Swimming integrity reforms a chance to ‘right wrongs of the past,’ says Olympian Michelle Ford


Sweeping changes to world swimming may see Australian Olympic gold medallist Michelle Ford receive another two golds, 40 years after competing at the Moscow Games.

Governing body FINA is expected to adopt a series of governance reforms at its extraordinary general congress in Abu Dhabi in December which would include an independent Aquatics Integrity Unit “able to determine what recourse may be taken”.

While FINA has no jurisdiction over Olympic medals, by adjusting their own records and removing the names of doped East German swimmers who won all but two women’s swimming events in Moscow, the International Olympic Committee would come under significant pressure to complete the redress.

Ford won gold in the 800m freestyle ahead of two East German swimmers but finished in third for a bronze medal behind two East Germans in the 200m butterfly and in fourth place behind three East Germans in the 400m freestyle.

Speaking to The Ticket from Switzerland, where she now lives, Ford said it is an opportunity to ‘”right the wrongs of the past”.

“I was so excited to see that there might be some movement after 40 years,” Ford said.

“That there might be hope for many athletes around the world to justify what they did back in the eighties against the East Germans.

A woman smiles at the camera as she holds a floral bouquet with the Sydney Opera House in the background.
Michelle Ford says she hopes others like Lisa Curry may have their performances finally recognised through the new integrity unit.(AFP: Greg Wood)

Another who may benefit is Lisa Curry who finished fifth in the 100m butterfly behind three East Germans and Ann Osgerby of Great Britain

“We gave up so much, especially in those days we had the boycott issue on us, we had our country telling us we shouldn’t be there, yet a lot of people in the Australian Olympic Committee actually supported us going and helped us get there,” Ford said.

Evidence of ‘State Plan 14:25’, as it was known, was discovered in the garage of the head physician of the East German Swimming Federation, Lothar Kipke.

It was used in a court case in Berlin in 1999 where numerous East German coaches and doctors were found guilty of causing bodily harm to female swimmers. Ford details the events in an upcoming book on athlete activism in the IOC.

A year after the Moscow Games, Ford was one of the Olympians involved in the formation of Athletes’ Commission at the IOC Congress in Baden-Baden, 1981, alongside now president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, and president of World Athletics, Seb Coe.

A group of Olympic athletes sit at a table at an IOC Congress meeting with pads of paper open on the desk in front of them.
Michelle Ford (right), later Olympic chief Thomas Bach and Sebastian Coe helped set up the IOC Athlete’s Commission in 1981.(Supplied: Michelle Ford)

In their closing speech they noted, “On ‘doping’ we consider this to be the most shameful abuse of the Olympic idea”.

Four decades later, doping is still a major threat to the integrity of world sport, with the newly elected president of FINA, Husain Al Musallam of Kuwait, promising to do more.

“He’s obviously troubled by [what can happen to] athletes who commit their entire lives to their sport for that one chance to compete, let alone get a medal,” Brent Nowicki, FINA executive director, told The Ticket.

FINA’s Congress will be held in December to vote on major governance reforms including a series of strategies around athlete payments and recognition.


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