Welcome to the final installment in our “series” following a very in-depth interview with FINA Vice President Dale Neuburger. If you need a recap of Part 1 or a refresher of Part 2, you will find them linked below.
This installment, which is the longest and most to-the-point, will raise the toughest questions we had for Neuburger: conflicts of interest, transparency, and ethics.
Neuburger was accused of conflict of interest by Italy’s Paolo Barelli and appeared before the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) in June, along with other members of the FINA Executive Bureau. Though the charges were dismissed, leaving Barelli to partially reimburse FINA for its legal fees, the Italian Olympian did not relent from speaking out against Neuburger and other FINA colleagues.
Barelli, who is also the President of LEN and the Italian Swimming Federation, claimed that in 2016 Neuburger, by way of TSE, encouraged members of LEN to vote for Barelli’s opponent, Erik van Heijningen of the Netherlands, in the 2016 LEN Presidential election. Though Barelli successfully retained his position as President of LEN, he did not back down from the accusations against Neuburger.
Barelli’s allegations against Neuburger were based on the fact that the Dutch Swimming Federation (KNZB) did hire TSE to orchestrate Van Heijningen’s campaign, and because Neuburger’s LinkedIn profile was featured to others within his network, thanks to LinkedIn’s “Mentioned in the News” feature.
Insidethegames.biz later issued a change saying the excerpt that appeared on LinkedIn was incorrect, stating “FINA vice-president Dale Neuburger is among TSE’s directors, although insidethegames has been told he is playing no role in the campaign.” Nonetheless, Barelli stuck with this point of view.
Before taking FINA to court, Barelli attempted to appeal to the FINA Ethics Panel in late 2016; however, the panel chose not to pursue the allegations based on the assessment of FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu.
But why did CAS dismiss Barelli’s allegations? Essentially, the Court found no evidence to support Barelli’s accusations:
- “Whether or not the circumstances reported by the Appellant (Paolo Barelli) are submitted to the Ethics Panel for it to consider whether or not they constitute violations committed by Mr Dale Neuberger, and if so, which sanction would have to be issued against Mr Dale Neuberger are by nature elements, which have not impact on any personal and actual interests of the Appellant.“
- “Whether or not the circumstances reported by the Appellant are submitted to the Ethics Panel for it to consider whether or not they constitute violations committed by Mr Dale Neuberger, and if so, which sanction would have to be issued against Mr Dale Neuberger are by nature elements, which have not impact on any personal and actual interests of the Appellant.“
- “The fact that the circumstances reported by the Appellant include a reference to the alleged links of Mr Dale Neuberger with TSE SA and to the fact that this company was appointed to support an opponent of the Appellant in an electoral process now long concluded (and successfully so by the Appellant) does not allow the Appellant to claim that he would have such an interest.“
- “Irrespective of the fact that the claim that TSE SA’ s activities in the electoral process would allegedly represent a violation of the Code of Ethics by Mr Neuberger personally is without merits and frivolous, a decision on this issue would have in any event no longer any impact on any conceivable personal and actual interest of the Appellant.“
- “The outcome of these proceedings could therefore neither directly (as such the opening and conduct of proceedings against Mr Neuberger would have no consequence at all for the Appellant) nor indirectly (when the Ethics Panel would then issue its decision) have any impact on the Appellant’s actual and personal interests.“
- “In conclusion, the Appellant has no interest worthy of protection to challenge the decision of the FINA Executive not to transfer the matter he reported in connection with Mr Dale Neuberger to the Ethics Panel and to obtain a decision ordering such transfer.“
- “Given this obvious lack of standing (in the above sense), the appeal must be dismissed.“
This is only a small excerpt from the CAS ruling; a topic so extensive it might warrant of a “series” of its own.
Concerning his employment with sports marketing juggernaut TSE Consulting SA, Neuburger provided SwimSwam with a letter from Lars Haue-Pedersen, Managing Director of TSE Lausanne (Switzerland), where the company is headquartered. Haue-Pedersen declares Neuburger is not, in fact, a direct employee of TSE Consulting SA, but rather “President of Sports Strategy, Inc., an American-based company formed in 2006 and located in Indianapolis, which has an agency agreement with TSE Consulting SA.”
