Forty Seven Fifty Seven Fifty Eight One Hundred

By David

Swimming New Zealand is forever boasting about the number of people involved in their sport. This is how their website trumpets the popularity of swimming.

Swimming is New Zealand’s third most popular recreational activity with 34.8 percent e.g. 1,139,812 New Zealanders choosing swimming as their preferred activity (SPARC 2007/8 Active New Zealand Survey). New Zealanders swim for a variety of reasons including sport, recreation, and health benefits.

Two thoughts occurred to me when I first read that comment. I wonder what activities are more popular? Sex perhaps – certainly meets the recreation and health benefits test. Durex tells me New Zealanders are getting plenty, having sex an average 122 times a year. Unlike swimming we even outperform the Australians. They have sex only 106 times a year. So take note Bill Sweetenham. We have applied for Miskimmin to fund a first class air ticket for the national coach in what we’re good at to visit Australia with some drills that might help you and your nation. As an American expert on the subject reported, “You’ll definitely have more enjoyable sex if you don’t have to worry about getting fatigued or pulling something.” Anyone who struggles to find that funny is in need of serious help. Appropriately, those that live in the home of the Olympic movement, Greece, are the world’s leading sexual athletes. They average 164 repetitions a year. I suspect Peter Miskimmin’s heart would burst with pride if his organization could encourage New Zealanders to emulate this Hellenic level of athletic performance.

Sex was not on the Sport New Zealand participation list. Walking (64.1%) and gardening (43.1%) are the activities ranked ahead of swimming. Mind you, gardening in New Zealand can have its moments. For quite a few years my mother was the editor of the women’s pages of New Zealand’s popular farming newspaper, Straight Furrow. She received frequent articles from rural New Zealanders on subjects of interest to farming wives. My dear mother was a fairly liberal woman but did wonder what she was about to read when she opened one Wairarapa lady’s offering titled, “Propagation Can Be Fun”. My mother published the item but added “plant” to the title.

Of course, the problem with the prominent publication of the participation statement on the Swimming New Zealand website is that it gives the impression that 1,139,812 New Zealanders are participating in Swimming New Zealand’s core activity. And that’s simply not true. It’s spin verging on a lie. In 2012 there were 6200 registered competitive swimmers in New Zealand. That’s 1,133,612 less than the number that leads the Swimming New Zealand website.

For those of us who live in Auckland, the divide between those that visit a pool to bomb and play and those who swim to prepare for competition has been brought into some prominence. When Len Brown was running for Mayor of the new Auckland super city he promised to provide free swimming for young people sixteen years and under. Four weeks ago Mayor Len Brown delivered on that promise. The effect at the pool we use has been most interesting.

For those readers who have never been to the West Wave Pool in Henderson, it is a facility of two halves. The older portion was built in 1989 for the Commonwealth Games and is a good, but pretty standard, eight lane 50 meter pool, usually divided by a bulkhead into two 25 meter lap pools. As a competitive swim team all our swimming takes place in this area of the West Wave complex. Alongside the main pool are a 22 meter diving pool and two smaller learn-to-swim shallow pools. The new portion of the complex is less utilitarian, more interesting and pretty well exclusively devoted to recreation. There is a substantial, 25 meter wide wave pool, numerous spa pools, a sauna, a steam room, lots of fountains, a water-wall and an impressive waterslide. It may be a slight exaggeration but one half of West Wave is for play and recreation and the other half is for learn-to-swim, competition racing, training and other fitness activities, diving and water polo.

The effect of the policy to provide free swimming has starkly reflected the facility’s bricks and mortar. In the portion we use there appears to have been little change. The same number of people aqua-jog, swim for fitness, train to beat Camille Muffat, learn to swim, play water polo or join an aqua aerobics’ class. The recreational side however is incredible. In all the years, in all the pools I’ve worked in, I have never seen anything like it. Since the introduction of free swimming, every day the recreational pool’s capacity of 350 patrons is exceeded. Every day there are queues of swimmers, stretching through the foyer and out the doors, waiting to get in. No one could feel anything but colossal sympathy for the reception staff and lifeguards struggling to control the sea of humanity that uses the West Wave recreational pools these days.

One does wonder what these people did before Len Brown said they could come to West Wave and swim for free. Two days ago a young woman was breastfeeding her child in the wave pool. An attentive lifeguard kindly suggested that she may be more comfortable using the chairs and tables beside the pool. Noticing that the woman looked very young – West Wave have a sixteen years old supervision policy – the lifeguard asked the mother’s age. She was fifteen.

I agree with Len Brown’s free swimming policy. With all its problems I think the Auckland Mayor is right. The liberal, aquatic animal in me supports the intention behind providing swimming for free. In time maybe we will see some of those who came to the pool to play, added to the numbers using the other half of the West Wave facility. I hope so. There has always been a part of me that dreams that a small child brought to the West Wave pool by her very young mother may one day be another Camille Muffat, Olympic Champion. Who knows?

Certainly it is fine for Sport New Zealand to include West Wave’s new patrons in their numbers of people swimming. It is not right for Swimming New Zealand to jump on that bandwagon. Only when the West Wave pool’s new patrons begin to use the services offered in the “main pool” will that be appropriate. And therein lies the challenge that Mayor Brown has delivered to those of us who use the other half of his swimming pool. Are we good enough to provide something of interest to those who first came to the pool, just because it was free? Can we provide a baby that was once breast fed in the West Wave recreational pool with the chance to explore her swimming talent? If we are anything at all, we should be able to do that. Time will tell.

This item has had a lot to do with numbers. But remember this – figures can’t lie but liars can figure. The truth of that is told in the title to this story.