Portugal's António José Silva succeeded Italy's Paolo Barelli as European Swimming League President yesterday ©LEN

New European Swimming League (LEN) President António José Silva has insisted "teamwork" and cooperation with the International Swimming Federation (FINA) will be crucial as he sought to distance himself from the reign of predecessor Paolo Barelli.

Portuguese Swimming Federation President Silva, representing the Europe 4 All Aquatics (E4AA) movement, was elected at this weekend's Extraordinary Congress in Frankfurt.

A vote of no confidence in the LEN Bureau had been declared in September last year over financial problems and an alleged "lack of integrity, transparency and good governance".

After the Extraordinary Congress dismissed the Bureau led by Italian Swimming Federation President Barelli, he opted not to stand for re-election, with Silva receiving 96 per cent of the vote as E4AA's 19 candidates for leadership positions were all elected.

Barelli had led the LEN since 2012, and after standing aside criticised plans for the continental body's future direction, claiming "I would never have allowed LEN to be subject to FINA".

Kuwaiti official Husain Al-Musallam was elected unopposed as FINA President in June last year, with widespread reforms approved at December's Extraordinary General Congress in January.

Speaking to insidethegames, Silva argued Al-Musallam's backing was crucial to the election result, and believes strengthening the LEN's relationship with FINA is a priority.

"For us, this is not possible without the full support since the beginning, since June 5 of FINA President Mr Husain Al-Musallam," Silva said.

Portuguese official António José Silva insisted his Presidency would not be
Portuguese official António José Silva insisted his Presidency would not be "a one-man job", but would rely on "teamwork" ©LEN/E4AA

"Without his support, this achievement could not be reached, so of course we are going to cooperate.

"Even today after the Extraordinary Congress, we had a Zoom call from Husain addressing all countries [saying] that for him it's very good that finally LEN has a Board that could communicate, could cooperate with FINA, could further develop aquatic support programmes with other countries.

"He's completely happy that finally this happened and finally we have in the leadership of LEN trustful people that could cooperate, could communicate, and are willing to develop aquatics in Europe."

The E4AA movement had promised to "begin dialogue with FINA to identify ways to create more alignment" during its campaign, including seeking a competition calendar that "complements, rather than competes".

Silva, who is a member of the FINA Bureau, characterised his leadership style as more collaborative than that of Barelli.

"It's very important because it's not going to be like the former Bureau, the former President," he commented.

"It's not a one-man job or one-man chore, this is teamwork.

"We have a lot of countries from the Nordics and from the Baltics, from the East, from the South, from the West, from Central Europe, large countries and small countries all with the same commitment to further develop aquatics in Europe.

"I think aquatics is one of the most important sports that we have [globally]."

New LEN vice-president Josip Varvodic from Croatia, also speaking to insidethegames, stressed that it was crucial to maintain the unity emphasised strongly during E4AA's campaign.

"The unity is the most important thing we have, and António and me when we were discussing the future, we were saying we are the ones who want to ensure this unity in communication with all the countries and integration of their feelings," Varvodic said.

"We really respect all the members of the Bureau and they're perfectly chosen to coordinate the disciplines and all the other pillars we have, and our duty is that we contact all the countries, meaning we don't have friends or enemies.

"We have all the countries, we want them all as friends working for a better aquatic Europe."

Reflecting on his journey to the LEN Presidency, Silva looked back at challenges which included bitter infighting at the organisation.

The LEN had suspended the National Federations of Portugal and Croatia in November after ruling that the use of its logo on a letter issued by 24 nations calling for the leadership to resign was a "complete violation of the constitution", although FINA condemned and refused to recognise the move.

However, Silva claimed his election was testament to the support gathered by E4AA, with 40 National Federations publicly declaring their backing in the build-up to the Extraordinary Congress.

"It was amazing, it was a crazy journey since five months where we started with a meeting in Zagreb on September 15, and then the petition for the Extraordinary Congress in Budapest," he said.

"Then all the crazy stuff with the LEN Bureau, with the suspension of the countries, the process in the disciplinary panel, the dirty tricks from former President, but in the end we succeed with this great amount of endurance from European countries to our programme, to our manifesto, to our action plan and to our people.

"We are very pleased to be here and to succeed in this campaign."

Italy's Paolo Barelli had led the European Swimming League since 2012, but did not stand for re-election at the Extraordinary Congress, claiming
Italy's Paolo Barelli had led the European Swimming League since 2012, but did not stand for re-election at the Extraordinary Congress, claiming "I would never have allowed LEN to be subject to FINA" ©Getty Images

Varvodic added that he believed the result of the elections "fulfilled the mission for all European countries, because it was an absolute majority of countries".

"We are happy not just for us but for the majority of the European countries who were supporting us during the last few months," he said.

E4AA's manifesto featured an action plan for its first 100 days in office, covering the four pillars of integrity, making the sport accessible for all, aquatic disciplines learning and working together, and sustainability, with a first report promised at the LEN Congress in May.

Silva emphasised that there was no time to waste in implementing E4AA's plans.

"Absolutely, we even started today - the first Bureau meeting appointed people," he commented.

"We didn’t want to take too long because it was stressful for everyone, but even now we've started working on this.

"We need to do it, we need to include absolutely all the countries.

"All of us need to work.

"We need to self-evaluate while in progress.

"This is what we promised to the countries, we need to present what we promised to do."