By the FINA Aquatics World Magazine

On the occasion of this prestigious event, the 110th birthday of FINA, we interviewed the President, Dr Julio C. Maglione. It seems there are plenty of reasons to celebrate, and not only the anniversary. However, there are still a lot of challenges ahead: one should not forget that, even in the joyous moments.

Celebrating its 110th anniversary, FINA looks stronger than ever. Still, on this occasion may we ask how FINA is doing?

I would dare to say that FINA is perhaps in the best moment of its history. We are at the top of the Olympic movement, being the sport with most success in the Games programme. At our level, the FINA World Championships are a true showcase of the strength of Aquatics. On a yearly basis, our competition programme gathers the best athletes in the world in our six disciplines. On development issues we have progressed a lot and all the protagonists of our sport – athletes, coaches, officials and national federations – can benefit from our programmes. Financially, we are in a healthy situation and we are distributing and re-investing a growing part of our revenues in support of our members and our stars.

But in a dynamic organisation like FINA there are always challenges. Our merciless fight against doping remains an open war but we are happy that cheats are being caught and properly sanctioned. Issues such as good governance, integrity and athlete protection are on the agenda of sports leaders and FINA is naturally creating and updating the necessary tools to face those matters.

Maglione with Phelps in Windsor 2016 (CAN) 

“Respected pillar of the sporting world”

What is the weight of FINA in the sporting world? In the wild and cruel sports market – and in the Olympic movement?

We are a very solid and respected pillar of the sporting world in general and of the Olympic movement in particular. A concrete example of this achievement is the revised programme for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In swimming, we will have three additional events, while in water polo and artistic swimming, we will have a competition that is more adapted to the development of the respective disciplines. In water polo the women’s tournament will now have 10 teams (there were eight until now) and in artistic swimming the team event will also have two additional countries (from 8 to 10). This makes FINA the international federation with the highest number of finals in the Games programme (49), thus showing the importance the IOC gives to our sport. This is also due to the very high level of TV audiences for Aquatics and the top ranking of FINA in terms of digital exposure during the Olympics. We are a widely popular sport with many stars and bring a lot of inspiration to youth in the five continents.

On occasions like this, messages are delivered assessing the past and offering a look into the future. Can you share a couple of your key points in advance, what do you consider your greatest results and what the main targets are in the coming years?

The goal remains simple, but obviously challenging to achieve: develop Aquatics even more by progressing the level of our disciplines among our 209 national federations in a more homogeneous way. This requires a lot of commitment and effort, but our members are doing a wonderful job. More nations are producing top athletes in different disciplines, making the sport even more universal. We can see that by the increasing number of countries getting medals at our main rendezvous and the growing number of athletes qualifying for the Olympic Games in swimming with an “A” or “B” qualifying time. This shows that we are going in the right direction.

Moreover, the increase in terms of quantity and quality concerning our development programmes is also an essential tool to harmonise the knowledge, expertise and performances of the protagonists in our sport. Finally, we need to enhance our social responsibility towards those who are still unfamiliar with the water environment. That is why we have developed our “Swimming for All, Swimming for Life” initiative and are also celebrating our sport in the newest FINA project, the “Aquatics Day”.

Maglione with Katie Ledecky (USA) in Kazan 2015 

“Success leads to more revenue”

The new headquarters are really beautiful. However, it took 109 years for FINA to move into a really worthy place. Why did it take so long?

The inauguration of the FINA Headquarters in Lausanne constituted an objective for FINA. It is the first time in our history that we are working in a property owned by FINA, which is a sign of our solid development and a mark of the steady growth of the staff working in our office. FINA activities are very diverse and are highly demanding in resources – both human and material resources. In recent years, under the management of our Executive Director Cornel Marculescu, and taking into account the development of the sports business industry, the FINA office and the structure of its organisation chart demonstrate that we are in line with such a complex environment. The financial situation also allowing it, we thought it was time to own our space, so that it also constitutes a significant legacy of FINA within the sports world.

One of the main novelties in 2018 was the launch of the Olympic Aquatic Support Programme, aimed at national federations and continental associations. Can we have some first feedback on this initiative?

Up to now it has been a massive success, with a vast majority of our members requesting this support. FINA has studied each and every project with much care and we can say that for many of our members this assistance with be really important for the implementation of their activities. As I said before, FINA is keen to re-distribute part of its revenues to its members and we thought that, given the added value our federations are bringing to the Olympic programme with their stars and performances, it was fair that FINA should give back to them a significant part of the revenue shared by the IOC with our international federation. This is a virtuous circle: success leads to more revenue and more revenue will lead to new and bright achievements!

Our policy is to invest as much as the sport needs to grow. We are one of the few international federations to provide all expenses – travel, accommodation and meals – for 2,500 athletes and officials at our FINA World Championships. Furthermore, the same assistance is provided with our partners for other prestigious events, such as the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) and the World Series in swimming and diving. We hope to extend this support for all top events in our other disciplines.

Finally, in terms of prize money, there was also a significant improvement, with FINA providing over US$ 5.8 million at our World Championships. All other FINA competitions are also covered by this prize-money policy. 

“All my life has been in Aquatics”

The whole aquatics community enjoyed the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest. Now FINA’s biggest events will head to Asia: the next three ‘big’ FINA Worlds and the next two short-course swimming meets will all visit this continent. Because of the demands of the largest sports events, are they affordable for anyone or do they become more and more a privilege of wealthier countries?

Your question misses an important point: FINA is perhaps the international federation which sets the calendar for its top events most in advance. For the FINA World Championships we have now determined our hosts until 2023 and are opening a bidding procedure for 2025 and 2027. For the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) the calendar is set until 2024. This is both an immense privilege and an enormous advantage. ‘Privilege’ because it shows the interest and commitment of solid hosts to stage a prestigious event and allows the organising cities to develop a commercial plan which will bring significant economic return and an important financial benefit. ‘Advantage’ because this way we can work in a predictable and co-ordinated manner with our future hosts, solving the problems and proposing solutions well in advance of the competition. The question of the distribution and wealth of the host is secondary in this matter, as we all recognise the demands concerning such a professional organisation but also the advantages associated with hosting the FINA showcase.

Can you describe how demanding the life of the FINA President is?

It is certainly a demanding life, but when it is done with enthusiasm and passion it becomes a pleasure. All my life has been in Aquatics and in sports administration in general. I know this environment very well and with my accumulated experience I am not afraid of the challenges. I was a former swimmer in my country, Uruguay, and despite it being an individual sport, I know that in order to succeed we need to be surrounded by a great team. And we have a great team in FINA, with very dedicated athletes, coaches, officials and administrators. We all love what we do and this is reflected in the privileged position FINA currently has among the sports movement in general.