1998 Banquet Talk by Forbes Carlile


J.A. Samaranch, big business, millionaire athletes— sport has changed and not all of us like it. We are operating in a vastly different, certainly not a better, competitive swimming world, to compared with just over 20 years ago. What do we do?—do our darndest to improve wrong-doing in our sport? Join them and go with the flow?— or do we cry, “Stop the World, we want to get off” and isolate ourselves completely from all this angst. I am here to say that we should join in strong support of the enormously successful German anti-doping activist, Dr. Werner Franke, and fight. As Dr. Franke told us two days ago in his very informative address and in later discussions, there is often a strong, overpowering community resistance to whistleblowers, to those who stand to be counted in identifying wrong-doing. “The basic problem and paradox is that obedience to authority, a basic necessity for constructing and maintaining our society becomes [due to pressure to maintain the status quo] a powerfully destructive force when that authority is doing wrong.” [K. Jean Lennane. What Happens to the Whistleblowers, and Why, 1992].

Juan Antonio Samaranch became president of the IOC in 1980 at the time of the first major boycott in Olympic history when a number of nations, including the United States decided that it was appropriate to protest the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR by withdrawing from the Moscow games. Of course the Russians, joined by their Eastern European friends, as expected, reciprocated in full and withdrew from Los Angeles in 1984. The boycotts were the last straw for the Olympic movement which was on its knees with its coffers empty. The price was low for the handful of sponsors. Television rights went cheaply by today’s standards. The IOC was so broke that the many fold perks for its self-appointed members were in grave jeopardy of being curtailed. When the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin first to support his ideals and his concepts of the Games gathered around him his Committee of Lords, Princes and well-off nobility this elite band of IOC members paid their own way to travel to the Olympics. But gradually, things improved financially, and there was enough there to provide for more of the good things in life. But by 1984, it looked likely that the millions of dollars would no longer be there to indulge the Lords of the Rings. There was no rejoicing in the streets when the venue for the 1984 Games was announced. It was Los Angles, the only applicant! It had come to this. The cash cow had, very nearly, been milked dry. Nobody wanted the Games.

The spectra of the recent financial debacle of the Montreal Olympics hovered menacingly. Out of the urgent necessity for the Games to survive as a gigantic festival, the notion of the Big Business, entertainment games was born and the City of Los Angeles, perhaps for the first time ever, turned in a reasonable profit. This was the green light. Full on professionalism was seen as the answer to harvesting riches from what once were, in the main, amateur sports. Juan Antonio Samaranch and his supporters figured that the sooner the better to cut free of all that “amateur” claptrap of the founder, the good Baron.

In fact, reference to amateurism must be cut from the Olympic Charter. Done! If there was a protest from the elite 100 at this betrayal, we did not hear of it. One thing the oath of solidarity ensures in this not-so-democratic enclave of IOC members which owns the Games, is that there will be no argument with the president. The athletes Mr. Samaranch wanted at the Games, and he said this quite openly, were those from the monied sports. He wanted the “world’s best” there, fully professional base-ballers, tennis players, and soon when the price was right, he hoped golfers. America should call off its National League baseball competition during part of the summer to allow the best players to grace his Games. Indeed this was Mr. Samaranch’s grandiose suggestion . What the television wanted to cover were the big professional sports, and who pays the piper calls the tune. This is what would be delivered to the sole TV sponsor to make commercially worthwhile the huge payments for the monopoly rights.

“Being realistic” was what the sell-out of Olympic ideals was called. The dubious “credit” for the highly commercialized new-look Olympics after 1984 must be handed to His Excellency Juan Antonio Samaranch, who in 1980, had moved into the Presidency having only recently retired as Spanish Ambassador to the USSR. Corporations had to be involved in a big way. Coca Cola had been around since the 1928 Olympic Games and Kodak since the very first Modern Olympics in 1896.

International Business Machines(IBM) first joined the party in 1960 when computers were little more than glorified adding machines, but recently we read that IBM will take its leave of the Olympic family after Sydney 2000. It is rumored that the sponsorship price is too high. However you can count on the ubiquitous Coca Cola staying in there with its caffeine-laced beverage and putting at least 100 million sponsorship dollars on the line for the privilege of putting up its signs. Upset China and you upset Coca Cola with its reported four new bottling plants installed in N.E. China within the first half of 1998. Inevitably this brings us to consider doping, the plague which is destroying the integrity of international sport and threatening its very existence. Money and sponsorship, such being the frailties of human nature are paralyzing effective anti-doping action. It can be well argued that the always reactionary IOC, in an effort to protect the image of the Games, has put up no more than feeble opposition. Like some countries which trade with China, the I.O.C. and its National Committee make a good imitation of not wanting to upset the China whose presence means multi-millions of dollars to the Games. TV needs the bad guys. It would be a calamity for Games organizers if the Chinese do not show. Every time officials open their mouths this agenda becomes clear. The Chinese are clean. So said IOC President Samaranch at the opening of China’s National Games in 1993 after Ma’s Army of women, apparently super athletes, had shocked the world. Green turtle soup and Chinese traditional medicines, that must have been the explanation for unbelievable performances. “Where’s the proof,” chanted FINA officials. It is not politically correct to call a spade a spade and treat the Chinese athletes as systematic cheats, despite all the evidence of wrong-doing with more than half as many positives as the rest of the swimming world put together, despite denial after denial, and yet more positives in 1998. It has been no good so far asking for independent, intensive investigations of the doping situation to be made inside China. “It’s not in the rules,” FINA tells us.

