World Aquatics: “Barelli Ban Still In Place” … World Aquatics Integrity Unit: Silva On Watch

2024-01-25 No comments Reading Time: 8 minutes

Storm Barelli and Storm Silva continue to slap weather warnings on World and European swimming and their reform pledges of transparency and integrity: the Italian’s declaration of “I’m clear” and back in charge at the Italian federation was denied by the global regulator late yesterday in the same hour as the World Integrity Unit put the ‘self-suspended’ Portuguese federation head on watch pending further developments.

Its all part of the circle of political life on Olympic Heights: The Inquisitor

  1. Paolo Barelli
Paolo Barelli LEN president at the opening of the Nyon offices - Photo courtesy of Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia
Paolo Barelli LEN president at the opening of the Nyon offices – Photo courtesy of Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia for LEN

The former FINA/World Aquatics Vice-President and president of LEN/European Aquatics issued a statement yesterday in which he declared himself back at the helm of the Italian Swimming Federation and, according to a statement from FIN, exonerated, all “allegations and accusations” at the heart of an integrity inquiry into him washed away.

As we noted in our coverage, the first victory in that scenario cannot be confirmed until the Court of Arbitration for Sport publishes its report and ruling on Barelli’s challenge to the suspension imposed on him by World Aquatics, a ban that extends to any federation roles held at domestic level under the global rules and codes that apply to all members.

The second victory in the FIN statement, a claim to all-but complete exoneration, is challenged by the very same statement that acknowledges the fact that processes and related process in the challenges faced by Barelli are not yet over.

Meanwhile, World Aquatics issued a statement late yesterday denying that the Italian senator was free to return to his domestic throne in aquatics:

World Aquatics notes with concern and regret media reports and also the claims published by the Italian Swimming Federation (FIN) that Mr. Paolo Barelli is resuming the presidency of FIN.

Following a decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on 15 September 2023, Mr. Barelli remains suspended from all aquatics-related activity taking place under the auspices of World Aquatics or its members until 14 September 2024, notwithstanding more recent CAS decisions. 

Members of the aquatics community are reminded that any violation of Mr. Barelli’s suspension may result in a referral to the independent Aquatics Integrity Unit and possible further sanction.

Short comment: perfectly fair and reasonable statement BUT for one reference, “media reports”. Wrong focus. The problem is not just one of nuance, nor even any sense of attempting to address fairness and balance in media reports: the only fairness and balance that counts is that pertaining to World Aquatics and how it handles internal, not external, challenges, how it handles integrity challenges within its own leadership.

Where, for example, is the World Aquatics statement pointing out what a whistleblower and general assembly members of Portuguese swimming say are inaccuracies, hypocrisies and speculation pouring from the latest European to occupy a vice-president’s seat at the top table of World Aquatics at a time when he is being investigated by the World Aquatics Integrity Unit? World Aquatics would do well to return to the reform recommendations of the late Francois Carrard and team – all accepted and approved by the global regulator – and re-read those critical lines that show without a shadow of a doubt that Antonio Silva has fallen shy of some of the very standards of integrity World Aquatics pledged and then signed up to in 2022.

I have no trouble in stating that. It is not my opinion. It is a fact.

2. António Silva and the World Aquatics Integrity Unit

António Silva - the FPN "self-suspended" president seeking to keep the European crown
António Silva – the FPN “self-suspended” president seeking to keep the European crown

The World Aquatics Integrity Unit (AIU), under pressure of time and the timing of events, has placed a “watch” notice on António Silva, a World Aquatics vice-president, the president of LEN/European Aquatics and the suspended head of the Portuguese federation whose dismissal has been ordered by the Portuguese Government sports institute after a five-month investigation concluded that he was not fit for the office on integrity grounds.

In its conclusion to an intermediary ruling on the complaints made to the AIU by Alexandra Jorge, former secretary of the Portuguese swim federation (FPN) General Assembly and the whistleblower who sparked the Portuguese inquiry, the AIU notes: “… at this stage, no further action will be taken in relation to this matter. This said, the CECO reserves the right to review this assessment should new evidence or information be received in the future.”

The AIU took 10 days to respond to Jorge’s letter asking it to investigate her concerns. It asked her to respond to its questions, including those that effectively asked her for the results of what would have taken investigative processes, within two days. When she replied with answers within that time frame, with more than 20 attachments that included newspaper cuttings, notes and minutes of meetings d exchanges between Portuguese assembly delegates, it gave her another two days in which to translate this whole thing into English.

Heavens! Let’s hope they’re ready should a Chinese whistleblower send in a complaint with evidence in her own language!

Jorge says:


“I was prepared for any kind of response. I didn’t send them to find out if I was right or not. I asked them to investigate. However, two things immediately jumped out at me: one, that they repeatedly say that António José Silva always had the approval or consent of the management [of the FPN]. The other is the safeguard that if there is more evidence, they will re-analyse the process.”

Alexandra Jorge

State of Swimming is aware of more challenges to come, including some that will end up back on the desktop at the AIU. So, the clock is still ticking, even though the stopwatch is on hold when it comes to the timing of European Aquatics elections in Greece this Saturday, when Silva will stand for re-election to the continental presidency.

It has all come to this because Silva refused to agree to requests for a postponement during which he would step aside to give investigative bodies and judicial processes time for thorough investigation and due diligence – and none of those in authority around him pressed him to do the right thing.

At first, the European leadership line was simply: no official judgment against him, so business as usual. Then judgement came in: Silva must be dismissed by the FPN or the entire federation will effectively be shut down by the Portuguese government. No matter, said European leaders. We will risk all of that for the sake of the survival (at least for now) of the man on whose presidential ticket of transparency and integrity we all flew into power on in 2022.

