Ahmed Hafnaoui at the 2024 World Aquatics Championships in Doha. GETTY IMAGES

The world body has assigned a stabilisation committee that will temporarily manage the national entity after its leaders and anti-doping officials were arrested on Monday because of a controversy regarding the covering of a Tunisian flag.

World swimming chiefs drew up plans for said committee to run the affairs of the troubled Tunisian swimming federation, "conduct the proper and necessary amendments to the national federation’s Constitution and organise and conduct a new election within six months.” In a statement released on Thursday, World Aquatics explained the decision after a tough week for Tunisia swimming overall, as reigning 400 freestyle Olympic champion Ahmed Hafnaoui just revealed he might miss the Paris 2024 Games because of an unspecified injury. “Activated in the best interests of all Tunisian athletes, the Stabilization Committee will ensure that the Tunisian Swimming Federation adheres to the highest standards of good governance and transparency,” the statement said.

The heads of the Tunisia federation and National Anti-Doping Organisation (ANAD) were arrested when tempers flared over the controversial covering of the country's flag during a championship organised by the national swimming federation at the Rades Olympic pool in Tunis. In response to WADA’s sanctions that banned the flag from being showcased at competitions, the flag was covered, which outraged Tunisian president Kais Saied.

The seeds of the current state of affairs were planted last month, when WADA first announced that it would sanction ANAD and imposed its ban until the organisation corrected its non-conformities. Saied, who many Human Rights groups have described as a dictator, did not react well to the decision and called it an act of aggression. “Tunisia comes before the Olympic Committee and before any other committees,” Saied emphasized before visiting the Rades Olympic Pool to raise the flag and sing the national anthem. After an investigation, nine people were expected to be prosecuted, including the two presidents. Saied rules Tunisia since 20019 and was re-elected in July 2022.

In the fall, ANAD had been ruled non-compliant in implementing aspects of the 2021 World Anti-Doping Code. Following notification and a period to make modifications, it had not made necessary fixes, leading to WADA sending formal notice of non-compliance on 8 April, effective 30 April, and the subsequent flag imbroglio that drew Saied’s ire and sparked the wave of detentions.

Once it removed ANAD from its non-compliant list, a decision back-dated to May 8, Montreal-based WADA issued a statement Monday night expressing "deep concern" at the arrest of the ANAD director general and calling for his "immediate and unconditional release from custody, as well as the dropping of any charges made against him pertaining to this".

WADA then proceeded to reinstate ANAD. “The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has expressed its deep concern following the arrest of the Director General of the National Anti-Doping Organization of Tunisia (ANAD) and dismissal from his role for simply trying to abide by the consequences of ANAD’s non-compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code (Code),” the statement said.

World Aquatics confirmed that Mohamed Zribi, who was appointed as the organization’s president last week by the Tunisian Ministry of Youth and Sports, would act as chair and Maha Zaoui as the point of contact for the interim organization, with Chaker Belhaj, and Said Ouenzerfi also acting as board members.