Arkady Vyatchanin Speaks Out About Serbian Eligibility Issues

As we reported earlier this week, 2-time Olympic bronze medalist Arkady Vyatchanin was left off the Serbian European Championships roster due to an eligibility problem with FINA. FINA’s problem with Vyatchanin converting over to Serbia from Russia (a country he hasn’t competed for since the London Olympics almost four years ago) was that Vyatchanin hadn’t proved that he has resided in Serbia for 6 of the last 12 months since attaining his Serbian citizenship.

Vyatchanin opened up about the situation today on Facebook, explaining why FINA claims what they do and about the situation he was forced into. Read his full “open letter” below:

“An open letter to the swimming community.

I’ve decided to write this in the light of recent developments, with an intention of explaining my situation thoroughly, to avoid any wild guesses and speculation. According to the FINA rules, even people who were caught cheating with banned substances have a right to a fair hearing. This letter serves a purpose of my “fair hearing”.

As many of my fellow swimmers and other people in swimming world know, I was looking for a new nation to represent since 2013, after I parted ways with All-Russian Swimming Federation. In late 2014 I was invited to Serbia to discuss the possibility of joining their team. Everything was going in the right direction and I was excited to represent Serbia in the future. I got my passport through an expedited procedure several months later. But this story is not interesting without a good portion of drama, right?

Of course, I knew that according to FINA rules relating to change of sport nationality I would have to live in Serbia for one year and represent only my Serbian club – Proleter during that transition period. And I was living there for some time, hoping to fulfill that requirement. 

But in early 2015 due to some clerical error that happened in the past in the Serbian Swimming Federation, the Ministry of Sport had suddenly decided to sanction SSF by taking away ALL funding for 2 years. SNAP!

The only funds that I could receive in Serbia were coming from Proleter club. Exactly 20,000 Serbian dinars a month, approximately $170. So I had to support myself and my family by training and attending the meets such as Grand Prix series here in the U.S. while representing New York Athletic Club. Thanks to NYAC and their agreement with TYR I am able to make my living this way. 

Here’s an excerpt from the letter that SSF had sent to FINA in an attempt to explain my case: “Unfortunately, as we are all aware, financial reasons – lack of funds available for day to day life and support of the family did cause an uncomfortable and demanding schedule placed on this athlete. He is literally forced to provide for his needs by himself with limited possibilities of our contribution and therefore is obliged to use each and every chance for making an income.

Being devoted to his choice of sports nationality, Аrkady has carefully and wholeheartedly taken every possible chance to practice, compete and live in Serbia. He has even participated in promotional activities and was a serious and reliable support to our federation and swimming sport in Serbia and it would be of greatest importance that all his efforts to practice and perform in challenging financial circumstances get a fair and sportive recognition. We strongly believe that the issue of the sports nationality of this swimmer should be treated as a positive example of clear devotion to his sports nationality and an enormous contribution to development of swimming in our country and in whole region”.

We believed that FINA would sympathize with our situation, especially considering that I haven’t represented any country internationally since August of 2012 and the fact that according to the Olympic Charter, at least 3 years should have passed since the athlete last represented his/her former country. In my case it’s been almost 4 years already. I guess it’s worth mentioning that Olympic Charter doesn’t have any sort of rules that would make doping convicts to wait some time before going to Olympics after they have served their suspensions. So apparently changing a sport nationality is worse than taking PEDs. Gotta love the irony here.

So I’m in a bit of a pickle here, I have qualified for Rio Olympics, but not allowed to go there. Funny thing is that I had declined offers from at least 2 countries which suggested that they can deal with the FINA “1-year living rule” by making it look perfect on paper. 1 of those countries was making it in the past successfully not even once. I just wanted to be honest, but it seems like honesty is not good enough…

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t write this to get people’s pity, quite the opposite actually. I stand by my choices every day and still believe that leaving Russian team saved my swimming career.

Call me Ronin again.”

Vyatchanin explains the fact that he did move to Serbia and was training there, but was hit with a problem when the Ministry of Sport in Serbia decided to take away all funding for two years due to a clerical error that happened in the past.

Only being able to make about $170 American per month swimming in Serbia, Vyatchanin was forced to travel and compete to earn money. He was only supposed to represent his Serbian club Proleter during his time living in Serbia, but in order to earn enough money to make a living and support his family Vyatchanin competed at overseas events such as the Pro Swim Series held in the United States. Here Vyatchanin represented the New York Athletic Club and through their deal with TYR was able to make enough money to support his family.

