Court of Arbitration for Sport Rejects Siphiwe Baleka’s Appeal to Race in Tokyo

50-year old swimmer Siphiwe Baleka will leave Tokyo without swimming after the Court of Arbitration for Sport denied his appeal of FINA’s decision of disallowing him a Universality spot.

According to a press release by Baleka’s representatives, a CAS arbitrator denied his appeal, though they say “provided no rationale for the denial.”

The CAS has not yet published its decision.

While the original reason for FINA’s denial involved differing interpretations of the Universality deadline, another problem emerged throughout the proceedings: the residency requirement.

FINA rules require athletes who are establishing Sporting Citizenship to produce one of three documents:

  1. Birth certificate of the competitor…in the Sport Country;
  2. Proof of current residency for at least 12 months in the Sport Country; or
  3. A birth certificate of the mother, father, grandmother or grandfather of the Competitor…in the Sport Country.

The press release about Baleka’s case states that the residency requirement is “unpublished,” though the rules are addressed in FINA General Rules GR 2.5 and GR 2.6.1. In essence, Baleka would have had to “live and sleep” in Guinea-Bissau for 6 months of the prior year to establish residency there. Athletes also need certified registration of an address in the new country for at least 12 months prior to the first representation of the competitor…for the new country.

Baleka was born in the United States, and discovered his Guinea Bissau heritage through DNA testing. Because neither his parents nor grandparents were born in the country, he would have had to meet the residency requirement in order to gain Sporting Citizenship in the country.

FINA ultimately pivoted their argument to the more clear-cut residency, which Baleka acknowledges he does not meet, though his statements continue to focus on the Universality deadline.

He is currently sequestered in the Narita International Airport in Tokyo, Japan, awaiting the results of a negative COVID-19 test to return to Guinea-Bissau, where he currently lives. He is expected to return home on Friday, but has been unable to leave the airport since his arrival on July 25.

This appears to end Baleka’s quest to race at the Tokyo Olympic Games. In spite of his Olympic dream not coming true, Baleka states “I hope that my experience will start a movement of Black Americans competing on behalf of their ancestral homelands.”

Background:

Baleka, attempting to become the oldest Olympic swimmer in history at 50 years old, is disputing FINA’s interpretation of the deadline for Universality swimmers to achieve qualifying swims. After tracing his heritage to Guinea-Bissau, he received citizenship there and was attempting to become the country’s first-ever Olympic swimmer.

Under FINA selection rules, the deadline for federations to submit paperwork for Universality athletes was on June 20, 2021. That date is a week ahead of the deadline listed by FINA for athletes to achieve “Olympic qualifying swims,” which is June 27.

Baleka had originally based his universality application (submitted on June 17) on a time he swam at the 2019 International Masters Championships in Egypt, where he swam 25.25.

But FINA informed Baleka that the 2019 Egypt meet had not been a FINA-approved Olympic qualifying event. Baleka scrambled to find a new FINA-approved Olympic qualifying meet in which to compete before the June 27 deadline, eventually competing in the Egypt Swimming National Championships on June 26.

FINA’s position is that universality qualifying has a different qualifying period than A/B cut qualifying, implied by the June 20 submission deadline. Baleka’s camp maintains that FINA rules don’t specifically list different qualifying periods for universality and A/B cut swimmers, and that his June 26 swim should still qualify him because his application was submitted on-time and his swim (though after the submission deadline) still came before the qualifying period ended.

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The White Whale
1 month ago

That’s too bad. I was really hoping he’d be able to swim.

VA says Jeeeeah
1 month ago

Looks like we will see him in Paris one way or another. If he actually comes through with his plans to develop a national level swim program he can take a team as their coach but my feeling is he wants to swim. We’ll see how things play out. Definitely not the end of this story.

Stan
1 month ago

What a bs! There are multiple swimmers like him competing without a problem in Tokyo. Check our Krystal Lara. She is a 2nd generation American citizen, never lived and has nothing to do with the country she is “representing”, yet swimming for Dominican Republic. And it’s just an example.

Stan
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

By rule. But how does that serve the original purpose of promoting the sport in less developed countries?

JVW
1 month ago

Baleka states “I hope that my experience will start a movement of Black Americans competing on behalf of their ancestral homelands.”

