Michael Phelps knew nothing of proposal to have him promote FINA & Maglione
  by Craig Lord, SwimVortex

Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, has made it clear that he will not promote FINA and the ambitions of its president, Julio Maglione, to have the international federation’s constitution changed so that the 79-year-old Uruguayan can stand for a third term in office from 2017.

The notion of Phelps as a poster boy for the international federation leadership is raised in a proposed strategy designed to promote FINA and “discredit” critics in the four months leading up to a vote to change the FINA Constitution on the cusp of racing at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, from August 2.

The budget for the proposal and rolling it out would stretch to about US $150,000.

Maglione, a Uruguayan who turns 80 this year, is among those at the helm of FINA who want the federation’s constitution changed to allow him to stand for a third term in office from 2017. A member of the International Olympic Committee, an organisation that places an age cap of 80 on members (70 for any joining after 1999), came to the presidency of the Swimming federation on a campaign ticket of “two-terms only” in 2009.

In the proposal, seen by SwimVortex.com, JTA Associates, a sports consultancy firm based in Tunbridge Wells in England, cites American ace Phelps as one of the central figures of a “Tactical Programme” designed to promote FINA and “discredit” critics. Phelps, however, knows nothing about the strategy, according to a representative of the winner of 18 Olympic gold medals in 22 podium visits.

SwimVortex asked FINA yesterday to confirm whether it has accepted any such strategy, among other questions put to the federation. No response has been received. A call to the headquarters of the Lausanne-based organisation this morning was cut off. A second call resulted in a receptionist informing SwimVortex that the head of communications, Pedro Adrega, was in a meeting and unavailable. It was a busy day in the office, including releases on a new penalty for Ba Zhen, Sun Yang’s doctor, and the announcement that the World Cup is going long-course this year.

Meantime, one of the central aims of the proposal is to “Actively promote FINA’s success across key publications in the USA and UK as a syndicated op-ed from Michael Phelps, highlighting the incredible progress that has been made by FINA (including London 2012) over the last 5-6 years.” The proposal adds: “In this op-ed, Michael Phelps openly supports President Maglione’s desire to stand for a third term. This op-ed would then be supported by a wide range of social media activities with supporters tweeting and adding support across other social media platforms.”

It appears that any such proposal was never going to become a reality, no one having approached the Olympic great on the matter. A member of the Phelps entourage told SwimVortex: “Neither Michael&helip; nor anyone in our team know anything about this. He has no intention of writing anything. We know absolutely nothing about any of this.”

Other public figures cited in the proposal as people who could help to promote FINA and counter criticism levelled at the federation’s leadership include Sir Craig Reedie, the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency and and IOC vice-president, and Chuck Wielgus, the chief executive officer of USA Swimming. NBC, the [USA] Olympic broadcaster, would be approached, the strategy proposes, to grant Maglione, who is also head of the Uruguayan Olympic Committee and the Pan American Sports Organisation, a chance to answer critics. SwimVortex has asked FINA to clarify whether those cited in the document had been made aware of the roles proposed for them.

It is suggested that “a key publication (e.g. Swimming World)” might run an article with “an influential figure like Craig Reedie who is broadly in support of the steps that FINA is taking to counter doping allegations.” The aim would be to show FINA “as an example of good practice”. The proposal cites Sir Craig at a time when an independent inquiry, led by another IOC member, Dick Pound, at the behest of WADA is underway into allegations of systematic doping in Russia aired in documentaries broadcast by ARD in Germany.

Brent Rutemiller, the publisher of Swimming World, one of the publications cited in the proposal to FINA, told SwimVortex: “Swimming World would be happy to publish any article that demonstrates FINA’s success against doping. However, such an article does not exist simply because there is no record of real success by FINA. We have not been contacted to be a part of this covert plan. In fact, FINA rarely responds to our requests concerning current and past doping issues. Any plan to create a marketing and public relations campaign to win public support is a misuse of FINA’s time, resources and funds.”

