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FINA Would Sink Shiny Mutiny For Bounty

May 28, 2010  - Craig Lord

Interests based in Qatar calling themselves a "Middle East Consortium" are claiming to be holding talks with broadcasters over a shiny suit cash-prize meet this December that could result in any swimmer taking part being suspended for a year under FINA rules. 

FINA told SwimNews today that any such move would be met with a rigorous response: no way - we run world swimming.

It is not the first time that Qatar-based outfits have found themselves been on the wrong side of FINA rules. At the dawn of the Millennium, the Gulf State was at the centre of a cash for swimmers scandal that was eventually sunk by the swimmers themselves and FINA rules.

In a letter seen by SwimNews, the "consortium" based in Doha claims to have approached would-be sponsors as part of measures to develop what it calls "a series of high profile swimming events to promote competitive swimming within the region". 

If interest is shown in an event the group would like to host it this year on Christmas Day in the Middle East, while the Doha group would stage a regular "alternative exhibition circuit with one or two events per year".

The idea, say the would-be organisers, is to give suit makers an outlet for their shiny suits and further tech advances, which in the absence of FINA rules or the absence of rigorous controls that experts say are all-but impossible to tailor properly, would also include what could eventually be referred to legitimately as doping suits, given the potential of material engineering to interact with the body's response networks.

The plan and the group has several mountains to climb if investors are to take one word of the plan seriously.

Top of the list is this: FINA's General Rules explicitly forbid any swimmer or coach or official of a FINA member federation to engage with non-affiliated bodies. Anyone affiliated member who does take part in swimming events run by non-affiliated members faces a year-long suspension and exclusion from World Championships. No country federation affiliated to FINA would be able to engage with the organisers of an "alternative" circuit.

When approached by SwimNews for comment, FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu said: "There are so many opinions on the subject of suits but what is clear is that until London 2012 we will stay with the current rules. There will be no change. If any group decides to go ahead with anything like that (shiny suits cash-prize event) we would immediately inform all federations that if they or their members take part they will be suspended for a year. We have a lot of instruments to prevent this."

Swimming needed stability at this moment in time and swimmers and coaches needed to know where they stood, he said, while adding that sport these days was business and it was important that swimming moved with the times. He qualified that by saying that the trick was to "find balance as much as we can " so that the sport, while paying heed to business needs, did not harm its traditional strengths. "We must go slowly, slowly on such things," said the executive director. 

The President of FINA, Julio Maglione, has also pledged no change to the will of 2009 Congress for the remainder of his term in office, which ends in summer 2013. 

If there were ever to be a meet that allowed some element of shiny suitedness that would not be permitted in the sport at large, it would have to be run under FINA control. For that,  a set of new rules would be required.

The location of the "consortium" is Doha in Qatar, a country that has already come up against FINA rules in pursuit of financial interests that were not deemed to be in the interests of the sport or in the spirit of the rules of the sport of swimming. 

In 2000, Ryk Neethling, of South Africa, revealed that his teammate Roland Schoeman was giving serious consideration to a lucrative offer to race for Qatar. The figure was said to be $1m.  "I'm very concerned," said Neethling at the time. "He's a friend of mine, he's a teammate. We achieved something in Athens that no one in the world thought we could do. It's concerning, not just for South Africa, but for world swimming if people are going to change countries at a whim when people start throwing money at them. I don't blame Roland for it, because it is a lot of money. But I don't necessarily like what Qatar is doing." A deal was also offered to Duje Draganja, of Croatia. 

The whole episode was frowned on by the biggest funnel for Olympic sports funding, the IOC. Before the Olympic Games in Athens 2004, IOC president Jacques Rogge said: "What we don't like is athletes being lured by large incentives by other countries - giving them a passport when they arrive at the airport."

FINA subsequently tweaked its GR2 rules, writing in laws governing proof of residence and proof of jurisdiction. In the interests of the sport, the dollar did not win the day. GR4 Rules that would prevent a shiny suit circus have been in place much longer than GR2 rules and pre-date shiny suits by many a decade under various guises down the years.