OK… but these FINA contracts must be pretty lucrative, right? Neuburger must receive some form of kickback for his… role?
According to Neuburger, no. Neuburger has stated in multiple letters to FINA that he will not pursue contracts with cities looking to host FINA events. As far as FINA and TSE Switzerland’s business relationship is concerned, we have been told how “lucrative” the contracts with FINA have been for TSE. From the Haue-Pedersen letter:
“The annual fees for our relationship with FINA have generally not exceeded 30’000 CHF,” or about $30,000 USD.
Neuburger’s professional title, “Director of TSE Consulting – North America,” is somewhat of a short-hand for “Director of TSE Consulting – North America/Sports Strategy, Inc.,” which flows from the aforementioned agency agreement that exists between Sports Strategy, Inc. and the larger Swiss-based TSE Consulting SA. Through Sport Strategy Inc. Neuburger works with cities and sporting leagues throughout North America, and rather than getting paid by TSE Consulting SA, Sport Strategy, Inc. pays TSE an agency fee. Such is Neuburger’s explanation.
But at the heart of the matter is transparency. Neuburger claims to have always been 100% transparent about his role at TSE – North America/Sport Strategy, Inc., and he provided SwimSwam with documentation (pages 1-4) as evidence. According to Neuburger, conflict of interest involves an absence of disclosure–see sections 11-16 of the FINA Code of Ethics. As for the money, TSE – North America/Sport Strategy, Inc. generates revenue by winning contracts through Request For Proposals, or “RFPs,” from public entities or by recommendation of past clients. The success of these contracts forms the source of Neuburger’s salary, and Sport Strategy, Inc. is classified as an “S” Corporation by the IRS.
Neuburger has also stated that he will not work with cities vying to host FINA events. In a letter dated July 24th, 2016, Neuburger reveals his 2016 client list to the other members of the FINA Executive Committee. The list, which includes the United States Olympic Committee, USA Wrestling, and Visit Pittsburgh, is comprised of organizations specializing in tourism, event building, and business performance, and notably does not include FINA, USA Swimming, or the Dutch Swimming Federation (KNZB). The 2016 list contains the names of several entities Neuburger is no longer working with, including the Turkish Swimming Federation, Mexican Olympic Committee, and INDE – State Institute of Sport and Physical Culture – Nuevo Leon (City of Guadalajara). The list has changed since 2016 and now includes other entities including Los Angeles 2024/2028, the Arizona Sports and Tourism Agency, and the NCAA, among others.
Per Neuburger, the only client relationship that involves direct work with aquatics is the City of Santa Clara, which is working to build a new aquatic center, International Swimming Hall of Fame museum, recreation center, theater, and parking garage. A list of clients with active contracts with TSE Consulting – North America can be found here.
But that’s enough recap and reflection. What follows is the remainder of our conversation with Dale Neuburger, interspersed by excerpts from the documents he provided countering conflict of interest and lack of transparency claims made against him.
“We have a lot to celebrate, we have a lot of success, and it’s so discouraging to read about the things that some people find to be [so] important….”
SwimSwam: “Your name has been brought up numerous times by others in FINA, particularly Paolo Barelli, regarding potential conflicts of interest. I would like to ask you: Are there are any firewalls in place between FINA and TSE that would prevent that could prevent something like that from happening in the first place?”
Dale Neuburger: “Well, I think at the heart of conflict of interest is notification and transparency. And, as you know, seven years before FINA established an ethics panel, seven years before FINA established a code of ethics, I communicated with the FINA President to make sure that he knew about my association with a company that had done previous business with FINA. That predated my participation with the North American structure by five years. I think the clarity of my communication throughout about my role… and my responsibilities have been very clear. There’s nothing that’s hidden; there’s nothing that has been debated; there’s nothing that has been anything other than… that has been transparent.”
The correspondence Neuburger mentions is linked here, and contains the following key quotes:
“In April 2006, I began employment as Director, TSE Consulting -Indianapolis…. In my role with TSE Consulting, I provide services to cities in the United States seeking to stage important international and domestic events in a wide range of Olympic sports.”
