In just over 100 days from now, Australia's fastest swimmers will all be in Tokyo, competing in what is certain to be the most watched sporting event in history.

Australians have always had a patriotic fascination with the Olympics but the added risks of bringing the fittest people in the world together during the middle of a global pandemic will make the 2021 edition as close to the Hunger Games as anyone could have imagined, driving television ratings through the roof.

Relieved just to be back in action after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown of major sporting events, the swimmers will again be among the biggest stars of the show but don't let their sculptured bodies and smiling faces deceive you, because they're also among the most overworked and underpaid athletes in the world, which human rights groups have said borders on child exploitation.

Busting their guts for the chance of winning a medal made from recycled mobile phones, swimmers won't get a cent of the estimated $5.9 billion that television networks have paid for the combined rights to the 2018 Winter Olympics and 2021 Tokyo Summer Games.

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Swimming's share of the pie will instead mostly go straight to the sport's world governing body FINA, who have developed a preference for spending millions on the lavish lifestyles of their ageing executives instead of competitors struggling to make ends meet.

It's the worst kept secret in the Olympics that FINA is one of the last bastions of sporting nepotism, stubbornly refusing to change with the times by introducing overdue reforms and allowing independent bodies to freely investigate integrity issues.

Just three of the 26 FINA Bureau members who control aquatic sports are female - and only two of them get a vote - while almost half of the men making the key decisions come from countries that have never won an Olympic medal in swimming, including Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Senegal, Morocco, Angola and Uganda.

Nine past and present FINA members have been accused of bad behaviour, while any swimmers who have dared to speak out against alleged corruption have been bullied into silence or discredited.

None of this is news to the global swimming community, whose pleas for help have been ignored for decades, but have now reached a critical juncture because FINA's octogenarian leaders are about to be replaced.

Cornel Marculescu, the former Romanian secret police agent who served as executive director for decades and is best known in Australia for hugging Sun Yang on the pool deck at the Rio Olympics, has already tendered his resignation.


And Julio Maglione, the 85-year-old Uruguayan who changed the age-limits so he could remain in power for so long, is finally relinquishing his iron-like grip on the leadership, albeit with the consolation of continuing as an honorary life president, the same sweet deal the previous president, Algerian Mustapha Larfaoui, bestowed on himself when he finally relinquished the throne.

But instead of their departures signalling an overdue change in FINA's direction, critics fear that genuine reform could end up being even further away, with the next president in waiting a Kuwaiti pilot who, according to the London Times, has been cited by the US Department of Justice as a co-conspirator in a FIFA bribe scandal. He was never charged over the matter.

Husain Al Musallam denies any wrongdoing and FINA's ethics committee has already declared he has no case to answer. Along with Sheik Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, his powerful compatriot, he has been described as international sport's 'king maker'.

A two-year investigation by The Daily Telegraph into swimming's turbulent leadership has uncovered fresh allegations about the role of Husain Al Musallam in trying to thwart the creation of a rebel professional league allowing swimmers to finally earn a decent living.

The financial backer of the Big Bash-style swim league says FINA officials, demanded a lucrative fee for their stamp of approval.

That's just the tip of the iceberg compared to the way FINA's ringleaders have run swimming for the past three decades - enabled to act as they like without being challenged by FINA members who have turned a blind eye or been too frightened to speak up.



When it comes to winning gold medals in the pool, the United States and Australia are laps ahead of everyone else, but they've been off the pace when it's come to determining how the sport is run.

Both the US and Australia are represented on FINA's executive board, with American Dale Neuburger and Australian Matthew Dunn currently serving as vice-presidents, but neither have the numbers on the executive to exercise any real power or influence.

Nor do they have the universal support of their own national federations, notably Dunn, who has been rapidly climbing the FINA ranks after getting his foot in the door as an athlete representative.

While there is no suggestion Dunn has broken any rules or engaged in any wrongdoing, highly placed sources within Swimming Australia say the federation remains deeply disappointed that he has not used his position to speak out on more occasions on issues that impact Australian swimmers but is powerless to replace him because he's elected as a delegate for Oceania rather than just Australia.

The former Olympic swimmer who broke into FINA's ranks on a platform of wanting to give athletes a bigger say, Dunn has not made any public comments supporting the dozens of top Australian swimmers who were initially threatened with being banned from the Tokyo Olympics if they joined the professional International Swimming League.


