FINA Relaxes Rules, Won’t Ban Athletes For Competing In Non-FINA Meets

After a meeting and video conference today called by Swimming Australia CEO Leigh Russell in an attempt to stave off further head-butting between FINA, the international governing body for swimming, and the International Swimming League, a billionaire-funded upstart, FINA seems to have relented.

In a statement released on Tuesday morning, FINA in effect says that they will no longer make efforts to block the ISL, as they did in December with the ISL-sponsored Energy for Standard Meet, but that the ISL events would not be FINA-sanctioned competitions.

“FINA acknowledges that swimmers are free to participate in competitions or events staged by independent organisers, namely entities which are neither members of FINA nor related to it in any way,” the statement said. “If an independent organiser does not obtain or does not request (FINA approval), all results or records of such unapproved competition or event will be deemed null and void and ignored by FINA and shall not be taken into account for any purpose whatsoever by FINA. However, such participation shall not be characterised as unauthorised relations in application of FINA General Rules GR4, and shall not give rise to sanctions by FINA.”

In other words, FINA will no longer fight the presence of the ISL or similar organizations, but they will also not acknowledge the results or records of ISL swims unless organizers comply with FINA regulations, including requesting approval 6 months in advance. Based on comments by ISL leadership at the December summit in London, the restrictions on recognition of records shouldn’t be a sticking point for the league – they indicated that their desire is for athletes to focus on point scoring, not record-chasing, and that they don’t even believe that their meets should be timed.

FINA also clearly stated in the release that swims in non-approved meets will not result in sanctions: a deviation from 30 years of threats and suspensions of athletes for competition in non-FINA circuits.

Update: we reached out to recently-retired Olympic gold medalist Cameron van der Burgh for a response. Van der Burgh attended the ISL summit in December and has become one of the leading athlete voices in the ISL-FINA dispute. Van der Burgh said he could only speak on his own behalf (and not for all athletes or an athletes association), but characterized the move as a victory for athletes.

“This a huge victory, the first of many for athletes and organizers alike against the monopoly that Fina holds,” van der Burgh said. “Many athletes were brave and stood together against FINA on this first front which has proven the power we have when United. This emphasizes the need for a swimmers partnership in order to defend athletes rights and protect against the organisations that exploit them. I urge all swimmers to join and make a better future for our sport.”

We’ve also reached out to the ISL for comment, but haven’t gotten official word yet.

Update: Michael Andrew, one of the named plaintiffs in the athletes’ pending class action lawsuit against FINA, called the announcement a “big win for swimming.”

“It’s great to know that standing for freedom won’t cost me the chance to do so at the highest level,” Andrew said on Tuesday evening. “Change is here. This is going to be an amazing year! I’m grateful for ISL and our amazing family of pro athletes who are standing together, and that the family is growing daily.”

Previous reporting:

The ISL had organized a December 2018 meet centered around prize money for athletes and spectator appeal. But FINA re-interpreted one of its rules, classifying the meet as an international competition requiring FINA approval. Without the necessary six months to gain approval, the meet was essentially outlawed, and a FINA e-mail to federations specifically referenced rules that could ban athletes for up to two years for competing in an unapproved meet. The meet was ultimately canceled, but three top athletes filed an anti-trust lawsuit against FINA, similar to the suit that struck down similar rules by the International Skating Union.

Further context:


Full FINA Statement is below:

FINA’s approach to and interpretation of its rules regarding swimmers and their participation in international competitions was discussed today, at a meeting of FINA’s leadership and a representative selection of national federations, present either in person in Lausanne (SUI) or by videoconference.

“FINA’s principal concern remains the development of all the aquatics disciplines and the support and wellbeing of all our athletes”, said FINA President Dr. Julio C. Maglione. “While FINA is bound to respect its rules, there is some scope for interpretation and application of those rules and it was a pleasure to be able to provide clarifications today.”
FINA acknowledges that swimmers are free to participate in competitions or events staged by independent organisers, namely entities which are neither members of FINA nor related to it in any way.

Any independent organisers which intend to have the results and records of any competitions or events duly registered with and acknowledged by FINA shall cooperate with or seek approval from FINA or from any relevant member federation, as the case may be, the approval procedure shall be set out in FINA By-laws BL 12, which will be entirely applicable.

If an independent organiser does not obtain or does not request the above-mentioned approval, all results or records of such unapproved competition or event will be deemed null and void and ignored by FINA and shall not be taken into account for any purpose whatsoever by FINA. However, such participation shall not be characterised as unauthorised relations in application of FINA General Rules GR4, and shall not give rise to sanctions by FINA.

FINA Legal Counsel François Carrard, present at the meeting, clarified FINA’s position: “FINA recognises the right of athletes to participate in any swimming event. However, this participation should respect the frame of sport structure. FINA’s business is not to punish athletes, although if the FINA rules are not met, the results of the competition will not be recognised by FINA”. 

