Tell A Lie Frequently And It Will Be Believed

By David

The title of this story is a modified quote from history’s worst liar. I was reminded of it when I read an article by Jonathan Millmow about the depth of the Kilbirnie Pool. Not that Jonathan Millmow is a liar. Certainly not. However the stuff he has been told by Swimming Wellington operations manager, Henrietta Latham, needs to be examined.

For example Latham told Millmow:

“For international competition pools must be a minimum of 1.35m deep out to 6m, according to world swimming body Fina. Kilbirnie was 1.25m for the Wellington short course champs, however it was not operating illegally because it was only a provincial meet.”

And that’s simply not true. FINA rules and SNZ Rules specify three different types of pools;

  1. Olympic Standard Pools – that’s pools used for Olympic Games and World Championships.
  2. General Standard Pools – that’s pools used for other FINA events such as Pan Pacific Games and Oceania Championships.
  3. Minimum Standard Pools – that’s all other events held under FINA rules.

Kilbirnie is a “Minimum Standard Pool”. Events held there, whether it is the National Short Course Championship or a Provincial Championship or the Lyall Bay Chocolate Fish Carnival are held under Swimming New Zealand and FINA Rules. According to FINA and SNZ Rule FR 1.3 that means the National Short Course Championships, the Wellington Provincial Championships and the Chocolate Fish event “should be conducted in pools that comply with all of the minimum standards contained in this Part.”

And one of the minimum standards (FR 2.3) contained in this part refers to depth and says;

“A minimum depth of 1.35 meters, extending from 1.0 metre to at least 6.0 metres from the end wall is required for pools with starting blocks. A minimum depth of 1.0 metre is required elsewhere.”

With that as the rules what are we to make of Latham’s assertion to Millmow? “The pool is not illegal. The facts are, it’s not too shallow.” Well Ms Latham it seems that FINA and SNZ rules do not agree with you. The pool is illegal and it is too shallow – no matter how frequently you say otherwise we do not believe you. In fact we think you have misled a leading New Zealand journalist. We think you are covering up misconduct by the swimming region you represent.

Quite unbelievably Latham goes on to tell Millmow, “We’ve run events at this pool for 15-18 years without an injury.” Now that’s not true either. I have no idea how long Latham has been involved in Wellington swimming but I’ve had swimmers competing there since the pool was built and frequently they have scraped their knees and tummies on the bottom of the Kilbirnie pool. Nothing as serious as lost teeth but certainly damage that satisfies the definition of “injury”. Always my swimmers have had to adjust their dive to a shallower and slower version to accommodate Kilbirnie’s dangerous and illegal depth.

Jon Winter, coach of the swimmer hurt in this incident, trained at the Kilbirnie pool for years after it was first built. He is reported as saying he “felt it was an exaggeration to say there hadn’t been injuries over the years at Kilbirnie.” Even Gary Hurring, a coach known for choosing his words with huge political care, is reported as saying, there have been few incidents.” So I’m afraid, Ms Latham, the three coaches who, in one capacity or another, were working at the Kilbirnie Pool when it was first built do not agree with you.

The misinformation given to Millmow is compounded by, what appears to be an attempt to transfer blame to the coaches of swimmers hurt at the Kilbirnie pool. She says, “Swimmer education would have avoided the problem. There were mistakes made on certain people’s behalf as well.” I think that comment by Latham is disgusting. How dare she try and excuse her sport’s negligent behaviour by shifting the blame onto good coaches. How dare she. All the education in the world will not make an unsafe pool, safe. I’ve coached national champions, world championship medallists and national representatives who have had bumps and bruises diving in that pool. Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte would have difficulty diving safely into the Kilbirnie pool. There is nothing wrong with their education. But there is plenty wrong with the shallow end of Ms Latham’s pool.

And the final indignity is Latham’s use of the money argument. This is what she told Millmow. “Shifting the booms around for the Wellington champs, would have cost $10,000, “It’s a very expensive exercise to turn the pool around.”

I must say I find the figure of $10,000 hard to believe. It might be true but I’d like to see a breakdown of Latham’s figure. But irrespective of the cost, what is the price of Emily Irving’s front teeth. What price does Latham and her Wellington Swimming Region mates put on her suffering? How can any responsible official compare money with the safety and health of those she is charged to protect? If a few scrapes and bruises don’t justify $10,000; if a lacerated face does not justify $10,000: if broken front teeth don’t justify $10,000 – then tell us Ms Latham what needs to happen before you and Swimming New Zealand will stop using the shallow end of this pool. A broken back – will that be enough? Or do you need a lifeless body lying on the bottom of your too shallow pool. Money is hardly the question. Raising it as an issue; using it as a justification, is beyond belief.

I actually think Millmow has done a good job. Without embellishment or exaggeration he has clearly reported Latham’s views. From that we can come to our own conclusions – and they are not good. We have the uncomfortable feeling that this might be a cover up; this could be administrators running for cover; this may be an effort to avoid an important responsibility.

Swimming New Zealand and Wellington Swimming change the Kilbirnie pool.