The Ligue Européenne de Natation, better know as LEN, has spoken out against FINA following the FINA Congress in July that saw the elections and appointments of both new and veteran members to the FINA Bureau and numerous committees governing the six aquatic disciplines represented (swimming, diving, high diving, synchronized “artistic” swimming, open water swimming, and water polo–make it seven if you count masters).
In a post on LEN’s website titled “Europe Deserves More,” the continental federation alleges unfairness by FINA and claims European countries are not given substantial representation within the organization. LEN is headed by Italy’s Paolo Barelli, who in July lost the election for the FINA Presidency to 81-year-old Uruguayan Julio Maglione, who now holds the office for a third-consecutive term.
Following the FINA Congress in Budapest, Barelli issued a statement critical of the individuals appointed to serve on committees within FINA; or rather, critical of the countries those individuals represent. Barelli pointed out that some federations increased their representation in FINA despite not having athletes win any medals or advance to any finals in Budapest, while other countries that experienced success in the pool lost seats on committees.
LEN’s statement, per Barelli’s, draws an inverse correlation between European swimmers’ successes at the world championships in Budapest versus European representation in FINA. LEN also points out that European cities and national federations have hosted four of the previous five FINA World Championships (for long course meters swimming).
The following bullet points are taken directly from LEN’s post:
- “Europe won 46% of the medals on offer“
- “Europe produced 49% of the finalists in total“
- “Europe accounted for 55% of the National Federations winning medals“
- “Europe accounted for 59% of the National Federations having finalists“
LEN goes on to emphasize European federations lack appropriate representation in FINA governance and on the multitude committees within FINA:
“Europe obtained only 25% of the total available seats in the FINA Committees and Panels…”
“… compared with 26% of the Americas that won 28% of the medals on offer and had 25% of the total number of finalists.”
“22% of the seats went to Asia which had 19% of the medals and 18% of the finalists. Oceania had 11% of the seats while getting 5% of the medals and 7% of the finalists, and Africa got almost 16% of the seats while earning 2% of the medals and less then 1% of the finalists.”
LEN provided multiple graphs to visually illustrate the appropriations of FINA bureau and committee seats versus numbers of medalists and finalists by region. The information presented in the graphs is also available in an Excel document that breaks down committee seat allocation versus medals won in Budapest by country.
A few notable figures include 2014-2016 men’s water polo world champion and 2016 Olympic Champion Serbia losing its seat on the Water Polo Committee; Sweden having no members on the Swimming Committee, despite producing seven finalists in Budapest and Female Swimmer of the Meet Sarah Sjostrom; and Kuwait’s four members holding various roles within FINA, including FINA First Vice President Husain Al-Musallam—a controversial figure himself–despite Kuwait having no finalists in Budapest and being suspended by FINA and the IOC. However, despite the numerous allegations against Al-Musallam, when taken before the Court of Arbitration of Sport, the FINA Ethics Panel was cleared of all alleged wrongdoing or preferential treatment for several members of the FINA Bureau accused of conflicts of interest. (The full CAS ruling can be found here, with rulings on Al-Musallam from page 17).
LEN does point out that giving developing federations a seat at the table is a necessary step to growing the sport internationally and does not criticize FINA for that; however, the point LEN goes on to make is that European federations ought to be utilized more, due to their extensive experience hosting FINA competitions of varying sizes. Specifically:
“The FINA Committees form an essential part of a structure which is supposed to secure smooth operations in preparing, organising and running FINA Events. Their task is to maintain the highest level in all areas to ensure that the athletes can produce their best performance. The choices of FINA are clearly working in the wrong direction. We feel the structure is in danger now and Aquatics might be derailed from its current track of success going against the interest of the athletes.”
What is not stated in LEN’s documents or any FINA publications currently on-hand at SwimSwam is the funding provided to FINA by each national federation. Per official FINA documentation:
“As per FINA Bureau decision, the support granted to the Continental organisations as part of the FINA Continental assistance programme is based on the affiliation fees settled by the Federations.”
It would make sense that countries producing the most medalists and finalists in world championship and Olympic competition should also pay higher affiliation fees than their less-successful counterparts. But do they? Kuwait has been able to place numerous individuals in very high levels of sport governance, despite being far from a powerhouse in any Olympic sport. One is left to question how such small players can achieve positions of major influence.
At the time of this writing, SwimSwam does not have numbers for what each national federation of FINA pays to be a member of the organization, but we have reached out to FINA for this information. Furthermore, we do not allege Kuwait or any other country is paying for influence. Nevertheless, asking awkward questions is part of our job, and we will do our best to get this information to provide to you, the readers, the aquatics community.