At what age do our elected officials need to step down and give way to younger leaders? At what point does a breadth of experience give way to complacency and ambivalence? This article is not about the goings-on in Washington, D.C., but man, could we draw some parallels.
FINA President Julio Maglione, at the seasoned age of 81-years-old, is up for re-election this July at the FINA Congress in Budapest, which will take place on the eve of the swimming portion of this summer’s FINA World Championships on July 22nd. For reference–and you’re sorely mistaken if you didn’t think I was going to mention at least one US politician–President Donald Trump took the Oath of Office at the age of 70-years-old, becoming the oldest-ever US President at the time of his (first?) inauguration.
Maglione is allowed to run for a third term only because FINA abolished the previous maximum age limit of 80-years for those seeking election to its board in 2015, a campaign that was championed by Maglione, who only two years earlier had voted in favor of the 80-year maximum age limit. Furthermore, in 2009 Maglione as a candidate for FINA President declared he would only serve one term.
Accusations of corruption in FINA are nothing new, and I will refrain from making any more here–though the evidence speaks for itself. While it is possible that Maglione thinks serving for another 4 years is in the best interest of the global swimming community, it is just as likely that he has simply grown to enjoy the power and privilege given to the position. But let us refocus on his age and less on his actions and character–both of which matter immensely in determining one’s “fitness” for President of FINA, but neither of which are the topic of this editorial.
While the world of swimming is broad and encompasses individuals of all ages and skill levels, most competitors in non-masters competition tend to be children, teens, or twenty-somethings, of course with some exceptions. This disparity in age prompts the question: Can Maglione adequately speak to all demographics in the sport of swimming? Perhaps age shouldn’t determine his ability to be empathetic towards those much younger than he and his peers, but it is a question worth asking anyways. Just as certain elderly politicians in the United States have failed to grasp the transcendence of the internet in society today, Maglione’s age could conceivably impair his empathy towards the concerns of younger aquatics participants. That is not to say he would favor the elderly, who have as much right to aquatics as the rest of us; but rather that he could fail to be sympathetic and might not address the concerns most pressing to the largest group of aquatics participants, namely doping.
FINA’s stance on doping while under Maglione leadership has been too lenient according to some, especially if one takes into consideration that FINA once gave Russian President Vladimir Putin an award known as the FINA Order which is given to “Heads of States or individuals of high dignity, who have achieved remarkable merit in the world of Aquatics.” Of course, this happened before the release of the McLaren Report, but doping in Russian sports was not a new phenomenon in 2014 when Putin received his award, and FINA stood by its decision even after international criticism.
Only one man is running against Maglione to become President of FINA: Paolo Barelli of Italy. Barelli, the current Honorary Secretary of FINA, is 62-years-old and also the President of LEN (Ligue Européenne de Natation). Barelli has said that if he is elected and replaces Maglione, he will reintroduce the age-limits that were struck down for Maglione in 2015. Though this editorial makes clear that age is an important factor in determining the fitness of a leader, it is perhaps not as important as term limits.
FINA should also consider how long Maglione has been at his post: 8 years. If Maglione were to be re-elected he would begin a fresh four-year term and would not exit until the age of 85, supposing he’s ready to relinquish power in 2021. If FINA had never created the 80-year age limit and Maglione were running for his first or even second term, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. But FINA is a large and dynamic organization, and many have been upset with its rules and governance for quite some time. Perhaps four more years of “the same” is not in the best interests of the organization and its members, and new blood is needed to save it. After all, unhappiness with FINA is what inspired the creation of the World Swimming Organization, an entity that would replace FINA (for pool and open water swimming, anyways), if only it gained the following and funding necessary to host events and cater to members on a massive scale.
FINA needs to remember the athletes it serves. Maglione’s contributions to aquatics will never be forgotten, but if FINA is going to continue to govern aquatics it needs to change and refocus on athletes and their concerns, and that is unlikely to happen with the same leadership it has had for the past 8 years.