Cate Campbell leads swimmers’ fight against FINA
Aussie star Cate Campbell has emerged as a key figure in the battle to loosen the iron grip swimming's world body has on the sport, as athletes and a breakaway competition launch lawsuits against the organisation.
Campbell's outspoken comments to News Corp Australia criticising FINA for threatening to ban Australian swimmers from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics if they took part in an independent swimming competition have been cited in two antitrust lawsuits lodged in the US.
Campbell and swimming legend Dawn Fraser have thrown their support behind Ukrainian billionaire Konstantin Grigorishin's plan for a global professional league offering increased prizemoney to swimmers, which FINA has blocked with threats to ban athletes from its competitions.
One lawsuit filed in California last week "on behalf of elite swimmers around the world", named Hungarian swimming superstar Katinka Hosszu as well as US Olympic relay gold medallist Tom Shields and shortcourse world champion Michael Andrews as the lead plaintiffs.
Another lawsuit was filed on behalf of the International Swimming League (ISL), which had proposed the new competition.
Both class-actions are suing FINA for violating US antitrust laws by engaging in anti-competitive behaviour and include explosive allegations against a sporting body that has a long history of controversy.
In the documents filed to the US District Court, the ISL said it had been negotiating with
FINA about how to set up the new professional league but the talks broke down when FINA demanded a US$50 million (AU$70 million) fee, saying they would threaten swimmers with bans if the money wasn't paid. ISL refused to pay the fee.
"FINA made it clear, however, that such coexistence - i.e., FINA's agreement not to threaten the world's swimmers against participating in ISL events - would come only at a steep price," the court documents said.
ISL said FINA then altered its own rules in order to issue a warning to national swimming federations, including Australia, that any swimmers who took part in the competition would be banned from the Olympics.
The lawsuit said FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu made direct threats to high-profile swimmers, including Hosszu, who won three gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics as well as seven world titles.
The court documents claim Mr Marculescu "accosted" Hosszu's coach while she was warming up for a race during FINA's World Cup in Beijing last month.
"He warned: if Ms. Hosszu insisted on participating in ISL's event, she would be banned from competing in the upcoming FINA World Swimming Championships," the documents said.
Fearful of the threats made against the swimmers, the ISL cancelled its first scheduled event, due to be held in Italy later this month, before suing FINA in the hope of launching the league next year.
Both lawsuits cited the Telegraph's interview with Campbell and Fraser last week as evidence that elite swimmers were strongly in favour of the new league.
"I know this will probably get me in a lot of trouble with them but I think you need to stand up to it because there are a lot of people getting very rich from swimming but it's not the athletes," Campbell said.
Allegations of greed and corruption are nothing new in Olympic sports with the International Olympic Committee, soccer's world governing body FIFA and the International Association of Athletics Federations among the bodies exposed for breaching rules and ethics.
Similar accusations have been made against FINA with competitors and coaches repeatedly calling for the organisation to be overhauled and more transparent about the way it spends its vast riches.
According to its financial statements, FINA received about $164 million in gross revenues from in 2016 and 2017 but only 12.5 per cent of that amount went to athletes in the form of prize money. Meanwhile, millions were spent on "FINA Family Expenses", which includes hotel, travel and per diem costs for officials.
In a statement, FINA said it had taken note of the antitrust filings and that its athletes committee would "continue its work of making sure athlete voices are clearly heard within FINA's decision-making bodies".
"FINA will nonetheless give the filings our full attention and mount a robust defence if required to do so," the statement said.