“British Swimming was pleased to have been part of today’s meeting and we welcome the clarifications that were given by FINA,” said British Swimming Chairman Maurice Watkins CBE. “Our swimmers currently live, train and compete in the context of support systems that are focused on success at FINA’s flagship competitions: the swimming events at the Olympic Games, the World Swimming Championships, and our Continental Championships. Careful coordination will be required to ensure that any changes or additions to the competition calendar are complementary to preparation for those flagship events, so we can best support our athletes moving forward.” 

“We work hard to make sure that swimmers are at the heart of everything we do at USA Swimming,” said USA Swimming President and CEO Tim Hinchey. “Our athletes are extremely dedicated to our sport and deserve every opportunity to reap the rewards of their hard work. It’s been great to work with FINA to learn more about the new opportunities that will be provided thanks to the FINA Champions Swim Series. With around USD $ 4 million in prize money and appearance fees, the Series is a great addition and we look forward to U.S. swimmers prospering at each of the three legs.”

“FINA today is in an exceptional position at every level, thanks to many years of hard work and support from our 209 National Federations,” continued President Maglione. “At the highest level, aquatics athletes have more medal opportunities at the Olympic Games than for every sport and record prize money at our events. But FINA is just as proud of the way it now supports every single federation around with development funds, aimed at achieving our vision of ensuring the whole world knows how to swim. We are proud to support all our athletes, from Olympic champions to families swimming for fun, and we will continue to work as hard as we can to improve opportunities for all.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu presented the new FINA event for 2019, the “Champions Swim Series”, to all attending National Federations. The reaction to this competition was very positive, with FINA members underlining the importance of having additional opportunities for the stars of swimming to compete at the highest level.

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4 years ago

Athletes can make a difference and the athletes stood up for what they believed in in a step in the right direction

Big Chunguliciousness
4 years ago

this looks like a big v i c t o r y r o y a l e for swimming

4 years ago

Overplayed their hand once too often. They’re now in self-preservation territory. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch!

4 years ago

It appears to me that FINA relented due to pressure from leading federations such as USA Swimming, Swimming Australia and British Swimming. I wish these federations would flex their muscles more often. Without them FINA is nothing. The governance of the sport of swimming would be so much better if the leading federations insisted on higher standards and greater transparency.

Reply to  straightblackline
4 years ago

That, and the European Commission ruling that anti-trust law was violated when the International Skating Union tried to ban a similar sort of speed skating event set a precedent that had to have given FINA pause.

Reply to  beachmouse
4 years ago

FINA’s lawyers woke up at last.

SUM Ting Wong
Reply to  straightblackline
4 years ago

There are a lot of eras coming to an end & international overarching sport organisations may be one . Get ready to deal with Oligarchs instead of your man from deepest darkest swim federation somewhere .

Ol' Longhorn
4 years ago

Now we’ll have “Textile WR,” “FINA WR,” “ISL WR,” “FINA TEXTILE BEST” …. sounds like professional wrestling.

4 years ago

“they don’t even believe that their meets should be timed”
Wait, what?

SUM Ting Wong
Reply to  Drewbrewsbeer
4 years ago

That is the best news . We ‘ve seen the same faces year in year out doing the same events up & down & the same post race pouts , quotes & it’s all very boring . Something different .

4 years ago

About time. Imagine, if FINA really wanted to, they could have said anyone swimming at a High School or NCAA meet in the USA, organizations not part of FINA, is subject to being banned from FINA competition. The ISL is no different. No one organization should be able to dictate to a member what other activities they participate in.

Reply to  Robbert
4 years ago

And vice versa. The organization has to have rights and means to protect itself from the harmful activities of its members. That is what contracts are good for. And that is what is going on within FINA – switch from dictatorship to some set of reasonable regulations that will protect FINA’s financial sources. As Federica Pellegrini said recently there is no reason to not coexist. The organization’s like ISL are presenting the interest of petty narrow specific group of experienced swimmers who decided and are capable to make money from swimming. They want their business to be more efficient and therefore are focusing on the most profitable part of this business: championships. Good luck and best wishes to this business… Read more »

Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

Professional organizations with professional swimmers should coexist with FINA as does the NBA and FIBA and the hundreds of other examples in basketball, hockey, baseball, football (soccer), tennis, skating, skiing etc, etc. Why not the ISL? And NBA records don’t count for FIBA records etc.

Reply to  Ecoach
4 years ago

I think the same. And all of the athletes can take part in Olympics, Worlds, etc.

Jambo Sana
4 years ago

The same people who let Russian athletes compete in Rio, despite proof of PED cheating, are still running the show. Why is Dale Neuburger still with FINA? Either be a lobbyist or FINA employee, not both. Neuburger is the face of FINA corruption. TSE must be barred from any financial contracts until Neuburger quits. Massive conflict of interest.

SuperSwimmer 2000
Reply to  Jambo Sana
4 years ago

Neuburger? Their communications guy was arrested and held on murder charges in Hungary. With guys like that, Neuburger’s a Boy Scout — the least of your worries.

Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
4 years ago

It has’t finished yet. New evidences were found according to today’s Hungarian media.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of 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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