Hamilton Expediency or Principle?

In 1995 the New Zealand National Championships were held in Hamilton at the Te Rapa Pool. I was concerned about the location. At the time I was coaching New Zealand’s two fastest sprinters, Toni Jeffs and Nichola Chellingworth. Both swimmers were favourites to qualify for the Atlanta Pan Pacific Games team. Swimming New Zealand rules required the qualifying time to be swum in the Championship final. My concern was that the Te Rapa pool was so shallow (1.1m) that Toni and Nichola would have to seriously alter their start to a much slower shallow dive. Asking them to qualify in that pool was like asking a track sprinter to qualify running uphill along a muddy path.

I decided to protest the pool depth and ask for recent times done in deep pools to be accepted as qualifying swims. Within an hour my protest and request were both rejected by Swimming New Zealand. The injustice was distressing. I contacted my lawyer in Wellington. He suggested that we prepare a Court injunction ordering the Championships be stopped until a fair trial’s venue was found. I agreed. Papers were prepared and a court appointment on the afternoon before the beginning of the Nationals was arranged. I called Swimming New Zealand and explained that we had decided that a court should test the fairness of their decision. I told them my lawyer had advised that our injunction was likely to be successful. Two hours later I received a call from Swimming New Zealand. A very grumpy Board member told me that because of the pool depth issue, qualifying swims prior to the Championships would be eligible for Pan Pacific Games’ team selection.

Toni ended up not swimming in the Championship trials. On our way to the pool on the first morning of heats we were involved in a serious car accident. Toni was in Waikato Hospital with a cracked vertebra. Nichola missed the qualifying time in the 50m Championship final. However her swim two weeks before in winning the Australia Age Group title was fast enough and she was selected for the Pan Pacific team. Her speed plus the threat of the injunction had worked.

Now let’s wind forward 22 years to 2017. Swimming New Zealand have finally realised that diving into shallow swimming pools is dangerous and slow. Twenty two years too late they have published something titled “POSITION STATEMENT – DIVE ENTRIES”. In it the CEO of Swimming New Zealand says this.

With recent changes to the Health and Safety Act increasing the accountability on facility owners and operators to provide safe ‘workplaces’, an increased focus is being seen by swimming pool operators in relation to how swimmers are diving into pools for both competition and training.  This increased focus is particularly relevant to pools with shallow depths of less than 1.4m.”

The statement then publishes a list of minimum depths required for pools where swimmers dive. Interestingly the Te Rapa pool in Hamilton does not comply with Swimming New Zealand’s new rules. At both ends the pool is too shallow. At 1.15m the Swimming New Zealand rules tell me that only pool deck dives are allowed. What that means is that no starting block dives are allowed at either end of the Te Rapa pool.

That must be a concern to Swimming New Zealand because in four weeks on the 15 September 2015 the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships are scheduled to begin in the Te Rapa pool. It will be interesting to see whether Swimming New Zealand comply with their new rules and protect the health and safety of their members or hold the meet in Hamilton anyway. My bet is that expediency will win over principle. In the case of Swimming New Zealand it always does.

I’m picking the meet will go ahead as though the new rules had never been printed. And every one of the 3500 dives will be further evidence of the hypocrisy characteristic of the sport’s administration. They say stuff with no intention of following through; a confusion of empty words without substance or meaning. However should anyone be interested in testing their integrity I still have the injunction papers prepared 22 years ago for this very pool. Change a couple of dates and they are ready to go. My guess is the likely decision would be the same as it was 23 years ago. The buggers just never change.     

PS – There have been a number of claims and counter-claims about the depth of the Hamilton pool and the height of the starting blocks. I have been sent two photographs taken at the pool – one of the “glass-wall” 50m start end of the pool and the other showing a rugby player climbing out of the pool taken at the other 100m start end of the pool. These photographs clearly show signs advising that the pool depth is 1.15m at both ends of the pool. This is the evidence used to support the arguments advanced in this post. 

The 50m end of the Te Rapa pool, displaying the depth sign on the side of the pool.

Andrew Hore at Te Rapa, via Getty Images. The sign indicating depth is beside his left leg.


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