Serbia has sent a letter to FINA explaining Vyatchanin’s situation and the fact that he did everything he could do to live and train in Serbia but was forced to do what he had to do in order to make a living by competing elsewhere.

Vyatchanin comes off as frustrated in the letter, which is obviously reasonable given his situation, and even notes that he has declined at least 2 other countries who have claimed they could get by the FINA rule, but Vyatchanin wanted to do it fairly and honestly.

That hasn’t worked for him yet, but there is still hope for him to go to his fourth Olympics this summer, it just all hinges on FINA.

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whatever
5 years ago

Didn’t Cavic warn him of this?

Ronin
Reply to  whatever
5 years ago

He warned me that Serbian Federation was corrupt. But this isn’t the case here, because they’ve supported me as much as they could in given circumstances.
What about FINA’s decision allowing Mexican swimmers to swim under the FINA flag first and then, eventually be under the Mexican flag, while their Federation is still suspended?..

Gary P
Reply to  Ronin
5 years ago

To be fair, he also warned of incompetence and that they were making financial commitments they wouldn’t be able to honor. Both of those warnings appear to have been right on target.

Alex
5 years ago

Viktoria Solntseva of Ukraine became Zeynep Gunes and swims for Turkey with no problems, and not 3 years passed but months since her last representation of the former country. I do not get all this. Good luck Arkady!

Cayley Guimarães
5 years ago

This is appalling.

Cayley Guimarães
Reply to  Cayley Guimarães
5 years ago

How can it be the 6 people don’t think that this is very bad?

Bryan
Reply to  Cayley Guimarães
4 years ago

It’s the same 6 people who keeps voting down all the pro-Ronin posts on this forum. Or maybe it’s the same obsessive person with 6 accounts. It’s pathetic. I upvoted your comment, as well as other relevant comments.

Danjohnrob
5 years ago

This situation makes me very unhappy. I’m a US swimming fan, but first and foremost I’m a fan of good swimming; when I tune into the Olympics I want to see the best athletes competing at the highest level. There are certain swimmers who have such exceptional technique and talent that they stand-out to people who know about swimming, and Arkady is one of them! I don’t care what country he represents, when he’s in a race, my eye is drawn to him. The race is a better quality race if he’s in it!

A FINA official was bragging last summer that he could change the rules to allow Michael Phelps to swim at the 2015 World Championships. Well,… Read more »

Gina
Reply to  Danjohnrob
5 years ago

No . The official merely stated words to the effect that that MP was still eligible to swim in Kazan if he were to be re instated on the roster for the US. They were not able to just give him a spot out there in the Naughty Boy team.

Anyhow that was FINA .The Euros are under LEN & Rio is under the IOC . The world is divided into these Capital Lettered Things.

In regards to Arkady specifically – has he relinquished Russian citizenship? His excuse of needing to compete in the US with minimal supporting training stays could be supported by dates of entry /exit accommodation e.g. has he a permanent apartment in serbia or… Read more »

Ronin
Reply to  Gina
5 years ago

I do have a permanent residence in Serbia. Without it I wouldn’t be able to get a passport. And why should I relinquish my Russian passport?
LEN is using FINA rules regarding the matter of changing sport nationality. My application would go to the IOC only if FINA have given their approval.
“…supported by dates of entry / exit accommodation…” I think that my presence at every stop of the Arena Pro Swim Series is the evidence. Also, there is a thing called WADA whereabouts.
Turkey, just like FINA “can do whatever” as per Marculescu’s quote.
And yes, my family is here in Florida. Without them I wouldn’t go as far as I am right now… Read more »

Danjohnrob
Reply to  Ronin
5 years ago

Arkady/Ronin: Like many of your fans here on SwimSwam, I have followed your story and I’ve been excitedly looking forward to seeing you compete in the Olympics once again! I am particularly upset that you can not compete at the LEN meet, because I thought Serbia had a real chance to make it into the Olympic final with you on the 4×100 Medley team. When was the last time that happened!? It would have been exciting, and I think you and the other athletes from Serbia deserved that chance. I’m very sorry that things didn’t work out differently.

Ronin
Reply to  Danjohnrob
5 years ago

Thank you for your support! It means a lot!
Here’s another example of ridiculousness that happened in 2008 – https://www.law.yale.edu/system/files/documents/pdf/10_c._CAS_Simms_Beijing2008.pdf A little reading, but you’ll get an idea of what happened pretty quickly.

