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The prospect of Swimming Australia being taken over by World Aquatics has been avoided after voting members agreed to adopt a new constitution, bringing the sport in line with modern governance standards demanded by the global governing body.
In stark contrast to the nation’s high-flying Dolphins team – which dominated the recent world championships in Japan – the administration of Australian swimming has been plagued by infighting, with state associations at loggerheads with Swimming Australia (SAL) leadership.
With World Aquatics (AQUA) threatening to step in and forcibly effect governance change at SAL, a special general meeting was held on Friday for state-based members, and coaches and athletes associations, to vote on a raft of proposed changes to the constitution.
It wasn’t smooth sailing, with the voting members rejecting the first iteration of a proposed constitution which, among other things, would have changed the structure of the nine-person board, which has seven elected directors and two appointed – or independent – directors.
The proposed new board would have featured four elected directors, four appointed directors and the addition of a new athlete director and an Australian member of AQUA (which was formerly known as FINA).
The proposal also included increasing the number of members able to vote at general meetings from nine to 21, to broaden the voices having a say in Australian swimming. There are nearly 1000 clubs and 90,000 registered members nationally.
Kyle Chalmers won gold in the men’s 100-metre freestyle at the world championships.Credit: Getty
But having forewarned they would reject the first plan, the member organisations and SAL had been working on a second, revised constitution for the past few weeks. And after formally voting down the first new constitution on Friday, they voted eight-to-one in favour of the revised model.
The new SAL board structure will feature an 11-person board, with five elected directors, four independents, an athlete director and the Australian member of AQUA.
The restructure dilutes the power of the states – as AQUA and the Australian Sports Commission have sought, and as other major sports in Australia have undertaken – but a two-year sit-out clause for state board members to join the SAL board was scrapped. The plan to increase the voting members from nine to 21 was not amended.
“Importantly, the new constitution brings Swimming Australia into line with AQUA’s constitutional requirements and the ASC’s good governance requirements and guidelines, while also creating an athletes’ commission which will, in an ongoing capacity, nominate candidates to be appointed to the Swimming Australia board as the athlete director,” Swimming Australia said in a press release.
Australia celebrate after winning gold in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay at the world championships in July.Credit: Reuters
Mistrust and squabbling between the member organisations and the national body prompted AQUA to recently warn it would consider using the “nuclear” option of imposing a “stabilisation committee” on SAL, which would have been humbling for one of the world’s most powerful swimming nations, with the 2024 Olympic Games around the corner.
The Australian Sports Commission congratulated the parties for moving “closer towards meeting the governance maturity standards expected for a tier one Commonwealth-funded sport”.
“On behalf of the ASC, I’d like to acknowledge the huge amount of work undertaken in recent weeks by the Swimming Australia board and the member organisations,” ASC chair Josephine Sukkar said.
“Change of this nature is never easy and was done with the future generation of Australian swimmers in mind.”
Swimming Australia has been beset by toxic culture and abuse scandals, and multiple leadership changes, in recent years.
After Maddie Groves called out abusive behaviour in Australian swimming in 2021, a report was commissioned, which found female athletes and coaches had been subjected to physical and mental abuse, groping and body-shaming.
Swimming Australia has also seen a revolving door in key leadership positions, with four chief executives since 2017 and a fifth president in three years soon to be elected following the recent resignation of Michelle Gallen.
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