“TSE Consulting, through its Lausanne office directed by Lars Haue-Pedersen… has performed various consulting services for FINA, including assistance with the conference on marketing and broadcast in Barcelona in 2001, the FINA strategic plan, and the FINA World Conference in Madrid later this month.”
“Each of the TSE Consulting offices operates within separate geographic territories, and I have had no involvement with any of the FINA projects that have been engaged through the Lausanne office, nor will I do so in the future. Further, I will not provide professional services to American cities seeking FINA events. It should be clearly noted that any decisions made by FINA regarding engagement of services with TSE Consulting -Lausanne are not made with any solicitation or representation on my part.”
Furthermore, in June of 2016 Lars Haue-Pederson, Director of the TSE Lausanne office, wrote the following regarding Neuburger’s employment with the Swiss-based consulting company:
“You are the President of Sports Strategy, Inc., an American-based company formed in 2006 and located in Indianapolis, which has an agency agreement with TSE Consulting SA. Therefore, you are not an employee of TSE Consulting SA and you act independently and not under my direct authority,” and, “TSE Consulting SA has had various contracts with FINA beginning in 2001, which preceded your role with Sports Strategy, Inc. by five years. The CEO of FINA, acting on behalf of FINA, and myself, acting on behalf ofTSE, have exclusively negotiated all such contracts. You and your company played no role in the formation of project proposals, the negotiation of fees, or the provision of services related to these contracts. The annual fees for our relationship with FINA have generally not exceeded 30’000 CHF.”
“It’s important to say that one individual, motivated by political aspirations, made aspersions on my reputation and my ethical standards, that have not been supported anywhere else by any entity within the sport structure. And so it’s disappointing that an individual hoping to win political office, but being widely repudiated in his aspiration for that political office, made accusations about me that weren’t true, were not supported by facts, and have not been upheld by any body, any entity, that has examined the circumstances. That is included the FINA executives, the FINA Ethics Panel, and it’s included the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS).”
“So you have, unfortunately you had one individual, who has made comments about my my conduct that goes against not only the written record of my—and the transparency that I’ve brought to my engagement with my professional employment and my volunteer service with FINA—and has been given widespread media awareness, despite the fact that his accusations have been repudiated repeatedly, and his political aspirations were repudiated by a significantly wide margin.”
“There has been no one within FINA who has been more engaged in an effort to be transparent about my professional work activities. And none of my professional work activities have in any way, shape, or form, been inconsistent with my duties within FINA. You have been supplied with my with my client list. It’s a little bit larger now than when I wrote that document, but you’ve been supplied with my client list. I would also tell you I have the same responsibilities for disclosure with the USA Swimming Board of Directors, which I do on an annual basis.”
“So, unfortunately, as I say, there has been considerable media attention given to a single individual—a single individual—who was motivated in his accusations by political aspirations. And whose contentions, whose statements, have been rejected by every single entity that’s examined them for their veracity. Every. Single. Entity. There’s been not a single situation—USA Swimming, FINA Executives, FINA Ethics Panel, Court of Arbitration for Sport—where any of those entities has given a single element of credence to the accusations made.”
SwimSwam: “You’ve made your personal position very clear with how you’ve been very transparent, and that, at least that with USA Swimming, is mandated. But what about the FINA Ethics Panel—in order to continue participating in FINA, do you also have to provide them with those kinds of disclosures every year, or is that something voluntary?”
Dale Neuburger: “I disclosed to the FINA Ethics Panel in 2013 before being elected four years ago all of the circumstances of my employment. And again, there is written record to indicate that the FINA Ethics Panel found nothing—and I underline the word nothing—that would be considered conflicting with my service to FINA.”
“At the same time in 2013, there was one candidate for the FINA Bureau who was rejected by the FINA Ethics Panel. So these are not rubber-stamp situations. They’re carefully reviewed. And they have a high degree of credibility. The same process took place in 2017. So again, the FINA Ethics Panel review of my circumstances and finding not a single piece of evidence that would substantiate [a] conflicting situation between service to FINA and my professional [career].”
