Why The Goals Of Gilles Sezionale & His Integrity, Truth & Transparency Campaign Cut To The Ethical Heart Of Swimming’s Future

2020-10-20 Reading Time: 9 minutes
The new website of Gilles Sezionale, French swimming president and candidate for the presidency of LEN, the European Swimming League

Editorial – Gilles Sezionale (mark his name) is the head of the French Swimming Federation (FFN) and candidate for the presidency of the European Swimming League (LEN) bringing a challenge that gnaws at the very roots of swimming’s governance crisis and shakes the status quo all the way up to the crown of FINA, the global governor of aquatic sports.

November 3 is a date the world awaits for a variety of reasons, many pertinent to issues of integrity, truth and transparency. Cast your mind on a week beyond the race for the White House to a somewhat more humble presidential battle: on November 8 (virtual Congress, not in Budapest as originally planned), LEN and its domestic representatives from around Europe, representing the biggest block of world-class swimming countries around the world and a quarter of FINA’s constituency, will decide the direction of swimming continental and global on the way to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and beyond.

Sezionale makes no bones about it. Explaining his candidacy, he notes:

The LEN is in danger. We are in an unprecedented crisis. With the threats to the current president, the union is under threat. Today I represent a credible alternative to keep Europe united. My candidacy aims to guarantee unity on the subject of defending strong values. My only goal is to know the truth. To date, no one has bothered to answer me. The LEN deserves better than these practices from a bygone age.”

The votes will be a part of a virtual LEN Congress on 8 November, the shift away from an in-person gathering in Budapest due to the Covid-19 pandemic despite the International Swimming League’s current staging of a six-week Solidarity camp and Season 2 races each weekend in the Hungarian capital. The LEN elections will be staged online during the virtual Congress. It is not yet clear what access will be granted to stakeholders and media.

Gilles Sezionale Sells A Transparency Ticket

Gilles Sezionale, a swimmer in his youth who continued to be engaged in swimming in voluntary coaching and managerial positions down the years on his way to the FFN and the LEN Bureau, the top table of the European federation, is standing on a ticket of “Transparency For LEN”.

Sezionale’s manifesto and pledge to those whose votes he seeks – as well as the wider membership of LEN – includes the following:

12 Commitments for an Ethical and Transparent LEN

  • TRANSPARENCY: Ethic and transparency as key words for LEN’s actions
  • ETHICS: Creation of an independent ethics committee
  • INTEGRITY: Create a tender commission and establish clear guideline
  • PROBITY: Bring more transparency in the attribution process of continental events
  • RESPONSIVENESS: Reduce travel and favor more frequent meetings through videoconferencing systems
  • PERFORMANCE: Establish collaboration between countries (or national federations) to aim at the excellence of European swimming based on a global aquatics sports project driven by a technical director
  • SHARED AMBITION: Increase the number of swimmers in all 52 countries by enhancing the societal dimension and sharing / spreading best practices related to the learn-to-swim and aquatic ease approaches
  • SUSTAINABILITY: Set up strong environmental and societal commitments for each event organisation
  • EDUCATION: Create and deliver an European certification on clubs’ & equipments management
  • INCLUSION: Promote the rotation of European events and their organizations in smaller countries
  • EQUALITY: Edit documents in more languages to bring LEN closer to its members
  • INNOVATION: Generate additional revenues to be redistributed to Federations

Asked why he is standing for the presidency, Sezionale tells his constituency:

Throughout my career, I have been driven by two very simple values: integrity and ethics. In these difficult times, it is essential to have honest and reliable leaders who work in the public interest. Today, the current president of the LEN is facing embezzlement charges. He is also the subject of two judicial inquiries.

“While I defend the presumption of innocence with the utmost vigour, the answers given by Paolo Barelli are far from convincing and his approach lacks transparency. I have repeatedly asked for tangible evidence that would have cleared any doubt towards him. The answers provided compelled me to act. As a member of the LEN Board, I consider the reputation of the institution to be at stake. I want to protect European swimming from a possible scandal.”

My candidacy is the defence of clean swimming.