But showing resistance in taking appropriate action needs a stronger commitment, stronger, honest action. But gradually, the voices demanding clean swimming have become louder. The coaches’ anti-doping Committee, after acting in a de facto manner for two years, was officially set up by WSCA at the Atlanta Games with John Leonard, Cecil Colwin and myself as activists and spokespeople. We believe our small committee has continued to make good progress, keeping the media constantly alerted with facts and figures and this resulted in FINA being provoked into taking a number of effective actions. There can be little doubt that political and commercial considerations for countries and sponsors have often been successful and have been allowed to stand in the way of taking effective action to ensure fair competition for swimmers. Do we give up, saying, “Stop the World?” We say NO, being determined to stand our ground, to “blow the whistle” and battle on. But how? Many have seen WSCA’s Four Points, goals to be sought with FINA. WSCA has over 2500 signatures attesting to these fundamental goals. Coaching Association newsletters, carrying the story, have been read by about 9000 spread over a number of countries.

These are the Four Points, updated on the advice of the Anti- Doping Committee, to meet present situations: (i)That FINA be fully pro-active in fighting the Drug War in a number of ways. In the short term WSCA is asking FINA to publicly demand from the IOC adequate funding to carry on with the Federation’s unannounced testing program. Also that in the immediate future there be set up by FINA intensive, 3-month, unannounced testing of likely members of China’s team to compete in the Asian Games set down for Bangkok in early December 1998. (ii) That coaches, not appointed by FINA, but elected by coaches, sit on the FINA, the International Technical Committee, and the Open Water Committee. It is believed that the time has long past for those from the “engine room” of the sport, the pool deck, to be providing on-the-spot input into decision-making by FINA. (iii) That Swimmers and coaches share adequately in the profits made by FINA. If the highly commercial exploitation of top level swimming is to continue and substantial profits are to be made—and this seems inevitable—then it is better that these profits be distributed mostly between swimmers and their coaches, those responsible for the gains. (iv) That FINA be operated and administered in a coach/swimmer participant manner. This is the thrust of the last three. It is maintained that the participants are more important than the administrators or officials, and that for instance, at international meets, good seating arrangements should be made for swimmers and coaches, the real “swimming family,” those who continually support the sport and draw spectators. After this might come the sponsors. It is the participants, the performers, who should occupy central stage. In the last resort, they should have the final say whether they will compete or not on the conditions offered by administrators. We believe a strong impression has been made on FINA, but we have long realized that for maximum impact and to attain further important gains, it will need to be demonstrated that swimmers are solidly with us in our endeavors.

Coaches have long been ignored by FINA. They have been treated as baths attendants, as “necessary evils” at best. So how to bring in the athletes? THE ALLIANCE 311 In order to reach legitimate goals, the concept of an “Athlete’s Alliance for the Betterment of Sport” was considered at the Perth WSCA meeting (Jan. 1998), where it was debated and agreed to. However, everybody being well occupied in living busy lives, this has meant that only now are we ready to launch. The Alliance basically will be open to membership of all those, world-wide, who subscribe to the Four Goals. It will recruit, in the main, swimmers, past and present, coaches; interested parents; and not least, prominent scientists and anti-doping activists and publicists such as Dr. Werner Franke (German molecular biologist and world renowned drugs expert), Dr. John Hoberman (scholar, researcher and author of Mortal Engines, the classic book on doping history), and Phil Whitten (Editor of Swimming World), Karen Helmstadt and Cecil Colwin (outstanding activist writers on Swimming). All have enthusiastically agreed to serve as consultants. It is envisaged that swimmers will be at the core of the Alliance, and it is recognized that current competitors are kept busy with their training and competitions, so it is expected that past prominent swimmers will play the most active role in the movement. These include such luminaries as Shane Gould, Mark Spitz, Janet Evans and Kurt Grote. Many present athletes have already signed their agreement to the Four Points. The Internet An internet site will be set up with, we expect, multiple links to attract potential members. At this stage we envisage joining the Alliance through the site with the acknowledgment of a commitment to the four goals, perhaps with a nominal joining fee. Regular newsletters and resource articles will appear just one click away on the website. Coaches and others will be encouraged to down-load material for distribution to clubs, potential members, and for media releases.

There will be a facility to trade ideas aimed at bettering swimming, to communicate, and to input ideas. Hopefully we will move to other languages as well as English. At an August meeting of WSCA, Directors in Hawaii (NOT with WSCA funds incidentally), it was decided to accept the offer of U.S. ASCA to take the reins and be responsible for getting the Alliance off the ground. This is an important and exciting break through not only in fighting the Doping War, but for the general betterment of our sport. ASCA will at first drive the swimmer-dominated Alliance. This strategy with its easily administered plan of action should work. Watch for the Alliance link on your swimming websites soon. Join please, and have all your swimming acquaintances do likewise. How many of us want the world stopped so we can get off? Do we want to say individually, “Go ahead, good luck, but I person ally am going to opt out of the fight, and will continue on my merry care-free way?” We do not think so. This will certainly will not be the position of the Alliance. The odds may seem to be against us, but we aim at changing things, in FINA. And why not change the IOC which administration, and some aspects of the Olympic Games themselves have long past their usefulness? Clear in our sights should be FINA, targeted to put our “Swimming house” in order. We can work on the IOC through FINA. We want you with us, coaches in WSCA and all swimming people in the Alliance. “Without the ‘whistleblowers,’ modern society would be lost to the barbarity of market forces, of political expediency damage control, of cover-up and of institutional and corporate lying and mediocrity.”* We do not intend to be silenced, in fact we will, if necessary, noisily and conspicuously draw attention to the ineptness we perceive in FINA whilst coaches and swimmers continue to be excluded from participation in its considerations. *Quinton Demster, Whistleblowers 1997.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news