Trouble Eventually Finds You

By David

Fortunately most swim meets pass by quietly and without incident. Occasionally though some event occurs that is frustrating, annoying and even distressing. When this does happen, I seldom see it coming. All of a sudden a peaceful, enjoyable swim meet is transferred into a battle ground of accusation and conflict. I would argue that my involvement on these occasions is almost always in response to the actions of others. I can seldom recall actually initiating conflict.

Normally a peaceful afternoon’s sport is shattered by someone, usually a zealous swimming official, deciding to have a crack at one of my swimmers. A few years ago, an incident with Auckland official, Jo Davidson, was a classic example. Davidson dragged two National Championship referees down to the West Wave Pool’s underwater viewing windows. She instructed them to watch my daughter, Jane, swim in the 200 meter breaststroke heats. “Watch this,” she said, “this is what you will disqualify her for in tonight’s final.”

I protested of course. Jo Davidson was sadder but probably no wiser and Jane won the 200 breaststroke final without being disqualified. After her outrageous behaviour, the fact that Davidson continued to have a stellar career as a national and international swimming official reflected nothing but abject shame on Swimming New Zealand. It’s hard to respect an organization that promotes an official guilty of that conduct. Christian Renford’s pleas for integrity and honesty sound pretty hollow when one of his officials cheats and gets rewarded.

My protest at the depth of the Kilbirnie Pool was an exception. In that case it was most certainly my initiative that caused the storm clouds to gather. At its shallow end the Kilbirnie Pool does not comply with the minimum depth required by FINA Rules. In fact the pool is bloody dangerous. Along with my $50 filing fee, I lost the protest. However, shortly after the Championships, Swimming New Zealand received a rap over the knuckles from FINA. Events, FINA said, held in the Kilbirnie Pool ran the risk of not being recognized by the world governing body. FINA’s judgement made the officials that discarded my protest look stupid.

In association with the Wellington City Council, and at a cost of what I’ve been told was $250,000, Swimming New Zealand altered the Kilbirnie Pool so that competitions could be held at the deep end of the main pool. I might have lost my $50 but New Zealand swimmers were safe. At the next short course National Championships the races all began at the deep end of the Wellington Pool. FINA’s rules had been satisfied in full. The risk of broken necks, grazed torsos, black eyes and worse had been eliminated.

Of course I did not get any thanks for initiating the change. Quite the contrary in fact. Chris Moller and Sue Suckling, the authors of the 2012 Swimming New Zealand founding document, called me and interrogated my motives. For thirty minutes Perry Moller Mason tried to prove that my Kilbirnie Pool protest was frivolous; founded solely on a need to cause trouble; a baseless distraction; proof that I was a malcontent hell bent on causing harm. I thought Moller was pathetically ignorant. If he got a kick out of questioning my motives; if he thought the history of my protest was more important that the safety of New Zealand swimmers, he was stupid and of no concern to me. Wellington was having to pay $250,000 to provide a safe pool and that was fine by me.

Or at least that’s what I thought until tonight.

Unbeknown to me the idiots that run Swimming New Zealand and the Wellington Swimming Region continued to run local meets from the pool’s shallow end. I told them it was wrong. FINA told them it was wrong. But when we weren’t there, when our backs were turned they used the shallow end of the pool anyway. The deep end was reserved for the National Championships when the troublemakers were in town. These people are disgusting. Genuine safety concerns were either neglected or by-passed in their obsession to prove me wrong.

Well last week their chickens came home to roost. You see last weekend the Wellington Short Course Championships were held in the shallow end of the Kilbirnie Pool. I understand one club had four swimmers hit the bottom of the pool. One of them, an eleven year old girl, had her front teeth smashed out – gone, her teeth lying on the tiles at the shallow end of the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre.  Wellington City Council, Renford, Moller and Layton take note – I paid $50 to warn you that competitive swimmers diving into the shallow end of your pool was dangerous and you let the Wellington Swimming Region do it anyway. In my view, that’s criminal neglect. And I hope you are made to pay in full measure. Another one of the injured, a ten year old girl, grazed her face during the start of a 200 meter breaststroke race. She swam on to achieve an eighteen second personal best time. Instead of delight, she burst into tears that mixed with her cuts and blood. She hadn’t stopped because she thought her coach and family would be disappointed.

