Hear the Wild Dingos Call

By David

Some of you may recall that two or three weeks ago, Swimwatch published a story about one of our swimmers who was disqualified in the High School Regional Championships. Quite unbelievably, at yesterday’s Gold Coast Winter Championships, this swimmer found herself again embroiled in controversy. It’s unbelievable because on this earth ,you would struggle to find a nicer, less controversial figure than this particular swimmer.

Here’s what happened: The 500 yard freestyle events were swum as timed finals. With the exception of the fastest heat in each age group, all the heats were swum in the morning. On the morning heat sheets however, the evening’s fastest heats were included. I did not read the fine print and assumed our swimmer had plenty of time before her swim, only to discover that the swims shown before hers were all night swims and she had missed her heat.

A mother from our team approached the timekeeper in the swimmer’s lane and learned why the race appeared to have been swum so early. Our mother said a woman sitting next to the timekeeper had been adamant; our swimmer was at fault and would not be able to swim in a later heat. Realizing such decisions are not the responsibility of the timekeeper’s friends, I approached the referee. I’ve dealt with him before. He’s a doctor and is fair, impartial and honest – just the standard of official one has come to expect in the United States.

He said he understood the confusion, thought it was fair and would include our swimmer in a spare lane in the event’s last heat. We shook hands, I thanked him and left feeling good about the standard of American officials. There is many a country around the world where what he’d done would never have been considered. In the best interest of a swimmer this man had done what was just. He had prevented a 16 year old from having the sort of experience that, repeated a few times, could drive her from the sport. A thankful girl swam in the last heat and we thought no more of it.

Six hours later I pulled into the pool parking lot for the evening finals. As I climbed from the car the pool’s loudspeaker demanded, “Would the coach of Aqua Crest come to the official’s table.” There I met the “timekeeper’s friend” who had spoken to our mother in the morning. She said she was the Chairman of the Florida Gold Coast Official’s Committee even though the website says that is still Jay Thomas’ job.

She said she wanted to make several points;

  1. She was not going to disqualify our swimmer from the morning’s race. She implied that she could, which was ridiculous. Even if she’d wanted to, I doubt that disqualifying someone six hours later for something the referee had approved would stand rule book analysis. An empty threat like that does nothing for the accuser’s credibility.
  1. She said I had been dishonest by going behind her back and approaching the referee. I guess I was supposed to know she was someone important, but I didn’t. No one went behind anyone’s back. I spoke to the referee without any thought for what an unknown “timekeeper’s friend” had told one of our mothers. Being accused of dishonesty was insulting and unnecessary.
  1. Accepting she was not the sort of person I have much in common with, I decided to leave. I told her the conversation was over and backed away. She put her hand on my arm in an action I felt was designed to stop me leaving. I told her to let me go, I did not appreciate her message or its delivery.

The next morning, our timekeeper’s friend had another meeting arranged, this time with the local coach and a policeman. A policeman. Yes, seriously.

Ironically the coach and the policeman said they wanted peace. “Not half as much as I do,” I said. “Both the last two meetings were unnecessary and had not been called by me. Keep that woman away from me!”

Her behavior was unacceptable. There was no need to bring up again something that had been well and properly resolved on the morning of the first day. God knows what motive prompted her to embark on her ill-advised odyssey. If she had a problem she should have addressed it with the referee who came to the aid of our swimmer. In the end she seemed to realize that, and apologized. Because she apologized, presumably she was aware she had done something wrong.

However, some things go beyond an apology. What she did requires addressing and censure. It is common, in cases such as this, for Swimwatch to receive comments about how officials are volunteers, donating their time to the sport. All that is true. Swimwatch has commented on many outstanding examples of officials at work, especially in the United States. In no way does that mean the actions of officials are above critical analysis. Identifying one example of bad officiating is not an attack on all officials. It is simply saying this one did bad and should be told that