In Their Own Words

Four years ago, at the New Zealand Short Course Nationals, I submitted a protest about the decision to start races from the shallow end of the Kilbirnie Pool. I pointed out that the depth of the pool was below the minimum required by FINA Rules. The protest was declined. I was just making trouble, they said. There was no problem with the pool depth.

A few months later the question of the depth of the Kilbirnie Pool came up again when a swimmer from the Raumati Club was hurt diving into the pool. I wrote another Swimwatch article asking how serious an injury had to be before Swimming New Zealand would act to protect its members. Of course there was no response from Antares Place.

And then in 2014 Lauren Boyle broke the world short course 1500 meter record in the Kilbirnie Pool and Swimming New Zealand signed a record application form confirming that the pool complied with all FINA minimum standards. Clearly that was not true. The record was fine. Boyle received no advantage from swimming in a shallow pool; in fact probably the opposite. It would have been so easy for Swimming New Zealand to tell the truth and add a note explaining that the swimmer received no advantage. The record would have been ratified and Swimming New Zealand would have been honest. Instead Swimming New Zealand went with the lie.

Clearly the argument was a thorn in the Chairman of Swimming New Zealand, Brent Layton’s side. In the 2015 Swimming New Zealand Annual Report this is what he said.   

“A lowlight was the attempt by bloggers and media commentators to discredit Lauren’s 1500m freestyle record by claiming the pool was too shallow. The FINA handbook is clear. For the conduct of the Olympics and World Championships the minimum depth is a rule that must be observed. For the conduct of other FINA meets, like the Oceania Championships, the minimum depth is a requirement, unless FINA provides a dispensation. In all other instances, the minimum depth is a guideline and not a rule. Guidelines are not obligations, they are recommendations. The credibility the opinions of these bloggers deserve is clear; absolutely none.”

The blogger he refers to was me and the media commentator was Craig Lord a journalist for The Times in London. Of course what Layton said was nonsense. No one was attempting to discredit Boyle’s record. We were just trying to get Swimming New Zealand to tell the truth – and look seriously at the dangers involved in diving into the shallow end of the Kilbirnie Pool. As Swimwatch said at the time if complaining about the signature of Boyle’s record saved one serious injury then the complaint had merit.

But our efforts were in vain. Instead of addressing the problem Swimming New Zealand blamed us – “The credibility the opinions of these bloggers deserve is clear; absolutely none.” Well we now know that’s not quite right.  

Because you see a month ago Swimming New Zealand 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. We were right all along. It is bloody sad that it took four years, a change in the law and a tirade of personal abuse aimed at people like me before Swimming New Zealand decided to protect the health and safety of its members. With the publication of this policy Brent Layton’s opinions and management of this issue have been shown to have no credibility. I guess it’s too much to expect an email apology and the return of my protest fee. After all Swimming New Zealand have now confirmed the protest was lawful and binding.

These events highlight an issue relevant to the current management of swimming in New Zealand. We have witnessed decisions being taken and statements being made that are now proven to be flat-out wrong. Layton and Renford made bad decisions. There replacements today do no better. Which is why the structure of Swimming New Zealand has to change from a compromised autocratic elite form of governance to a regional federal democracy. Federal management would have never have allowed the Kilbirnie Pool error to continue for this long; would never have demonstrated the arrogance that prompted a hard earned world record to be ratified by telling an senseless lie.     

PS On the 2 September the Wellington Short Course Championships will be held in the Kilbirnie Pool. It will be interesting to see which end of the pool they chose – shallow or deep?        


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