Dunn has also never said a public word about Shayna Jack's drawn out appeal to clear her name and has never publicly, supported Mack Horton for his courageous stand against FINA's lax approach to tackling doping by allowing Sun Yang to compete at the 2019 world championships in South Korea.

According to witnesses who were in the room, Dunn had little to say when Marculescu called the executive board together with a proposal to strip Horton of his silver medal.

It was only the intervention of other executives, who argued that punishing the Australian anti-drugs crusader would only inflame other swimmers, that saved him from losing his medal.

Another source said Dunn later spoke to Swimming Australia team members in South Korea, about Horton's actions.

Dunn, who declined a request for an interview, is not the only Australian involved with FINA.

Chris Fydler, who was a part of the Australian 4x100m freestyle relay that famously beat the 'guitar-smashing' Americans for gold at the Sydney Olympics is a member of the ethics panel, while there are plenty of other Australians on various committees.

But Dunn is the only one on the FINA Bureau and although he has infuriated sections of the Australian swimming community, his quiet approach in dealing with prickly issues has not harmed his career since he first joined FINA in 2012.

By 2019 - a short wait by FINA's standards where a quarter of the bureau are aged 70 or older - he was elevated to the executive board, but The Daily Telegraph can reveal that as early as next month he will be promoted to the position of second vice-president, essentially third in line, in part as a reward for supporting Al Musallam's presidential bid and the appointment of China's Zhou Jihong to the sport's top table.



There's a reason why no one rocks the boat at FINA, because the perks are amazing.

As a not for profit organisation, FINA's executives are prevented from personally pocketing the millions the organisation makes from broadcast rights, sponsorship and running major events. These executive still enjoy a swanky lifestyle.

Referred to as " the FINA Family", the cost of pampering all the executives, their spouses and mistresses, bureau members, technical advisers and other committee members is eye-watering.

At the 2017 world championships in Budapest, the bill for the FINA Family's expenses topped $9.5 million over 17 days, with the FINA's executive and bureau members the biggest beneficiaries.

They all travelled to Hungary on business class flights and were booked to stay at the five-star Budapest Marriott, where standard rooms cost $750 but suites overlooking the Danube River start at $2000 a night.

FINA bureau members were also entitled to a minimum daily allowance of $650 - amounting to over $11,000 in total for the duration of the championships - usually paid in cash, in bundles of fresh, sequential $US100 notes.

Most members take all the cash home because they don't have to spend a cent while they're on FINA's dime at big events or conferences.

All their meals and drinks are all covered along with full medical insurance and access to chauffeur driven limousines.

For "FINA Family" members who aren't part of the ruling bureau, their perks are a step back, but still not to be sneezed at.

They sat in the rear end of the plane, in economy, and stayed at the four-star Mercure Hotel Korona, where rooms start at $450 a night.

All their meals and transport costs were covered but their daily cash allowances ranged between $150 and $450.

FINA's bottom line remains in rude health despite all the highrolling. According to FINA's 2017-18 financial statement, the Lausanne-based organisation has total assets of just over 174 million Swiss Francs ($245 million).

Most of that fortune comes from broadcast rights with aquatics one of just three sports - along with athletics and gymnastics - that are classified in the International Olympic Committee's top tier for funding.

FINA also receives millions from its commercial sponsors and countries awarded major events, under the guise of 'hosting fees'.

Australia hosted the world championships in 1991, 1998 and 2007 but has never bid since after being burnt by the excessive fees associated with entertaining the FINA Family.

The United States has never hosted the world championships. Nor has Britain. Or France.

That hasn't stopped FINA from continuing to include those countries in its published list of 'interested' nations' each time they are about to select a new host, a tactic to drive up the price for the real bidders, which are now almost exclusively from Eastern Europe, the Arabian Gulf or East Asia.

FINA was up to its old tricks, right on cue, the moment news broke that Brisbane was all but assured of being selected to host the 2032 Olympics.

Amid the understandable excitement, one of the first reports that followed was Dunn saying southeast Queensland would be a great candidate for the 2031 world titles. There is likely to be an extra bill for taxpayers to supply the FINA gravy train.

Originally published as Bombshell report exposes swimming's secret shame

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