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Barelli secures new term as LEN president, Al-Musallam lined up for Fina leadership

LEN president Paolo Barelli during the 57th Settecolli international swimming trophy on August 11, 2020 (by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

European Swimming League (LEN) president Paolo Barelli has been re-elected for a third term in office, while Husain Al-Musallam has received backing to become Asia’s first president of aquatics’ world governing body, Fina.

Italian official Barelli, who has led LEN since 2012, claimed a convincing victory over rival candidate, Gilles Sezionale of France, at the European governing body’s 2020 Congress. Barelli secured 86 votes to the challenger’s 13.

Speaking after his re-election, Barelli said: “In the past years, European aquatics has enjoyed a really successful period and the benefits were significant. We were able to share those with our national federations, offering them financial support, and with our athletes, who could earn ever-growing amounts of prize-money at our events. They are the frontrunners in this success story, they deserve all the credit for making Europe the No. 1 continent in aquatics.”

He added: “We are on the right track to continue our stable growth. I know that this year has been challenging for all of us – and LEN wished to support its federations by distributing €1m ($1.19m) to ease the pressure the pandemic may have put on them.

“Still, I’m convinced that soon our life can get back to normal, all the pools will be reopened and we can enjoy the same vibe and excitement at the LEN events as in the past.”

Barelli has proved a controversial figure in the sport of swimming. In May, LEN released a statement saying that the body “totally rejected” financial misconduct allegations made against its president.

The LEN leapt to the defence of Barelli, who is also vice-president of the sport’s international governing body Fina, after it was alleged that he had been reported to European authorities for authorising payments to third-party companies over a period of five years.

Fina bureau members David Sparkes, the former head of British Swimming, and Tamás Gyárfás, the former head of the Hungarian swimming federation, also faced allegations of financial mismanagement in deals with third parties. Sparkes was yesterday (Sunday) re-elected as general secretary, while Gyárfás was replaced as treasurer by Spain’s Fernando Carpena.

The accusations, which were reported by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The Sunday Times and Australia’s Daily Telegraph, related to documents purporting to show the three as signatories to contracts signed between LEN and three Italian companies – at least one of which, CIR-AUR, is majority-owned by Barelli.

In June 2017, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) dismissed a case brought by Barelli against Fina less than a month before the Italian was set to go head-to-head with the global governing body’s president, Julio Maglione.

Barelli claimed that Fina had interfered in 2016’s LEN election, when he secured a second term by beating Erik van Heijningen by 50 votes. Barelli alleged that Al-Musallam had lobbied voters in the LEN election to back his challenger. Maglione was ultimately re-elected for a third term as president of Fina, securing 258 votes to Barelli’s 77.

Meanwhile, Kuwait’s Al-Musallam received the unanimous backing of the Asian Swimming Federation (AASF) at its general congress on Saturday for his tilt at the Fina presidency.

Al-Musallam competed for Kuwait as a swimmer and joined the Fina Bureau for the first time in 1996. He is currently the first vice-president, having served as vice-president for many years. The Fina elections will take place in Doha, Qatar on June 5, 2021.

Maglione turns 85 on November 14 and is due to end his 12-year tenure as Fina president next year. Al-Musallam, who is currently considered the favourite to succeed the Uruguayan official, said at Saturday’s AASF meeting: “I must be honest with you. We all know that there are tough times ahead.

“The global pandemic places fresh difficulties on us every day. I have no magic wand. There are no easy solutions, but I can promise you this. Nobody will work harder than me to make sure that Fina emerges from this crisis stronger than ever.”