none of the official representatives of these teams had any protests or complaints about them. None of the participating teams filed a protest to the Chief Referee!

During the Tournament, there were some glitches in the time counting software, but they were immediately and promptly fixed and all the officials of the teams of foreign countries witnessed this and there were no complaints or objections on their part.

FINA has yet to say whether it has launched an inquiry into the allegations after they were drawn to the federation’s attention last week.

The Uzbek line of defence is: no official complaint was received and therefore the word and evidence of Likith Prema is irrelevant. Among matters the Uzbek statement fails to address is whether the federation has launched an inquiry that would need to ask officials from overseas teams whether they had had any concerns about result sheets that did not reflect the real results of swims, including, according to Prema, results of some of his own teammates.

The matter is one that would go straight to an Independent Integrity Unit for consideration, if the sport of swimming had such a vehicle. The Athletics Integrity Unit was established in 2017. So far, swimming has no independent vehicle to consider issues of ethics, fairness, morality and other matters open to dispute.

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