At stake, he adds, is this:

The LEN is in danger. We are in an unprecedented crisis. With the threats to the current president, the union is under threat. Today I represent a credible alternative to keep Europe united. My candidacy aims to guarantee unity on the subject of defending strong values. My only goal is to know the truth. To date, no one has bothered to answer me. The LEN deserves better than these practices from a bygone age.”

A hint of the spirit and determination of Sezionale to have governors work transparently and with the athlete in mind, first and foremost, was provided back in spring when he urged the International Olympic Committee to come to a decision on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. It was March, as COVID-19 started to spread around the world, when Sezionale, a pharmacist on the frontline of the war on the novel Coronavirus, denounced the inaction of the IOC & Tokyo 2020 organisers as “indecent and shocking”.

Now, he is standing as challenger to the troubled and embattled head of LEN and vice-president of FINA Paolo Barelli for the top seat of European swimming. The new website of Gilles Sezionale spells out why and what Sezionale intends to make his mission. 

Why Gilles Sezionale Wants The LEN Throne

In May this year, this author and The Times of London, together with colleagues from the Frankfurter Allgemeine and The Australian, broke the news that veteran swimming boss Bartolo Consolo, lawyer, honorary member of LEN and FINA top tables and the head of the Swiss Swimming Federation, had reported allegations of financial irregularity at the European body to state prosecutors in Switzerland and Italy and to the Ethics Panels of the Italian Olympic Committee and FINA.

Gilles Sezionale

The Backdrop:

Consolo had reported the issues at hand to fellow members of the LEN Bureau in a “Confidential Dossier” last December with the intention of resolving the issues raised internally by finding ethical solutions and pressing all decision-makers to do what he believed the evidence showed them was the right thing to do. 

Consolo’s pursuit of truth was met with resistance. Indeed, the tables were turned on him by some who accused him of tainting the reputation of LEN by raising such delicate matters as he did. Ostracised and believing he had exhausted all internal avenues, Consolo took his findings to the higher legal authorities with power over such sports bodies as LEN and even FINA, both organisations based in Switzerland and subject, along with office holders, to Swiss law.

The Swiss Prosecutor’s office is in the process of investigating the allegations and related evidence and witnesses have already been called on to testify.

In the meantime, Gilles Sezionale sought to have Paolo Barelli explain his role at the helm of the allegations. He explains the background and how he came to his decision and why on his website:

Gilles Sezionale is on a mission to reform LEN. If he succeeds, he will have a [lace at the top table of FINA – and will want his laudable goals for Europe to go global.

The Relevance To FINA Culture & The Future Of Swimming

The poll is of critical importance and will unfold against a backdrop of legal challenge and allegations of financial irregularity involving three senior LEN and FINA incumbents. It also coincides with an evolving crisis at FINA, which in late 2014 granted Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, with the swim organisation’s highest honour – the FINA Order – on the cusp on the biggest systematic doping scandal in world sport since the days of the GDR and its State Plan 14:25.

Valentin Balaknichev, head of Russian track and Feld from 2009-2015, (Wikipedia) was handed a three-year jail sentence by the Paris Criminal Court after investigations into corruption in track and field

On the tail end of legal judgements made against Lamine Diack, former IAF boss, his son and the former head of Russian track and field Valentin Balaknichev, this week saw the latest troubling developments in that sorry saga. Russia has been accused of plotting a cyber attack on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the news accompanied by explanations as to why no-one in the know is surprised, the interference and associated criminality a part of a power-play pattern FINA completely overlooked when it described Putin and his worthiness for swimming honour as “an individual of high dignity, who (has) achieved remarkable merit in the world of Aquatics”.

There have been many moments when swimming bosses have left themselves looking like supposed leaders as far removed from their constituency as its possible to be down the last few decades but high on the list of excruciating errors of judgement and bypassing of facts is the October 9, 2014, eyebrow raiser from FINA president Julio Maglione, of Uruguay. He told the “Russia – A Sport Power” conference in Cheboksary before handing Putin the Order prize:

“Russia is undoubtedly one of the most important and major powers in world sport. These achievements are only possible thanks to the active support from the Russian authorities to Aquatics. The personal involvement of President Putin in this area greatly contributes to strengthen the fraternity between nations, improve the lifestyle and education of the youth in Russia and promote a healthier society, in a spirit of peace and friendship”, considered the FINA President during the ceremony.”

