Bravo! To The Tokyo 2021 Advocates As Swim Leaders Navigate A Big Bend In The River

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Commentary

In the world of cautious governance and backroom diplomacy in which heated debate is often heard but rarely allows outside the room, the last 24 hours represent a veritable flood of hope in swimming.

Bravo! To The Tokyo 2021 Advocates.

Friday, March 20, 2020, was a day to put on the record.

“We urge the USOPC, as a leader within the Olympic Movement, to use its voice and speak up for the athletes.” – wrote Tim Hinchey III, USA Swimming Chief Executive Officer … on the record in a letter to three parties:

  • Bob Vincent – USA Swimming Board of Directors chair
  • Susanne Lyons, USOPC Board Chair and President
  • Cornel Marculescu, FINA Executive Director

Vincent was doubtless in agreement; Lyons was not, but responded – and in so doing nailed a note to USOPC’s door that read ‘roll up and read why it could never be said that we place athlete safety and welfare first’; Marculescu? Who knows – many of the sport’s biggest stakeholders and other key players and observers and journalists haven’t heard a word from him in years barring those the former Romanian water-polo official in his current post since the days of the GDR in 1986, uttered in support of falling stars we should not “condemn for a minor doping offence”.

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Tokyo2020 skyline – Photo Courtesy: Twitter, @RefugeesOlympic

Health and safety – top priority, writes Hinchey, adding that he’s the boss of a community of a well-trained force of swimmers, coaches and others who will rise to any occasion in just about any circumstance. But “… pressing forward amidst the global health crisis this summer is not the answer.”

He talks of the toll of coronavirus (Covid-19), which …

“… has transcended borders and wreaked havoc ion entire populations, including those of our respected competitors. Everyone has experienced unimaginable disruptions, mere months before the Olympic Games, which calls in question the authenticity of a level playing field for all.”

“Our athletes are under tremendous pressure, stress and anxiety, and their mental health and wellness should be among the highest priorities.”

He respectfully suggests a postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games until 2021.

This author has long been happy to criticise governors in swimming for falling short when they need to stand tall (and I will continue to do so) but when leaders lead and get it right, they deserve plaudits, support and encouragement. So:

Bravo! Not just for nailing the points but for nailing them to the doors of USOPC and FINA. Leadership is given and called for. It should have come from the top down. We should have heard it from FINA on behalf of a world swimming community thirsting for wisdom and decency from Lausanne yet left waiting in vain once more.

It feels as though it has been ever thus. And as such, Hinchey’s words are like rain at the end of a decades-long drought.

Swimming Canada got it.

Swimming Australia’s head coach Jacco Verhaeren nailed it, the CEO of the fed got it, too.

The British Olympic Association pinned athlete safety and wellbeing to its mast, its peer National Olympic Committees from Norway and Spain called on postponement at a time of deep impact on people, businesses, the fabric of life and the economies that underpin all of that.

Bravo! To the lot of them

American backstroke ace Jacob Pebley wrote an open letter to USA Swimming to postpone the Olympic Trials to next year:

“USA Swimming has the opportunity to lead the push for the only moral option in light of this unprecedented situation. I am asking for USA Swimming to publicly advocate for postponement of both Trials and the Olympic Games in the best interest of vulnerable people and already overburdened health systems around the world.”

Bravo! They heard him.

Coaches Bob Bowman and Frank Busch called on USA Swimming to take the lead in postponing their trials and the Olympic.

Bravo! They heard them.

We said it ourselves at the start of the week:

And the day after came this from the president of the French swimming federation, Gilles Sezionale:

Bravo!

tokyo2020-logoAnd all of that followed the breaking of ranks by Tokyo 2020 executive board member Haruyuki Takahashi, who said:

“The coronavirus has become a global problem. We can’t just hold it (the Olympics) because Japan is OK. It [the Tokyo 2020 organising committee] needs to face the current situation and consider, with sports associations, measures to take in case of postponement.”

Bravo!

The call for “Toko2021” was bolstered by Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) member Kaori Yamaguchi, who told Japanese media this week that the IOC is “putting athletes at risk” by telling them to continue to train. A medallist in Judo for Japan at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, Yamaguchi threw Tokyo 2020 bosses to the mat when he said:

“As far as I can tell from news reports coming out of the U.S. and Europe, I don’t think the situation allows for athletes to continue training as usual.By asking them to train under these conditions, the IOC is opening itself up the criticism that it is not putting athletes first.”

Bravo!

Kirsty Coventry, athlete representatives, must surely know it – but in the bubble of IOC-FINA world, hard to nail the point, a point nailed instead by Bruno Fratus, the Brazilian sprinter when he responded to the drag of diplomacy that won’t get the job done with this:

“Kirsty, as a fellow swimmer and Olympian I’d urge you to reconsider and consult with some other athletes around the world. Not sure if you’re aware of the many athletes like myself incapable of even training.

