In a strongly worded letter to international swimming’s governing body, Fédération Internationale De Natation (FINA), the Guinea-Bissau Swim Federation disputes FINA’s refusal to allow Siphiwe Baleka to swim in the Olympics on behalf of the small African nation. The dispute hinges on the interpretation of ambiguous language about FINA deadlines for participation in “qualifying events,” and for countries’ submittal of applications for “Universality Places” in the Olympics. The Universality rules are designed to enable smaller countries to participate in the Olympic games.
Guinea-Bissau’s Swim Federation and Olympic Committee were anxiously anticipating their first swimming competitor in the Olympics, and insist that they met the standards that were communicated to them by FINA. FINA rules state that individuals could qualify in an approved FINA Olympic qualifying event until June 27, 2021, and countries must have submitted application paperwork by June 20, 2021. Guinea-Bissau’s Swim Federation met both requirements.
In the letter, Guinea-Bissau’s Swim Federation President, Duarte Ioia, states, “Like all other swimmers, he (Siphiwe Baleka) competed in an Olympic Qualifying event before the stated deadline” of June 27th for all Olympic qualifying swim events. However, FINA rejected Baleka’s submission because they say that the qualifying events for Universality Places must have taken place by the application deadline, June 20th. Guinea-Bissau retorted that they submitted Baleka’s application on June 17th, and said, “We ask FINA, where, when and how did it make a communication referring to an EARLIER deadline for qualifying” that is different for Universality competitors versus other traditional qualifiers?
Siphiwe Baleka, a 50-year-old swimmer from the United States, is a dual-citizen and permanent resident of Guinea-Bissau. Mr. Baleka had planned to represent Guinea-Bissau, the country from which his ancestors were enslaved, according to DNA results.
When asked about FINA’s rejection of his application, Mr. Baleka said, “Guinea-Bissau has done an amazing job of resurrecting its swim federation and complying with FINA rules. Their arbitrary ruling in my case is mean-spirited and violates the Olympic Charter. Universality Places were designed to help new and developing swim federations like Guinea-Bissau’s, which made a great effort to qualify its first Olympic swimmer.”
Noting that Guinea-Bissau has never fielded an Olympic swimmer, Mr. Baleka insists that his adopted country has the right according to FINA rules, to send its highest ranked swimmer “as long as they perform in an Olympic qualifying event, which I did.” Mr. Baleka, the Guinea-Bissau Olympic Committee, and members of the international swim community continue to press FINA to apply its Universality rules consistently, and to permit Guinea-Bissau’s first Olympic swimming contender to compete in the Games.