Leonard: The Path To Clean Swimming

Critical of how FINA and the IOC have governed swimming, particularly in terms of doping punishment and prevention, John Leonard has proposed a bold move for athletes: separating from FINA and the IOC until changes are made in how the governing bodies operate.

Leonard has published an open letter to athletes, calling for them to stand up to the international governing bodies of the sport. The letter encourages athletes to be willing to go on strike. Leonard told SwimSwam that a strike could be effective at any time, specifically pointing out the 2018 World Championships as a place to start.

Leonard has helped start the World Swimming Organization, which would be a rival swimming federation to FINA. The WSO describes itself on its website as “Athlete Centered, Administratively Transparent, and Professionally Managed.” In his letter, Leonard promises to help set up a professional swimming circuit that emphasizes clean sport and provides athletes more opportunities to earn money, and he also promises he won’t make any money for his role in setting up the circuit. We clarified with Leonard that his promise applies to his role, but that the new swimming federation would eventually have paid professional staff.

The World Swimming Organization will meet in September of 2017 for its Constitutional Convention. That will determine many of the rules governing the organization moving forward.

Leonard also advocates for more advanced drug testing methods, criticizing zero tolerance policies that he says exist to give the appearance of being tough on doping without a true commitment to catching dopers. When asked specifically about his thoughts on zero tolerance policies, Leonard acknowledged the complexity of the issue:

“I am generally in favor of the concept of Zero Tolerance, but ‘natural justice’ must allow, I believe for true ‘mistakes’ to be excused,” he told SwimSwam. “What the nature of a ‘true mistake’ is, is a good question. One example would be a level of performance enhancing substance too low in the tissue examined to be truly performance enhancing. (As has happened, and athletes are punished for an unintended tainted supplement despite the fact that the level found was far too low to be of any performance assistance.) The last one surely is a complicated issue.”



The full open letter:

The Path to Clean Swimming

By John Leonard

We have seen admirable courageous stances by athletes from multiple nations in Rio with regard to the immediate and important need to protect our sport.

This comes about because the IOC and its subsidiary International Federation Puppets such as FINA in our sport, have abdicated their moral responsibility to protect and preserve the sanctity of Olympic Ideals and Values. They have revealed themselves as simply a financial machine generating BILLIONS of dollars while sharing pittances with the Athletes on whose backs those dollars are generated, AND THEN, they are so arrogant as to ask the athletes to protect their private money generating circus by not protesting the prostitution of clean sport, as FINA and the IOC have done by allowing the dopers to swim.

Which leaves us with “WHAT TO DO”?

Here are the SIMPLE (not easy, but SIMPLE) steps:

  1. The real power in sport is with the athletes. Read that again three times. As athletes, you have become so used to the mindset of “big brother IOC will take care of all” that now that that trust has been betrayed, you have not realized ITS ALL ABOUT YOU. Your heart, soul, passion and BODY are what the IOC is getting rich on, and all the IF’s underneath them as well, (Read FINA, with their 100 Million in the bank while you starve.)
  1. ATHLETES MUST UNITE, form your own organization and TELL THE IOC under WHAT CONDITIONS YOU WILL PARTICIPATE IN THEIR CIRCUS. (Suggestions on conditions to follow.) You must be willing to go on STRIKE.

Do not be scared off by those who say “no one gets hurt in a boycott except the athletes.” That’s right, but those two boycotts “they” are referring to were created by governments (USA and former Soviet Union) with vague international political goals in mind, NOT goals of and for athletes. The FACT is that every STRIKE ever called by world professional athletes has WON THE DAY for the athletes. Strikes work, because they hit the finances of those who own the league (Read, IOC, USOC). And of course, it’s better to own your own league.

3. You can run your own Swim Circuit without them, earn REAL money, and be in control of your destiny. See GOLF and TENNIS. I am here to help you do it, when you are ready and I have a team in place to help you do it. And I won’t accept an American nickel to do it. No money for me.

This is about you and generations to follow. I want my children who coach, to be able to coach CLEAN ATHLETES and aspire to win in the generations ahead. That’s my personal motivation for the cynics to understand.

  1. Once you have a viable option to the IOC and their Circus, you are in control. Yes, keep the Olympics, but have it drug free, have it the way you dreamed of it when you were a child and emerging elite athletes. Not the cynical freak show of today, all marketing, no soul. Value your Dreams. They can be real. They can be real. They can be real.
  1. What conditions do you want? Here are “suggestions”.
  1. WADA must be rebuilt with a REAL anti-doping reformer at the helm. (I suggest Travis Tygert, of USADA, the ONLY administrator in all sport to truly SPEAK UP for you. He’s real. He’s at odds with the USOC because they are just more fakers hiding behind nonsense like “Zero Tolerance.”

The only ZERO TOLERANCE they recognize is for anything that threatens their bank account. Note to the USOC – why hold an Olympics in Los Angeles when it’s just another corrupt operation serving no clean athletes…..? When you cave in to the IOC on everything, to get the Games in LA, YOU STAND FOR NOTHING! ATHLETES, DEMAND A REBUILD of WADA. And real power for WADA to set rules, test for doping and ENFORCE RULES FOR ALL OF OLYMPIC SPORT.

  1. A thing called “HIGH THROUGHPUT TESTING” which exists TODAY, can find the doping needle in the haystack that current testing can’t. It can immediately create CLEAN SPORT. Why don’t “they” use it now? Because they don’t want clean sport, they want the charade of “Zero Tolerance” rhetoric. The Science EXISTS NOW. ATHLETES, INSIST WE USE 2016 Science to catch 2016 cheats, NOT 1950’s technology which is what is used now.
  1. MONEY – It’s all about the money right now, isn’t it? Why are the IOC making BILLIONS while you struggle to get the money to eat and keep a roof over your head? ATHLETES, insist on a fair distribution of revenue to keep YOU at the center of the picture. How? See number two above.

Athletes, every problem that frustrates you and your coaches and the entire world that wants CLEAN SPORT, can be solved by YOU. Unite. OWN YOUR SPORT. Many of us are here to help you. Fix swimming for your generation and hundreds of generations to come. You have the power to do it. Use it. Please.

John Leonard

American And World Swimming Coaches Association.

[email protected]

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Brad Cooper

John Leonard’s bullish formula to empower clean swimmers and usurp bodies like FINA might ring true it came from a swimmer. But all he is actually advocating is for swimmers to exchange one form of governance for another, but led by coaches this time instead of elected officials (or “blazers” as Leonard’s long time backer Craig Lord scornfully calls them.) Leonard’s style is bluster. Even in text, his repeated use of jarring capitals and bold font has the crudely propagandist ring of a power jock. His stance is also inconsistent. On the one hand he thunders “zero tolerance of doping,” but on the other, he wants to retain discretionary powers for “mistakes to be excused,” citing tainted supplements as an… Read more »


There is ABSOLUTELY NO DOUBT that IOC and FINA are a mess and should be overhauled and he has some valid points. However until he gets his own house in order and creates a Coach Centered, Administratively Transparent, and Professionally Managed organization out of ASCA I do not see how anyone can take his opinion on how a institution like this should be run seriously? Because more than a few coaches I know, myself included would say the absolute same thing about ASCA.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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