Cornel Marculescu has resigned his position as the executive director at FINA, the world governing body for 6 aquatic disciplines, after 35 years leading the organization. Marcela Saxlund Medvedev, formerly the deputy executive director, has been elevated to interim executive director in his stead, effective Tuesday.
Marculescu advocated for Medvedev to take the position permanently after his departure. This would be a significant move for the organization, whose top leadership since formation in 1908 has been, essentially, all male.
Not insignificant, but the organization’s 85-year old president Julio Maglione will also end his tenure this year after almost 13 years in that role. That includes leading a charge to extend tenure limits, allowing him to serve longer in that role.
The 79-year old Marculescu represented Romania in water polo at the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games. He also officiated the Olympic water polo final in 1972.
He spent a decade as technical director for the Spanish Swimming Federation in the 70s and 80s, including when they hosted the World Championships in Madrid in 1986. Later that year, he joined FINA as executive director.
The departure of both Marculescu and Maglione in the same year could lead to significant changes for an organization that has struggled to modernize.
Marculescu’s tenure has seen a dramatic expansion of swimming globally, with bigger events, more series, and more money flowing into the sport. It has also been marked with a substantial number of controversies, including the 2010 death of American swimmer Fran Crippen during an open water race in the UAE, which prompted dramatic changes to the safety regulations within the sport.
Marculescu has attended all 18 FINA World Aquatics Championships in some capacity, and the last 14 Summer Olympic Games.
The tenure has also seen FINA struggle with transparency. The organization has developed a reputation for refusing to respond to or acknowledge media requests, even on mundane or uncontroversial topics, over the last decade.
Marculescu’s tenure has also spanned the biggest doping controversies in the history of the sport, including the East German regime in the 1980s, the Chinese regime in the 1990s, and the more modern issues with both Russia and China.
The two leave FINA at a time where some level of innovation will be required to keep the organization relevant. Swimming, the largest and most profitable of the 6 FINA disciplines, is at a cliff with the upstart International Swimming League. The league currently has the loyalty of many of the elite athletes, but also an unclear business model. Pandemics have kept the two organizations, currently in the midst of antitrust lawsuits, from having the inevitable championship clash, but that could be coming after this summer’s Olympic Games.