Maybe, just maybe, we should let actual Africans compete for African nations, rather than have Americans who are several generations removed take those coveted Olympic slots. I’m glad that the IOC seems to at least require the athlete to have some familiarity with the country he or she represents.

SwimFL
Reply to  JVW
1 month ago

The major problem is that there aren’t many pools in Africa. So how are African swimmers supposed to swim without having access to pools to learn/train in.

Kim
Reply to  SwimFL
1 month ago

Correct. Funding is needed to build the pools and appropriate training facilities. Funding (from sponsorships etc) that Baleka now likely loses.

JVW
Reply to  SwimFL
1 month ago

How about instead of spending their resources swimming for African nations, those Americans of African ancestry set up a program to invite young Africans who have demonstrated swimming potential to the U.S. for several weeks each summer to receive training and coaching here which they can then utilize once they return home. Yes, not having a lot of pools in which to train is a serious issue, but I don’t see how re-colonizing African Swimming with U.S.-born swimmers is going to solve the issue. By exposing African swimmers to modern training methods and letting recruiters have a look at them, perhaps it will be a first step towards increasing competitive swimming participation on that continent.

The White Whale
Reply to  JVW
1 month ago

You could argue that the first step is getting kids in those countries interested in the sport to begin with. That’s what First World swimmers with African heritage could provide. But, yeah, once you get that momentum your idea is great.

The White Whale
Reply to  JVW
1 month ago

But are they taking “those coveted Olympic slots” if otherwise the African countries wouldn’t be represented at all?

I don’t want to speak for Siphewe, but I have a feeling he’d be thrilled if this led to born-and-bred Africans being able to compete sometime in the future.

JVW
Reply to  The White Whale
1 month ago

Yeah, but how exactly is Mr. Siphiwe swimming in a uniform designating him as being from Guinea-Bissau going to suddenly spark a swimming renaissance in Africa? What really needs to happen is hands-on involvement from the swimming community to identify young African swimmers with potential, get them into swim clinics where they can work on mechanics and learn about modern training methods, and then hopefully develop a few athletes into potential college swimmers. A sixth-generation African-American living in Georgia who moves to Lagos for a year, represents Nigeria in the 2024 Olympics, and takes 63rd in the 100 free isn’t going to have that much effect on the African swimming culture I fear.

The White Whale
Reply to  JVW
1 month ago

You’ve got to start somewhere. I’ll bet a whole lot more people in Guinea-Bissau have thought about swimming than otherwise would have based on Siphiwe’s efforts.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  JVW
1 month ago

I thought this sounded cool at first, but if you think about it for more than two seconds it wouldn’t really be that beneficial for anyone but the American athletes.

Kim
Reply to  Steve Nolan
1 month ago

The funding that flows from the Olympics would greatly benefit the various African countries, which could then fund and staff Olympic training facilities. And the “African American” athletes would inspire those in their ancestral homelands to train and compete.

tech9
Reply to  Kim
1 month ago

GB can’t afford to sustain a true international-caiber swimming program no matter how many Universality swimmers they enter.

The more likely outcome of “development” of a swim program in Guinea-Bissau is that talented young athletes would be exported to FINA training centers in Thailand or South Africa or to boarding schools in the UK or America if their parents were wealthy enough. Young people leaving the country is not helpful to the country, because they’re probably not going to come back.

The White Whale
Reply to  tech9
1 month ago

“GB can’t afford to sustain a true international-caiber swimming program no matter how many Universality swimmers they enter.”

I suppose if that’s the measure of success then you are correct, but I would consider something far less than that to still be a success.

Kim
Reply to  tech9
1 month ago

Confused. So your solution is? It seems that you’re saying it’s hopeless. That a developing country like GB can never develop and sustain competitive teams. I think perhaps what’s missing in your equation is that many Black Americans are choosing to repatriate to ancestral homelands because of systemic racism in the US. Take for instance Stevie Wonder and his children and grandchildren. I think the self-determination/return movement is quite real. And many African countries? Quite peaceful. A wonderful place where you just get to “be” a human being. And not targeted or prejudged because of ones race.

KyleChalmers 2nd Gold
Reply to  JVW
1 month ago

That is a good idea. They wouldn’t knee to their ancestral flag and they would sing their national anthem with pride! Win win scenario!

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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