John Leonard, an outspoken critic of FINA and founder of a rival swimming federation, has published a new open letter with his feelings on the current swimming governing body, alleging that FINA employees are compensated with lavish trips and lodging in exchange for keeping ideas for change and innovation quiet.
Leonard’s latest letter tells the story of an acquaintance whom Leonard keeps in anonymity. Leonard claims the acquaintance works both in a third-world country and for FINA. Leonard lays out what he says the acquaintance receives from FINA, questioning the benefits given to employees of the international swimming federation and alleging that the lavish perks are used to keep FINA employees from questioning the established order of the swimming federation.
Here is Leonard’s full letter, published without edit:
Understanding Cultures and Changing FINA.
Dec. 20, 2016
By John Leonard
I am unstintingly critical of almost everything that FINA does or undertakes. Today I spent an hour speaking with an acquaintance who “volunteers with FINA” and is not an American. He comes from a nation that can fairly be described as “third world swimming nation”, without prejudice or distain, just said factually as it relates to international swimming results. My judgment is that he is a good man. But. He comes from a culture radically different from the USA. This colors his expectations in radical ways compared to the “typical American” expectations.
Here’s my short list of what and how.
First, in his daily job, he shows up at 10 AM works till 1. Takes 2-3 hours for mid-day meal and “so on”, and then returns to work from 4-6. Then dines and makes his way home. In fairness, he does not own a car and relies on public transportation to get to and from his suburban home. Often this is a 90-120 minute project, each way. The actual number of hours “on the job”, less than 5 hours a day. But it’s a long tiresome day.
Second, he doesn’t actually accomplish much in his job. The Economy is “regulated” and he doesn’t understand how his efforts, such as they are, contribute to anything for his employer. Evaluation of his “work” is more along the lines of “are you a good member of the ruling class?” (in which case you are paid something….about what everyone else makes in salary.) A “no” answer is devastating to the family finances.
Those two things contribute to what feels like “hard work” and a “hard life”. Despite accomplishing next to nothing and not being called to task for it…everyone else is in the same boat. (the society is simply not based on productivity).
Now, compare and contrast that culture with his second life as a FINA volunteer.
When FINA calls, he answers and his “employer” lets him go because it is prestigious to say “Mr. X is a member of the international governing body of the sport of swimming.”
Now here’s his experience:
1. First class or business class airfare (usually) to his destination. Very nice travel.
2. 5 Star Hotel accommodation and meeting space for two weeks at a major meet.
3. Fine dining at the above restaurant for three meals a day. All meals are charged to your room at the very fine hotel, for two weeks.
4. Car and driver either just for yourself, or perhaps one other FINA puppet of similar stature. (for two weeks.)
5. Your envelope of cash. Officially $500 a day, for two weeks and travel days included. (more than your salary at home!) And since your hotel room and meals are all paid for, the purpose of this largesse is???? Some of course are rumored to have much more than that in their “envelope.”
6. As much time as you’d like in the hospitality rooms for VIPS. And all the drinks and snacks are free of course.
7. Great seats in the arena. Far from the maddening hoi ploi of the crowd. No one to bother you other than the other FINA puppets on the gravy train.
8. And of course no real need to show up, especially for the 10 AM prelims, which are boring anyway and getting there would mean curtailing the dining and late evening fun with the other FINA VIPS, in order to arise and make it to the arena. Do show up for the FINALS and say hello to the President and Executive Director with a compliment for them or two. You can leave early of course, in order to make it to the evening’s dinner out of the hotel in a five star restaurant on FINA’s credit card. This schedule does allow for plenty of shopping to use that $500 per day per diem, a little something to take home to the wife or girlfriend or both.
In return, FINA expects something:
1) Attend a two hour meeting of your committee. Do what the Executive Director expects of the committee. Keep your ideas to yourself. That’s the hard work part. Restrain yourself or 1-8 above do not come true again.
2) Be available to write letters or commentary such as the President or Executive Director require, on demand.
The FINA culture? Do it the way FINA likes it and they guarantee at least one great trip a year…perhaps MORE if you have the clout to help keep the gravy flowing.
It’s seductive. And seduction is easy to slide into and accept if your life at home in daily living is like our Mr. X described here, and almost all of them are.
Mr. “X” isn’t a bad guy. He’s just a victim of low expectations, and a strong wish to live better. And a complete and utter failure to understand a world where the athlete actually comes first. In his world, you take care of yourself first. And he’s become good at it. Thanks to FINA. And the FINA culture is exactly what he’s used to living in, but it “pays better.”
(if you think I am exaggerating any of this even a little, ask any honest man or woman who works with FINA. Just don’t ask to use their name.)
We have a very long way to go before a World Swimming Association takes the reins, ends this waste, and focuses on ATHLETES FIRST, and PROFESSIONAL and TRANSPARENT Governance. Because there are a huge number of Mr. “X’s” out there who will vigorously defend the system under which their lives are improved.
But it must be done. JL