Siphiwe Baleka Takes Olympic Appeal to Court of Arbitration for Sport

American-African swimmer Siphiwe Baleka has filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration of Sport over FINA’s rejection of his Universality bid to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Baleka, attempting to become the oldest Olympic swimmer in history at 50 years old, is disputing FINA’s interpretation of the deadline for Universality swimmers to achieve qualifying swims. After tracing his heritage to Guinea-Bissau, he received citizenship there and is attempting to become the country’s first-ever Olympic swimmer.

The CAS has not listed the appeal publicly yet. SwimSwam reached out to the CAS to ask if they will accept the hearing on the emergency docket before Tokyo and what that process might look like but has not yet received a response.

Under FINA selection rules, the deadline for federations to submit paperwork for Universality athletes was on June 20, 2021. That date is a week ahead of the deadline listed by FINA for athletes to achieve “Olympic qualifying swims,” which is June 27.

Baleka had originally based his universality application (submitted on June 17) on a time he swam at the 2019 International Masters Championships in Egypt, where he swam 25.25.

But FINA informed Baleka that the 2019 Egypt meet had not been a FINA-approved Olympic qualifying event. Baleka scrambled to find a new FINA-approved Olympic qualifying meet in which to compete before the June 27 deadline, eventually competing in the Egypt Swimming National Championships on June 26.

FINA’s position is that universality qualifying has a different qualifying period than A/B cut qualifying, implied by the June 20 submission deadline. Baleka’s camp maintains that FINA rules don’t specifically list different qualifying periods for universality and A/B cut swimmers, and that his June 26 swim should still qualify him because his application was submitted on-time and his swim (though after the submission deadline) still came before the qualifying period ended.

Baleka was born and raised in the United States (Oswego, Ill.) and went to Yale as a collegiate swimmer before attempting to make the U.S. Olympic team for the 1992 Games in Barcelona—then under the name “Tony Blake.”

Since then, in addition to adopting his new name “Siphiwe Baleka” from tribal elders in South Africa, according to Sports Illustrated, Baleka has been a truck driver and a 13-time U.S. Masters Swimming national champion.

On June 10, Baleka officially became a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Guinea-Bissau, following the Council of Ministers of the Government of Guinea-Bissau completing his “naturalization process.”

If Baleka were to be accepted, he would be the 73rd entrant in the men’s 50 free. His 25.25 from the Egyptian Nationals last month would rank him 52nd among those with entries for Tokyo.

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1 year ago

If I sat on the court I’d say “He’s not wrong…, let him swim.”

But alas, I don’t so I’ll just sit here quietly and see how it plays out.

Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

If the rules aren’t clear and benefit of the doubt to the athlete won’t cause any harm – benefit of the doubt to the athlete and clarify the rule for 2024.

Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

Yale to truck driver. Don’t see that too often. Masters WR for 50-54 is 24.08 (Brent Barnes). That’s smoking for an old fart.

The unoriginal Tim
1 year ago

No place for this guy at the Olympics when many “A” cut swimmers sit at home due to strict selection policies. This kind of opportunism is not what universality is for.

1 year ago

Give it a rest, old man!

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Deepblue
1 year ago

There are a few 60 plus year old master’s legends I’d double dare you to say that to.

1 year ago

Buddy should just accept he’s not good enough for the olympics. A good masters swimmer though.

But he’s US born and raised for ffs.

Reply to  Rap
1 year ago

Well its sounds like he is faster than 20 other entries but I still give him the thumbs down on this attempt. Its not a good look for an American to do something like this at the age of 50 and at the last minute even if he has good intentions. He should have just entered the meet in Greensboro next week

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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