European ethics advice, from insiders, was that the whistleblower complaints were not worth further inquiry. Meanwhile, another…

Longer Comment: The global AIU has issued a ruling that tells us one thing very clearly – it has a long road ahead to maturity as a unit. Here’s why:

To each of the following points of concern raised by Alexandra Jorge, the conclusion was “no breach in any Integrity Rules”:

  • Funding from the PSF for the European Aquatics Presidency electoral campaign.
  • Statements to the General Assembly of PSF in relation to the reimbursement of the electoral campaign costs by the IPDJ.
  • Alleged conflict of interest in relation to the Learn to Swim program “À Prova de Água”.
  • Participation in meetings with cities for the presentation of the Learn to Swim program.
  • Handling of service provider contracts.
  • Alleged refusal to provide the audit report.
  • Alleged wrongdoing in the organisation of the 2023 European Masters Short Course Swimming Championships.

In each of the cases, the opinion of the AIU falls very far shy of what an independent investigative process would have to reach for to get to the truth. Basically, in too many places, Silva is seen as just one of many governors involved in matters that took a wrong turn and therefore cannot be held responsible, even though his role is that of captain of the ship. investigative journalist reimbursement of the electoral campaign costs by the IPDJ.

No consideration appears to have been given to the structures of governance that are seriously problematic when it comes to who controls the decision-making process, actions and even investigative processes in the event of complaint. If anyone at the AIU believes all of this is just about states rules on a list of what “we decide where the line of integrity is drawn”, they’re in the wrong job.

Among Jorge’s key points when she resigned from her assembly secretarial role in Portugal was that there were no mechanisms in place that allowed her, among others, to provide standard checks and balances to ensure that all was working above board. That issue underpins all of her complaints but is not taken into consideration by the AIU, which appears, so far, to have engaged in a surface-skate exercise of complaint vs check list of how those fit our list of “integrity rules”.

What is clearly lacking in that AIU exercise so far is any genuine investigative process, which raises serious concerns I spoke to David Howman, head of the World Athletics Integrity Unit, about in this interview, one all the more pertinent this month o “first test” for the Aquatics unit:

What Swimming Can Learn From The Athletics Integrity Unit: Ex-WADA Boss David Howman On The Meaning Of Independence & More

Pertinent words in that chat with Howman, noting the essential nature of investigative powers that go well beyond ‘check information sent/check list of integrity rules / decide”:

“I think we’ve got almost 50% of our management team who are investigators. They’re not all former police people. I’m not even sure whether we have any former police people; we’ve got people who have investigated war crimes, and all sorts of things. It’s a new approach and the reason for that is – and this is not a criticism of the police, they’ve got a job to do, but they have to do it pretty restrictive set of rules which they have to follow – that when you’re starting to investigate the sorts of things we’re talking about in sport you have to get your mind outside of a strict set of rules, you’ve got to be able to operate with a far-reaching mandate. We’ve just found that the people that we’ve hired have got that and have done extraordinarily well.”

David Howman – head of the World Athletics Integrity Unit

When a federation president states openly in a national newspaper that the reason he got round to registering intellectual property rights for a water-safety scheme (one with a fee of more than 2000 euros per participate organisation) in the name of the federation a full year after having registered the rights in his own name as a private citizen was to “clean it up” [“Vamos limper isto], it is clear that he has understood that he did the wrong thing.

The AIU’s conclusion that he had he “did not financially benefit from said transfer” of intellectual rights from self to FPN misses the point by a million miles.

Worth noting, too, that Silva has “self-suspended”, a status for which there is no constitutional provision, assembly members in Portugal point out, but continues, by his own admission in national newspaper reports, to talk to the board of the FPN and together that group of close associates may use federation money to fund Silva’s efforts to clear his name. As we point out at The Inquisitor, Silva should not be relying on any federation funds to fight an integrity inquiry ruling that is not against the federation but him alone. Nor should he be issuing statements on any of this via the FPN, using FPN livery. How could that possibly add up to “self-suspended”, even if such a thing were legitimate?

There’s more to say on the AIU ruling so far but given that the unit has concluded with the right message – the case is not closed – further comment can wait, barring another reminder of the meaning of integrity:

Swimming needs an independent Integrity Unit - the Antonio silva saga
Integrity has been a negotiable entity in Olympic sport for decades

Saturday will decide whether European nations back a man and risk the futire of an entire domestic federation at a time when investigations and processes are far from over or ask for a postponement in elections until later in the year, allowing Silva to step aside, seek to clear his name and then, either stand once more for election or face the consequence of any decision that foes against him at the end of due process and diligence.

Trust in the global reform process, pledges of transparency and integrity and the health of aquatics depends on it.

Related coverage:

FPN Not A Monarchy Nor An Anarchy, Assembly Told In Latest Twists In Silva Saga

As European Leaders Try To Help Silva Survive Integrity Ruling Portuguese Board Asked To Step Down In Face Of Existential Threat

Silva To Be Stripped Of Domestic Swim Federation Crown After Portuguese Government Inquiry Finds Against Him In Favour Of Whistleblower

European Aquatics Decision To Avoid Integrity Check May End In Silva Losing Throne

European Aquatics Boss Silva About To Host Emergency Meeting After Ethics Complaint Against Him Sparks Inquiry In Portugal

Battle Of Barelli Vs Silva & The E4AA Reformers: Questions Of Integrity & Transparency Facing European Swimming Leaders

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