Apart from writing this article to highlight the disgraceful management of New Zealand swimming, I feel powerless to do anything that holds the guilty accountable. I might go to the Small Claims Tribunal and seek the return of my $50 protest fee. Clearly my protest was valid. The changes made to the Wellington pool prove that. But even if I lose; even if the Tribunal rules that Swimming New Zealand can keep my $50, the publicity involved in taking Swimming New Zealand to court may prevent another smashed mouth, another disfigured face. It may also provide guidance on what recourse the harmed have from the Wellington City Council and Swimming New Zealand. Renford, Miskimmin and Layton are at the top. The buck for a little girls teeth and another’s scarred face stops with them.

  • Jane_Copland

    Wow, I hope the families of the injured swimmers sue. That’s appalling, especially as they’d been publicly warned.

    The University of Washington pool was too shallow from the diving end. We swam there once a year – it was our biggest inter-collegiate rivalry. I grazed my feet on the bottom in a breaststroke start in the dolphin kick. It was right after the kick became legal in 2005 and it was a bit of a wake-up call about how breaststroke starts had changed! Of course, NCAA meets aren’t obliged to adhere to FINA regulations (another notable exception is that you won’t be disqualified for kicking on your front in a backstroke turn), but I never understood why they didn’t start the meets from the deep end. It was super dangerous.

    I assume they’re going to face consequences for this?

  • David

    When I wrote this story I couldn’t remember the name of the person who turned down my protest. But I’ve found it now. His name was Meehan. I hope he’s pleased with himself this morning. He should be made to crawl across the floor of the Kilbirnie Pool picking up that little girl’s teeth. People like him have no place in a swimming pool. Get the hell out of this sport.

  • swimsafe

    I suspect Swim Wellington along with other clubs and regions have no child safety policy. There is no mandate to put children ahead of profit. Apparently to start from the deep end of the pool costs a couple of thousand dollars in reconfiguring the pool (or that’s what they say). Which does not sound much if you consider the huge costs due to a permanent neck injury but may be a lot when there are 10 meets there a year. There are many reasons clubs/parents/committees/coaches don’t speak up when swimmers are at risk of injury or are injured: money, fear or falling out with regions, fear of falling out with councils, fear of damaging their own relationships with pool staff/ coaches/ clubs/ committees. Unfortunately none of these reasons keep swimmers and children safe. Many of the pools all over NZ are too shallow for diving by safety standards and certainly many other pools in the Wellington area are far too shallow and some have blocks at the shallow end. What happens to those competitions scheduled in those pools? There are no easy answers but to wait until a child suffers a permanent injury before deciding to make changes; I doubt any parent would ever understand that decision.

  • David

    swimsafe. Thank you for your comments. I agree with you in every respect. It is a problem. However the money or fear of loosing friends should never get in the way of broken teeth or necks. In that regard it is relevant to report that Swimming Auckland have adopted a comprehensive Child Protection Policy. I understand that policy has also been adopted by Bay of Plenty – so the gospel is spreading. Certainly Wellington and SNZ are remiss in not having a policy covering child protection in place. However SNZ do have a Code of Ethics and their cold blooded decision to put their profit ahead of their members health and well-being breeches just about every clause in their own rules. On that basis alone Renford should offer the Board of SNZ his resignation. And the boss of Wellington Swimming and Meehan should leave immediately. The frst decision of those who are left should be to ring Brian Palmer for a copy of Auckland’s Child Protection rules to make sure their organization has a proper set of priorities. I’m sure Brian would be pleased to help.

  • Fish out of water

    Will NZ short course champs also be held in the shallow end
    this year?
    My understanding was that last year’s deep end hosting was an
    exception because the meet was the qualifying event for World Short Course

  • David

    OMG Fish out of water – is that right. I’m emailing SNZ and Wellington Swimming tonight to find out. Parents have the right to know beforehand if the owners of the sport are going to put New Zealand children at risk of physical injury. I have the right to know whether it is worthwhile seeking an injunction to have to meet moved.

  • David

    Just got this from SNZ –
    RE: NZ SC Nationals

    Hide Details

    From Kent Stead

    To David Wright

    Hi David,

    New Zealand Short Course will be held in the dive well (deep) end of the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre.



  • Swim safe
    the latest in the teeth saga. Wow now the cost by SW has gone to $10 000 to change configuration of the pool. No way of verifying that of course.