David Owen

Roll on 2024: the money guys at the International Swimming Federation (FINA), one of the most important Olympic International Federations, could be forgiven for harbouring this thought.

The coincidence of a World Championships (in Doha), an Olympic and Paralympic Games (in Paris) and a World Swimming Championships (in a 25 metre pool in Budapest) could - could - make 2024 the most lucrative year in the organisation's more than century-long existence.

If the 2020s have taught us anything, however, it is that it is unwise to take too much for granted, and, just for the moment, the business environment remains, well, a bit of a challenge.

The plans of all sports bodies with global reach have had to be torn up and torn up again since 2020 because of what one might call the two P's - the pandemic and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As made clear by a "Global Events" note in its newly-published 2021 financial report, FINA is certainly no exception.

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is, we are told, "likely to have a negative impact on FINA's 2022 financial results" as a consequence of the relocation of two events from the Russian city of Kazan.

COVID, meanwhile, "continued to have a significant impact on the federation's activities throughout 2021 and into 2022".

In spite of this, the inclusion of more than CHF29 million (£24.4 million/$30 million/€28.4 million) of income linked to the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics ensured that 2021 was a year when FINA returned substantially to profit, registering a net surplus of CHF16.1 million (£13.6 million/$16.7 million/€15.8 million).

This looks unlikely to be repeated in 2022.

The International Swimming Federation has been impacted by both COVID-19 and Russia's invasion of Ukraine ©Getty Images
The International Swimming Federation has been impacted by both COVID-19 and Russia's invasion of Ukraine ©Getty Images

While treasurer Dale Neuburger states in his report that "FINA will generate more than $15 million (£12.2 million/€14.2 million) from competitions in 2022", when events need to be rearranged, it generally takes a toll on margins.

As Neuburger also writes: "While FINA is fortunate that its three marquee events will take place in 2022, these events have been organised at late notice and therefore will generate lower margins than would normally be expected."

With the international sports world beset with these universal uncertainties, absorbing management time that could otherwise be earmarked for more creative projects, FINA could no doubt have done without the legal issues which added to expenditure in 2021.

As explained in the new financial report, these legal costs related to two separate matters.

The body says it is engaged in anti-trust proceedings "brought by the International Swimming League and a small number of athletes", with litigation ongoing since 2019 and set to drag on until at least September.

It is also facing financial claims brought by a number of ex-employees whose contracts were terminated under a recent restructuring of senior management positions.

Total costs incurred since the outset of the anti-trust litigation are put at $7.2 million (£5.9 million/€6.8 million), with CHF4.4 million (£3.7 million/$4.55 million/€4.3 million) charged to the income statement in 2021.

To put this into some sort of context, FINA spent just over CHF6 million (£5 million/$6.2 million/€5.9 million) on development activities in 2021 and just over CHF5.6 million (£4.7 million/$5.8 million/€5.5 million) on prize money - this in a year when income totalled CHF52.5 million (£44.2 million/$54.3 million/€51.45 million).

The organisation did receive CHF2 million (£1.7 million/$2.1 million/€2 million) of insurance income, booked in 2020, which partly offset these legal costs.

However, the insurance payment was characterised as a "full and final settlement" in respect of the case.

At the end of 2021, FINA carried provisions of some CHF4.9 million (£4.1 million/$5.1 million/€4.8 million), up from CHF2.9 million (£2.4 million/$3 million/€2.8 million) a year earlier. 

FINA is involved in litigation with the International Swimming League ©Getty Images
FINA is involved in litigation with the International Swimming League ©Getty Images

These provisions are thought sufficient to cover remaining legal costs and "any settlement amount" in the anti-trust case, and all expected remaining costs in respect of departed employees.

Nonetheless, the proceedings have been a drain at a time when day-to-day management of FINA's affairs has been anything but straightforward.

The new financial report also reveals that the FINA Bureau decided to switch the body's functional currency from the Swiss franc to the US dollar from the start of this year.

A senior official at the Lausanne-based organisation explained that some 90 per cent of its revenues and 70 per cent of expenses are US dollar-denominated, so the change appears to make sense.

FINA is in good company in making this move: both FIFA, the world football body, and the International Olympic Committee produce their financial accounts in US dollars while domiciled in Switzerland.

The unexpected turbulence of the past two-to-three years has underlined the desirability for international sports bodies of maintaining an adequate cushion of reserves.

FINA remains well-imbued in this respect.

Cash and financial assets at the latest year-end amounted to some CHF168 million (£141.5 million/$173.9 million/€164.6 million), with total assets weighing in at CHF217.7 million (£183.3 million/$225.3 million/€213.3 million).