BUDAPEST (REUTERS/AFP) - Julio Maglione, president of swimming's world governing body Fina, was re-elected for a third term on Saturday following a bitter campaign which threatened to overshadow the start of the World Championships.
A Fina congress vote in the Hungarian capital on the eve of the swimming competition saw the 81-year-old Maglione win another four-year term after facing heated opposition from Paolo Barelli, an Italian senator and president of the European Swimming Federation (LEN).
However Maglione was a clear winner by 258 votes to 77 during a prolonged election in which Fina officials manually counted the votes instead of using an electronic process.
Afterwards, the Uruguayan defended his age as he set about leading Fina through until 2021.
"I'm feeling very well and I respect the decision of Fina assembly," said Maglione. "I was elected for four years and I respect my assembly that voted for me. I have the responsibility to be here."
Barelli, who had waged a vitriolic campaign after announcing his candidature in May, was denied the opportunity to present his candidature during the congress by Fina independent lawyer Francois Garrard.
The decision drew a round of applause although Garrard also refused Maglione's request to speak.
In recent weeks, Barelli has criticised Maglione's administration as "unethical", called for more transparency within the governing body and promised to fight doping within the sport.
The 63-year-old also stated his intention to cap age limits on future candidates.
At its congress during the last World Championships in Kazan, Russia, two years ago, Fina removed age and term limits for senior bureau officials, allowing Maglione to run for a third term.
One Fina member said Barelli had entered on a "suicide mission" in running against Maglione.
The European delegate, who asked not to be named, added: "We are the old world and think we rule everything. We have to make friends not enemies."
If Maglione, who first took the Fina helm in 2009, fails to see out his term, as some observers suggest, then the governing body's first vice-president Husain Al-Musallam would take charge.
Last week, a media report alleged that the Kuwaiti official had negotiated commission on sponsorship deals with the Olympic Committee of Asia (OCA).The OCA denied the allegations and Fina said that none of their regulations had been breached.
The swimming events get underway on Sunday with eight days of action at the Duna Arena.
Fina has also voted to rename synchronised swimming as "artistic" in an effort to boost the sport's popularity.
"The reality is we are living in a sports business environment and we should find the best way to promote our sport," Fina's executive director Cornel Marculescu told AFP.
The proposal, ratified at the Fina congress followed discussions with media and the International Olympic Committee, Marculescu said.
"Let's see if it works, it will now be like other sports like artistic gymnastics, but the essence of the sport itself, the training, the performances won't be affected," he said.
Synchronised swimming has been an Olympic sport since the Los Angeles Games in 1984.