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.