At the heart of those calling FINA to account is John Leonard, the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association and the American Swimming Coaches Association, accounting for more than 20,000 members worldwide, most affiliated to FINA through their domestic federations. After the FINA leadership’s awarding of its highest honour, the FINA Order, to Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, was described in the German Bundestag as a “tasteless provocation”, WSCA issued a statement calling the award “wildly inappropriate&helip; insulting and dismissive of all those who have fought for doping-free sport inside Russia and around the globe” at a time when Russia has the worst doping record in the sport.

Among topics at the heart of schism in swimming beyond the award to Putin is the FINA leadership’s decision to return its Open Water marathon world series to the United Arab Emirates just four years after the death of American Fran Crippen there in circumstances criticised by two independent reports. The return to the UAE sparked a boycott of the event by the United States national Open Water team in action led by swimmers and condoned by USA Swimming.

In its “Overall Strategic Approach”, the proposal to FINA notes that: “The particular focus should be on demonstrating solidarity with USA Swimming and the general swimming community (through joint media events with Michael Phelps, Chuck Wielgus etc) and showing that John Leonard does not speak for the USA as a whole.”

According to documents seen by SwimVortex, the FINA director, Cornel Marculescu, the head of communications for the federation, Pedro Adrega, and Francois Carrard, the Swiss lawyer regularly consulted in Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) anti-doping cases and a former director of the IOC, met JTA on March 27, to discuss how to handle the criticism levelled at the FINA leadership. Listed in the proposal among “principle lines of attack” on the international federations are:

  • “Overall governance of the sport with President Maglione seeking to stand for a third term of office having committed to two terms.”
  • “The close relationship between FINA and Russia – in particular giving a high-level award to Putin.”
  • “FINA’s perceived lack of action on doping challenges in the sport.”

The proposal that followed includes a recommendation to: “Select a wide group of trusted swimming athletes to discredit on social media the newsletters and articles written by John Leonard, allowing them to refute the allegations and state their own personal opinion of them. In this way, a viral attack would be created on the credibility of John Leonard.”

Leonard told SwimVortex that he was aware of the proposal doing the rounds in USA swimming circles. He described the idea of discrediting him as “laughable”. He added: “This speaks to going after people personally instead of challenging and addressing ideas. Is this a reasonable way to use FINA funds? I leave people to make their own minds up on that.”

On who he represents, Leonard says that he speaks “for myself and my Board of Directors and by extension, American coaches, from whom we have encountered ZERO resistance” to calling FINA’s leadership to account. On the notion that he is biased he said: “We coaches are clearly biased&helip; to be ‘unbiased’ is to be without a position, no? We are also accurate to my knowledge. We have lied about nothing. We point out obvious and factual discrepancies between FINA actions and FINA words.”

Among issues in focus is FINA’s tardy response to media questions on doping issues. The federation took three months to answer the question ‘when did you first know that Sun Yang had tested positive’ for doping after the Chinese Olympic champion served a three-month suspension in secret last year. The precise date on which FINA was informed of the Sun Yang case has not been divulged. Coaches have also been at loggerheads with FINA over the status of facilities rules designed to ensure athlete health and safety, the international federation having stated that they are not applicable when a World Record is established even though the World Record Application Form requires the referee to confirm that “All FINA Rules” have been complied with.

Leading athletes have joined coaches and others in criticism of FINA on another topic making headlines: the international federation did not stand up against a plan to hold midnight Swimming finals at the Olympic Games in Rio next year to suit the American broadcaster NBC.

WSCA, along with its national peer groups, the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) and the Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association, backed an olive-branch proposal penned in early March by veteran coach Bill Sweetenham for FINA to end schism by submitting to independent review of its management, operations, structures and finances. Sweetenham’s appeal to FINA noted: “The corporate world, the armed forces and the sporting world have learnt that continual evolution and a requirement for improvement, visionary leadership and change is tied to constant evaluation. Audits, reviews and performance analyses all play a part in designing strategies and success for their future and hopefully successful operation.”

Leonard noted that USA Swimming holds reviews on a regular basis with a view to self-improvement. FINA was asked to respond to the call for independent review by mid-April. There has been no formal response.

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Phelps knew nothing of FINA proposal