Within weeks, headlines around the world were dominated by what “support” meant, including systematic doping and having ant-doping samples shoved through fake plugs in walls to hidden laboratories next to the official IOC testing facility at the Sochi 2014 winter Olympic Games; the “strength and fraternity between nations” was shattered as the truth emerged of massive deception; victims included Russian athletes who, decidedly, did not have their lifestyle, education and health “improved”.

And what of ‘peace and friendship’? It all felt a touch fake from the very moment FINA announced its prize. It smacked much more of politics, with FINA’s eye on the power, the money their own self-granted VIP status and accompanying lifestyle among the highest paid and least accountable volunteer executives in the world.

The timing of that statement and the honour granted coincided with two significant factors/events:

  • At the time, Russia, with 23 active doping cases, had the worst record of cheating in world swimming of any country in terms of positive tests.
  • FINA had signed a partnership/sponsorship deal with a Russian bank backing the ailing FINA World Cup as Russia prepared to host the 2015 World Championships in Kazan.

The Constitution and Rules of FINA hand responsibility for decision-making on such awards to the FINA Bureau of more than 20 people. When asked by this author whether they had been asked for their opinion or vote on Putin and Vitaly Mutko (the then Russian Sports Minister), seven Bureau members said they had not known anything about the award to Putin until they read about it in the media after a FINA statement had been issued.

Fast forward six years and the backdrop and news on Russia, Putin and their role in a power play for world sport brings us to these headlines in the past 24 hours:

  1. Russia planned cyber-attack on Tokyo Olympics, says UK

Russian military intelligence services were planning a cyber-attack on the Japanese-hosted Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo this summer in an attempt to disrupt the world’s premier sporting event, the UK National Cyber Security Centre has revealed, disclosing a joint operation with the US intelligence agencies.

2. Russia’s cyber-attack plan for Olympics part of a familiar pattern

In the aftermath of Moscow’s hacking of the 2016 US election, many analysts expected the GRU to be punished. After all, Russia’s powerful military spy agency had been caught red-handed. The FBI indicted several GRU hackers in humiliating fashion. The spies who stole Democratic party emails – tens and thousands of them – were named and shamed.

“In fact, the GRU avoided any repressions. In recent years Vladimir Putin has carried out a sweeping and brutal reorganisation at the top of government, sending a shiver down the spine of nervous bureaucrats. He has sacked or had arrested regional governors and ministers. Even the FSB, Putin’s old spy agency and a rival to the GRU, has seen generals fired.

“The one organisation that has carried on unscathed is the GRU, at least judging from the latest attacks revealed on Monday by the US and UK. In 2018 the spy agency sought to disrupt the winter Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang in South Korea. Its hackers were plotting another cyber-raid for this summer against the Olympics in Japan, now postponed until 2021.

“None of this is surprising. For years, the Kremlin ran an undercover sports doping programme that achieved extraordinary results – gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics, finishing top of the medals table at the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi. And all presided over by Putin himself...”

3. Russian cyber-attack spree shows what unrestrained internet warfare looks like

The Sandworm team of Russian military intelligence, alleged to have unleashed computer chaos against the Kremlin’s enemies around the world, is said to operate out of a blue-tinted glass skyscraper known simply as “the tower”. From that address, 22 Kirova Street in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, the Sandworm hackers, also known more prosaically as the unit 74455 and “the main centre for special technologies”, launched attacks on the Ukrainian power system, Emmanuel Macron’s presidential bid in France in 2017, the South Korean Olympics in 2018 and the UK investigation into the 2018 Russian nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

Which Path Will Swimming Governors Take?

November 9 is another watershed moment for world swimming and a sport locked in a governance crisis.

Come the ballot, the votes of each domestic federation – those of Italy, Britain and Hungary in keen focus – will be watched and weighed, just as every word of Gilles Sezionale will be measured ahead of the moment when he may have a chance to convert them to deeds and set swimming on a more hopeful course.

What remains to be seen is what swimmers and coaches, both communities among the key stakeholders of swimming, will do with this opportunity to have their own views heard. Will they remain silent or will they use their growing voices to influence the direction of travel in their sport?


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