“Also, the advice of “keep doing what you’re doing” seems disconnected with reality when we have world leaders daily on television asking people to stay home and isolate ourselves.

“Postponing the Olympic Games would not only give the world peace of mind but also allow that everyone could prepare properly, ensure fairness and maintain the technical level of the competition. Much love from Brazil #tokyo2021.”

Bravo!

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Photo Courtesy: Twitter, @USParalympics

Meanwhile, USOPC appears not to get it – or if it does, the most powerful NOC in the world simply cannot find its way out of the omertà and on-message culture that is the very ventilator of an International Olympic Committee bubble built to preserve the status quo at all costs.

‘Note to self – remember to agree with Thomas Bach and be a nodding dog for the IOC trip table’, screams from every word and syllable of Lyons’ response to USA Swimming.

“I think we would concur with them to say that we need more expert advice and information than we have today to make a decision. And we don’t have to make a decision. Our Games are not next week, or two weeks from now. They’re four months from now. And I think a lot may change in that time period.”

Look no further than Prof. Margaret Heffernan’s brilliant “Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore The Obvious At Our Peril” for the reasons why Lyons is suffering from an Olympic virus that arrives with a set of complimentary blinkers from “The Family”.

Mrs. Lyons, please look to the foot of this commentary at the links below: can you feel the pain, can you understand that your indecision and call to gather more information as the train hurtles towards the buffers in plain sight for all to see is a woefully inadequate response.

Strip the argument of the emotion and any need to feel empathy with anyone in terms of dead relatives, families deprived of livelihoods, lack of training, mental health in the drain and much else and we’re still left with ‘wrong’.

In the past week or so, I’ve been speaking to some heads of feds, some head coaches, some travel experts, insurers and people who know about purse strings.

Some of those parents staring at lost jobs, a season without income, also contemplate the high price on an Olympic ticket to Tokyo they can no longer afford but won’t get back until an official body says “It’s off – cancelled; it’s off, postponed”.

Purely on the financial side, there are federations staring at six-figures bills for lost camps, lost travel, lost goals and more – all that before the drop of the bill to come if leaders don’t get a grip and trigger insurance policies with a clear statement of “July 24 is off – it is NOT going to happen”.

“So we are affording the IOC the opportunity to gather that information and expert advice. At this point in time, we do not feel that it’s necessary for us to insist that they make a decision,” says Lyons from her ivory bubble.

Burst it Susanne. Step out into the light. Honor the athletes but honor, too, all the hard-working staff at USOPC whose efforts so often get hidden from view by the diplomatic bubble you seem to want to preserve.

Time to address and speak up for your athletes, your staff, not the likes of Herr Bach, who this side of the Pond in Germany is fast becoming the least popular citizen of his country.

What Next For The Leading Swimming Federations?

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Photo Courtesy: FINA

March 20 was a fine day for swimming. A day when leading swim feds of the world from USA, Australia and Canada spoke up on behalf of their athletes, showed the leadership so many have been looking for for so long.

Now to catch the spirit and use it to press for very long overdue reforms at FINA. What has been cannot go on. As USA Swimming knows, it’s been a killer. Just ask Fran’s family. Enough said. We all know it.

Swimming World sent questions on FINA’s mishandling of the Sun Yang case, one not yet over, to leading federations recently. The USA, Australia and Canada all replied with a polite ‘no comment’, at this stage.

British Swimming? Not even a polite reply to Swimming World. Is the swim nation of the Lion King Adam Peaty run by mice at a time when every strong man, his wife and kids is called on to stand up and do their bit?

‘At this stage’.

We live in hope – for there can be no question that they must eventually get to it and many other issues, including calling a halt to the manipulation and farce of universality and a system in which Fiji carries as much weight as the USA when it comes to deciding who leads, who stays, who goes and much more that is currently in the hands of rogues that need removing from a top table that within the year will go down as a leadership group in which more than a third of all involved full members in the past decade have had criminal investigations, charges and/or sentences served against them.

That simply cannot go on.

It took a pandemic – but March 20, 2020 and those who found their leadership gene brought us past a big bend in the river.

Brace yourselves. The watershed is ahead.

  • All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine, the International Swimming Hall of Fame, nor its staff.

Extraordinary Events In Swimming History:

Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Italy, France, Ireland, Spain, South Africa, the Netherlands, Brazil, Japan and the United States have all had major meets affected by the coronavirus pandemic. USA Swimming imposed a 30-day suspension on all events and then extended the lockdown period. In Italy, where swimmers have struggled – or found it impossible – to maintain normal routines, can’t get to practice and, in some cases, been unable to find pool time at all, a #stopolympics campaign was launched by the Nuoto website calling on solidarity among swimming nations to recognise that Olympic preparations have been blown off course and that it would be in the interests of fairness to postpone the Games for a time of calm beyond the coronavirus crisis.

There is now a strong wave of support for a postponement of the Olympic Games until 2021. 

Our coverage (links catch up to follow):

Guidance on Water and Coronavirus 

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