Swimmer Alleges Fraud and Intimidation to Qualify for Olympics (Video)
Indian swimmer Likith Prema took to YouTube on Wednesday to accuse the Uzbekistan Swimming Federation with tampering with times at the recent Uzbekistan Open, a FINA-sanctioned qualifier for the Tokyo Olympics, in order to achieve Olympic cuts for its swimmers.
Evidence obtained by Swimming World from sources at the meet shows discrepancies between times posted on the day and those reported to FINA that favor Uzbekistan athletes, providing evidence for Prema’s claims.
Prema also revealed that he was offered bribes by Uzbekistani swimming officials to keep quiet, then later demanded a letter saying he was “mentally unstable” and unable to hear the buzzer due to deafness.
“At this competition, it was quite sad and heartbreaking to see a lot of manipulation of the times in favor of a few Uzbekistan swimmers, which also resulted in wrong times being recorded of the Indian swimmers as well, which we never asked for,” Prema said in the video.
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, FINA is opening an investigation into the allegations. An email to FINA seeking confirmation was not returned as of press time.
Prema was one of many Indian athletes present at the meet in the Central Asian nation’s capital of Tashkent. During the meet, Prema protested the tampering with times in the men’s 200 breaststroke, in which he remained on the block during the race.
“This has happened one time in India and I protested against it because I love the sport,” Prema told Swimming World when reached Wednesday. “This is what I’ve been doing for the last 18 years. I train by myself. I train alone. Every day I have to look for pool space to train in. I really love the sport and I want to do something for the sport. When I saw this happening, it was very, very frustrating for me and very heartbreaking. What am I training for? What am I working for? If people are going to the Olympics so easy, why am I even training for this and working so hard?”
Prema also described a harrowing encounter with Uzbekistani officials, who offered him money not to disclose what he was seeing.
“After I left the pool, I was followed by the officials and the organizers of the event,” Prema said in the video. “They came out and asked me what my issues were, and I told them what you’re doing is wrong. You’re not upholding good sportsmanship. You are cheating. I confronted them with what was happening. They told me one thing, ‘you don’t understand the politics,’ and they said they have been given instructions by higher authorities to send 10 licenses, 10 A cuts from Uzbekistan to the Olympics. Those are the orders they had been giving. They bribed me with a lot of money to keep my mouth shut.”
Documents obtained by Swimming World (some of which Prema shared in his video) show drastic changes in the times reported via in-meet printouts as opposed to those later reported on the Uzbekistan Swimming Federation’s website. They center on three Uzbeksitani swimmers.
Aleksey Tarasenko is reported to have posted an A cut in the 100 free of 48.55. It would have represented a massive cut from his previous personal-best of 50.35 last November. The results show that Tarasenko was nearly four seconds faster than the nearest swimmer in prelims, when he is alleged to have turned in the A cut. However, video of both prelims and finals reviewed by Swimming World cast serious doubt on that margin of victory, and a hand-timing of the video yields a slower time.
Two Uzbekistani swimmers, Adilbek Yusupboev and Eldor Usmonov, are alleged to have hit A cuts in the 100 fly. Yusupboev went 51.71, with Usomonov at 51.83, though results from prelims show Usmonov at 52.62 and Yusupboev at 52.76. An Uzbekistan Swimming Federation spokesperson clarified that the A cut times were posted at a special time trial.
Yusupboev competed at the 2019 World Junior Championships in four events that did not include the 100 fly. Usomonov listed his year of birth as 2004. A thorough search did not reveal a previous personal-best in the 100 fly for either swimmer.
Prema also said that video boards at the venue were not operational during the meet.
The alleged fraud extended to the Indian swimmers. For instance, documents circulated on deck show Sajan Prakash with a time of 1:55.92 in the 200 butterfly, which would’ve been an Olympic A cut. Prakash’s actual time was in the 2:03 range, Prema said, and he later went 1:57.68 in finals. The latter time is an Olympic B cut. Prakash is one of several promising Indian men’s swimmers seeking the nation’s first ever Olympic A cut.
So blatant was the manipulation, Prema said, that the Bangalore native and devoted swimmer felt so disillusioned with his sport that he needed to speak out.
“For me it was really sad to see what was happening and it is not a display of good sportsmanship, and it is not motivating me at all,” Prema said.
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