“So the short answer to your question is: USA Swimming does its conflict of interest [statements] on an annual basis; FINA does its on the basis of when one is elected to office. But… that doesn’t prevent review of subsequent circumstances. But no, the FINA circumstances are to certify a candidate for election if he or she does not have any conflicting situations. But also—do they have a criminal record? Or, there aren’t other—they’re not a mass-murderer or some of those things. So it’s additional.”
SwimSwam: “Just confirming–those ethics panels, that’s something that, if you’re vying for FINA election or before you can be confirmed–does every candidate have to go through that screening?”
Dale Neuburger: “That’s exactly right. Everybody for the FINA Bureau, and everybody… there’s 250, [or] 275 people, I don’t know the exact number, that are confirmed for FINA committees and commissions. So there is a very extensive review process that is performed by the Ethics Panel to certify an individual’s ability to serve FINA without violating any of its rules. And that includes, again, character, and criminal offenses, and so on. Not just conflicts of interest. So [a] broader review of one’s candidacy than merely work-related conflicting situations. It is a review of one’s, well, the background–it’s a background check–to see whether there’s anything that would be inconsistent with someone’s behavior or their past activity and service to the sport.”
“The sport is in an incredible moment, but one would be hard-pressed to know that if they picked up certain publications.”
SwimSwam: “And when you are attending a FINA meeting, FINA Congress, or any type of official gathering of the Executive Committee, you don’t talk any business? Like, no TSE business or anything like that? Or is there any kind of flux there? Asking because FINA and TSE have worked together, correct?”
Dale Neuburger: “Well, TSE Switzerland has performed services for conventions and conferences for FINA since 2001. So to be very clear about what the Swiss company has done: They have recruited speakers; they have written the speeches of various officials; they have conducted surveys about what the attendees liked or didn’t like about conferences and conventions. That’s the sum-total, that’s the extent, of the TSE Switzerland involvement with FINA.”
“And as you read in one of the documents, that involvement has been… in the years where something like that has taken place, a relatively nominal amount has been, you know, perhaps 25 or 30 thousand dollars… these are not, these are not huge contracts. They are for very specific services related to FINA conferences. In FINA there’s a World Aquatics Convention [and] last year TSE Switzerland helped recruit speakers, put together the program, [and] made sure that speakers were on time and in the right place. They’re hardly political activities. These are very structured duties that relate to the gatherings of FINA where having a so-called ‘conference coordinator’ is [a] very standard operating procedure. So the notion that TSE Switzerland has had some wide-ranging involvement with FINA is patently incorrect. TSE Switzerland’s involvement with FINA has been very limited, and it’s been solely related to conferences, conventions, and helping to put together the program for several hundred attendees from around the world, [and] do that in a responsible way.”
“So, again, the notion that somehow TSE Switzerland has some wide-ranging impact within FINA is absolutely incorrect, [and] is not supported by any facts presented by anyone at any time. It’s plain and simply false.”
“At the point of FINA’s greatest successes, and our sport’s most significant prominence, we’ve had divisiveness that has somehow taken away the luster of those accomplishments. And… I’m very disappointed by that, because… the success that our sport has had, and as you know, Michael Phelps had a great deal to do with it, but you also, you have to be able to… capitalize on this once in a, maybe, maybe two generation asset. And I think worldwide we did. There’s such great enthusiasm.”
“We have a lot to celebrate, we have a lot of success, and it’s so discouraging to read about the things that some people find to be [so] important… elements of disappointment and discouragement, when all around is really incredible success.”
“The sport is in an incredible moment, but one would be hard-pressed to know that if they picked up certain publications.”
So there you have it. Dale Neuburger, in his own words.
In part 1 we covered Neuburger’s role at FINA and what he wants FINA and swimmers around the world to accomplish by the Tokyo 2020 Olympic & Paralympic Games. In part 2 we got Neuburger’s take on athlete participation within FINA and the role of the USA on FINA’s various committees. Here in part 3, we explored Neuburger’s history as a business professional and FINA and USA Swimming volunteer.
Changing opinions can be hard, then again, we didn’t necessarily set out to change readers’ opinions. Nonetheless, we have been given a wealth of material from Neuburger that should not go unread by members of the aquatics community that have had concerns about FINA and its leadership. Again, your opinion might not change, but at least you will know how the other side sees things.