Gina
Reply to  Ronin
5 years ago

I read that . Christel had the ‘advantage’ of being a natural dual citizen which does not exist for Russians (legally). She also received an injunction because of an earlier letter from FINA early on approving the nationality switch. ( Christel had competed for the USA at the inaugural Junior Pan Pacs in Jan 2007 & on the basis of that approached The Philipines)for Olympic opportunities.. Yes FINA were at fault here.

The issue was still residency requirements for a switch of nationality. Whilst I would like to say it would help you , I cannot be certain based on logic. If it is a simple matter of Marulescu approving then good luck.

I am having trouble projecting these… Read more »

Ronin
Reply to  Gina
5 years ago

I’m not saying that this case should help me anyhow. The point here is that Philippines Federation had intentionally broke FINA rules by entering Christel to the SCM Worlds in Manchester. FINA people just overlooked her name on the team’s roster and when they found out it became their fault in the eyes of the CAS and that’s exactly why they ruled in Christel’s favor. Not because of her dual citizenship. Obviously she had to have a Philippines passport to be eligible.
I’ve had an opportunity to enter a few international FINA approved meets under the Serbian flag, but every time I made sure that Serbia wasn’t mentioned anywhere during the competitions.
People in CAS know about Christel’s… Read more »

Ferb
Reply to  Gina
5 years ago

Regarding Phelps, you are wrong. The official — president of FINA, I believe — said that if Phelps was left off the USA roster, FINA would consider inviting him to compete as a “special guest” of FINA. And he added the words “We can do what we want.”

Gina
Reply to  Ferb
5 years ago

Theoretical . It did not happen but it would have been interesting .

– The IAAF allows defending World Champs to compete in addition to national quotas but MP is not a defending champ.
– Would he have been on the US team or an individual unable to join the relay.
-Where would his medals be tabled ? Under his own little column?
-If under (then ) a 12 month Maryland suspended prison sentence could he have gained a visa? Things are not good on that front & if Russia refused would the US have boycotted ?
-Try getting in the US with a suspended prison sentence ongoing. Yes he went to France but hey they… Read more »

Ferb
Reply to  Ferb
5 years ago
Cate
Reply to  Gina
5 years ago

Uhhh, Yep, he did. Here is the quote from NBC news. “We may give him another status because he’s the greatest athlete [in] history,” FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu said, according to The Associated Press, adding that it would be “no problem for us.” “We can do whatever. He is the No. 1. He doesn’t need the accreditations.” Sooo apparently FINA can do WHATEVER.

Hank
5 years ago

I guess it is too late for the debate to be useful for Arkady but is there a “sports citizenship haven” out there? You would think the Caribbean, Belize, Bermuda, the Bahamas somewhere like that would be receptive. You can even buy citizenship in some of these countries and they are closer to USA for travel purposes.

Andrei Vorontsov
5 years ago

In the fall of 2005 British Swimming allowed Joan Fargus, born in Australia, to performed for Australia. She swam for a few years with us in the Bath training center (UK) under Ian Turner leadership and won bronze medal in Fukuoka in 2001. At that moment she trained with Trojans and hardly spent a month per year in Australia.
My swimmer – Robin Francis (12th in 400 IM in Athens 2004, silver medalist in 400 IM at the Euro 2003 and World 2004 SC spent in 2005, before making his application the change sport country, 3 1/2 month in South Africa – the country he was born in. He decided to compete for SA. I supported him and sent… Read more »

Ronin
Reply to  Andrei Vorontsov
5 years ago

Thank you for the insight, Andrei Rostislavovich!

TAA
5 years ago

If you are born in Russia and you grow up in Russia(and compete internationally) doesn’t that make you Russian? Correct me if I am wrong. I didn’t know there was free agency in swimming.

Bryan
Reply to  TAA
4 years ago

Seriously? Then you obviously don’t follow international athletics. Peoples switch nationalities all the time. Representing the US is especially popular because we have some of the best facilities, geography and money, not to mention commercial opportunities. I’m surprised you’re so clueless about this because it’s even a secret. They just discussed it last week in figure skating (I believe a Russian skater represented Israel). Read the following article:

http://www.news-herald.com/article/HR/20140206/NEWS/140209426

Robin
5 years ago

I hope he can compete there with the displaced athletes’ team. The paper trail and record of his actions are there to prove he’s not trying to manipulate the system somehow. The way the Russian Federation treated him, and then the Serbians’ reneging on funding, is effectively displacement for a swimmer though it’s not a refugee issue like it is for athletes from Sudan and such.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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