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Losing faith in Fina

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I will let you infer what it’s really all about after reading below. Fina, the international governing body of swimming, diving, water polo, synchronised swimming and open water swimming has been making it obvious what its priorities are.

In 2008, NBC bought the television rights to cover the swimming events for the US market. Fina then sold out, allowing this network to dictate the Olympic competition schedule in the interest of the American primetime television audience, and not the Olympic swimmers. As the US audience followed the Michael Phelps quest for eight gold medals, the Olympic swimmers went to bed at 2 am after competing in the preliminary rounds, and then woke up 5 am to prepare for the semi finals and finals at 9 am.

It’s well known that the optimal time of day for human performance due to the body’s circadian rhythms is late afternoon and not in the early morning. The body’s blood sugar and glycogen levels are low in the morning after fasting over the course of the night, and the body is less awake. Hosting the Olympic finals early in the morning, made a mockery of the athletes’ four year quests to be the best they could ever be, making the event more of a show and less of a competition.

Fran Crippen, the legendary American open water swimmer, died tragically in 2010 due to negligence on behalf of the organisers of the Fina ten km Open Water World Cup event in Abu Dhabi. The ten km race was swum in dangerously warm water exceeding 30°C. There was no safety boat in sight when help was needed as Fran was vomiting and cramping due to dehydration and heat stroke, before eventually drowning near the last buoy. The race continued on.

For obvious reasons, there have been serious objections to the selection of Abu Dhabi for the World Cup stop again this year. In light of this, a boycott has been organised by the swimmers in favour of attending another event to be held in the memory of Fran Crippen, on the same date, March 13. Now, in an effort to counter this boycott, Fina has tripled the total available prize money in Abu Dhabi from US$20,000 to US$60,000. To save face, the obvious thing for Fina to do would have been to support the Fran Crippen memorial event, by throwing some of their blood money behind that.

Vladimir Putin was recently presented the Fina Order. The Order is presented to “individuals of high dignity, who have achieved remarkable merit in the world of Aquatics.” 

For many in the swimming world this was quite controversial, considering the fact that Russia is on the verge of being suspended from international competition, due to the number of positive doping tests from its swimmers. In June, Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko told the Russian media that “one or two more breaches and the federation could be suspended altogether.”

It seems that anything goes when your country is hosting the Olympics. Brazil recently suffered its 19th athlete anti-doping penalty in aquatic sports since the country won the right to host the Olympic Games in Rio 2016. The most recent incident seems to be another case of the “supplements being inadvertently contaminated with masking agents.” 

Joao Gomes Jr recently incurred a positive doping test result after one of his races at the World Short Course Championships where he won Gold Medals in three relays. In response to this, he was slapped on the wrist with a minor ban of six months. 

Fina then decided that the results of the relays would stand, allowing Brazil to keep the gold medals. In outrage, one elite international swimmer vented on Twitter: “Whoever keeps putting masking agents in Brazilian swimmers protein please stop, it’s not funny and they might get in trouble... might”. According to the news site, the striking things about the cases is that they are all in-competition, not a single out-of-competition positive.

To top things off, Fina has once again to sold out to NBC, by going against the athlete’s best interests by rescheduling the competition times of the Rio 2016 Olympic swimming events to suit the American primetime television audience. The finals session will now begin at 10 pm and the preliminaries at 1 pm. This means that athletes will be competing at midnight and will not get to bed until at least 3 am after warming down, massage, the commute to the village and dinner. 

At the Fina World Championships and World Cup, the athletes are forced to advertise the logos of Fina’s sponsors on their bodies and are prohibited from wearing their own. How marketable does that make the athletes? Who is Fina serving?

• Follow George on Twitter: @georgebovell