The alleged unethical behavior of FINA Vice President Zhou Jihong has been well known within the aquatics community for the past three months, but things reached a new level this week when CNN Sport published a report shedding light on the allegations.
Back in February, SwimSwam reported on the allegations made against Zhou by Diving New Zealand and official Lisa Wright, who claimed Zhou verbally abused her following the conclusion of the men’s 10-meter platform diving final at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Following the filing of the complaint, a whistleblower stepped forward with more allegations against Zhou, with the claims primarily centered around the fact that she was using her power to influence and manipulate diving results in order to ensure the success of the Chinese divers competing.
Zhou using her position to ensure success for the Chinese divers aligns with the allegations made by Wright, who said she was verbally attacked by Zhou because she underscored China’s athletes.
Now, in the CNN Sport report, both Wright and whistleblower Simon Latimer have spoken out on the allegations against Zhou and how they believe action needs to be taken to help the future of the sport.
Wright detailed the incident with Zhou, calling it “one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.”
“I just said I’m sorry you feel that way and I left and ended up crying in the bathroom, which was definitely not how you want to end your premier event of the Olympics,” Wright told CNN Sport.
“It was pretty traumatic for me, to be honest, especially given the fact that everyone knows that she’s the vice president of FINA.”
Latimer, a former New Zealand diver who is currently a member of FINA’s Diving Technical Committee (DTC), said part of the reason he made the complaint was that so a similar incident “never happens again.”
“There’s a lot of things to consider around athlete welfare, but we also need to consider the welfare of officials,” he said.
Latimer’s whistleblower complaint alleged that Zhou not only coached Chinese divers at the Olympics, but also at other high-profile events, including the FINA World Championships.
“It’s absolutely unethical … if you are up coaching divers from your own nation, I don’t see how you could be viewed as a neutral party,” he said.
“I also can’t think of any other sport where you would have a vice president on pool deck coaching and having such an open interest in the proceedings.”
Another DTC member, Colleen Huffman, backed up Latimer’s claims regarding Zhou’s behavior at other events besides the Tokyo Olympics.
“A lot of times she’s very subtle about it, but obviously at the Olympics she wasn’t subtle at all,” Huffman told CNN Sport.
“For her to have her position and be a coach is a huge conflict of interest. It’s one thing if she helps out at home with the national team, but it’s another thing if she’s actively coaching an athlete at a major FINA event when she’s the Bureau Liaison.”
Another TDC member, Dominique Philippopoulos, told CNN Sport that she has twice requested to coach divers from her native South Africa at international events, but was denied by FINA both times.
Philippopoulos made the requests due to the fact that the South African diving federation has limited resources and often struggles to finance sending coaches to international events.
Wright says she didn’t necessarily want to make a complaint on the incident with Zhou, but recognized if she did nothing, she could be left off of future judging panels, not to mention she wants to ensure the future of the sport is judged without bias.
“In the end, I think my biggest question was: what am I in this sport for and what am I here for?” she said. “I felt that it was important that we do the best thing for the sport of diving, that it remains fair, because that’s what I’m here for as a judge: that I rank those divers in the order that they should be ranked.”
The complaint filed by Diving New Zealand on Wright’s behalf ended up with FINA removing Zhou’s position at the time of the incident, Bureau Liasion Person, and the organization also ordered that she issue Wright a formal apology, which she did.
However, regarding Latimer’s whistleblower complaint, FINA has said it won’t investigate the issues brought up because they were already considered in the initial complaint from Wright.
Latimer says the issues are being “swept under the carpet” by FINA.
“I’m well aware that through this whistleblower process, I could lose my position on the Technical Committee,” Latimer said.
“We have elections in two months’ time in Budapest [at the World Championships, which start on June 17].
“But for me, seeing this complaint through and getting some action is more important than maintaining my position on the committee, although I would obviously like to stay on the committee and be part of the process to ensure this sort of behavior doesn’t continue.”
The allegations against Zhou have taken so much time to come to light due to her powerful position, Latimer added.
“People are scared stiff, they’re petrified of rocking the boat and losing their position,” he said.
Huffman said she believes that if Zhou remains in her position moving forward, the sport will struggle to find new judges.
“People won’t want to judge. They just won’t,” she said.
“We’re already struggling to get judges, particularly out of the South America region. All the judges from that area are aging out and the new people coming in, they hear bad things about her, how mean she is, how intimidating she is. Who wants to go experience that?”
Wright is set to resume her duties as an official this year at the upcoming World Championships in June and the Commonwealth Games in July.
While Zhou is likely to be at Worlds, Wright is not concerned.
“What’s in the past is in the past,” says Wright. “I really do believe that I choose forgiveness, that I choose to just move on and continue doing what I love.”