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FINA rejects Lani Velasco’s appeal, withdraw recognition to PSI board

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Photo: Velasco (right) presented Fil-Canadian Kyla Sanchez to the POC as the country’s newest member of the Philippines Team.

THE International Swimming Federation (FINA) has withdrawn its recognition to Philippine Swimming Inc. (PSI) Board headed by its president Maria Lailani ‘Lani’ Velasco and created a Stabilization Committee to run the PSI’s day-to-day operations.

In a letter dated December 3, 2022, FINA (Federation Internationale de Natation) also empowered the stabilization committee to “conduct the proper and necessary amendments of the [PSI] Constitution and organize and conduct a new election.”

FINA named POC legal head Atty. Wharton Chan and deputy secretary general Valeriano “Bones” Floro and Bases Conversion Development Authority senior vice president Arrey Perez as members of the stabilization committee.

The FINA directive was signed by the international federation’s executive director Brent Nowicki and copy furnished the PSI, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and the Philippine Sports Commission furnished with emailed copies.

The FINA directive is effective immediately but did not mention any particular deadline for a new election. The decision came out after the November 22 meeting of Velasco and Asia Swimming Federation secretary general Taha Suleiman Al Kishry.

“The FINA Bureau discussed various complaints received by the FINA Office concerning matters of inter alia poor governance principles within your National Federation,” the FINA memo said. “For this reason, and as a matter of last resort, the FINA Bureau has confirmed the implementation of a Stabilization Committee, as set out in C 10.6 of the FINA Constitution.”

Article C 10.6 of the FINA Constitution states that “The Bureau may under exceptional circumstances appoint a stabilization committee to the extent the executive body of a member fails to adhere to practices of good governance, transparency, financial accountability and stability, participation in FINA events, or puts at risk the organi[s]ation and development of Aquatics in their country.”

The FINA decision stemmed from various complaints it received from stakeholders in Philippine swimming. Although, there’s no mention on particular complaint, Velasco has long been embroiled to controversy as her programs and policies is not akin to majority of swimming community. She was also slapped with complaints before the POC and the PSC from Cecil Doromal, mother of 2022 Southeast Asian Games gold medalist Chloe Isleta, following the exclusion of the top rank swimmer from the National Team to the Budapest World Championship last June.

The PSI has already agreed to a FINA directive in 2018 to amend its by-laws but didn’t heed the international federation (IF). The IF reiterated the same directive after the PSI conducted its elections last April but got the same negative response.

Velasco swept to power after the late Mark Joseph appointing her as officer-in-charge of the then Philippine Amateur Swimming Association (PASA) in 2016. With the support of then POC president Jose Cojuangco, Velasco managed to change PASA to PSI and disenfranchised several Board members who up against her including Olympians and former National coach Pinky Brosas and Ral Rosario, who was actually elected PASA president in 2018 but was not recognized by the POC.  

Last April 6, Velasco received a fresh mandate after leading the elected Board of Trustees which included Sherwyn Santiago (NCR), Jefferson Lao (Palawan), Toyskie Dalisay and Lea Antig (Luzon), Vero Paloma Jr. and Robb Tan (Visayas) and Egay Lora and Toni Mendoza.

“This verdict just came down from the IF [FINA],” said POC president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, who likened PSI’s predicament experienced by the karate, volleyball and tennis associations. The karate and volleyball leadership crises have been resolved, but the Philippine Tennis Association remains under a POC caretaker committee.

“We’ll be heeding the IF instruction with the POC putting premium on protecting the athletes,” Tolentino added.

The FINA dispatched Asia Swimming Federation secretary general Taha Suleiman Al Kishry last month to meet with POC and PSI officials in the hope of compelling the national sports association to heed the IF directive.

Al Kishry was also in the country to officially declare the country as host of the 11th Asian Age Group Swimming Championships at the New Clark City (NCC) Aquatics Center in Capas, Tarlac, in November next year.

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