After several weeks of disquiet over the organisation of the European Masters Championships to be held in London at the end of May, things are set to come to a head over the next few days as final decisions are made over the format of the competition and who will get to swim which events. Entries will finally close on 15th March and the local organising committee along with LEN will then confirm how the event will run. Those organisers attracted criticism from all quarters when all 14,000 available swims for the event were snapped up in around 48 hours, leaving many people with flights and hotels, but no event entry.
Therein lie the three main causes for annoyance amongst prospective entrants. Firstly the event was advertised on a first come-first served basis, but many felt this was not clear enough, given that the closing date was also published as being in April. That meant only the organised and quick moving secured their places before the allocation of swims expired, but then the second and third grumbles arose. Why was it “only” 14,000 swims and why were the entry standards so lax?
On the entry numbers point, organisers hid behind the defence the most swims ever at this event was a little under 13,000 at the last edition in Eindhoven, but that number took over 6 weeks to be amassed. It’s clear that, as the first edition to be attached to the elite championships and with the lure of the Olympic pool in London, the event would be popular, so perhaps the demand could have been foreseen and managed better, whether with quicker entry times or a lower limit on entries per person. That said, to give some context, the ASA Masters Championships in Sheffield, the most popular meet on the calendar, last year attracted a little over 5,500 swims with more events and a higher number allowed per person, so the scale of demand perhaps was a genuine surprise.
As for qualifying times, they have always been relatively lax, but of course it’s not normally been an issue. Masters swimming is mainly about participation, so while some swimmers would come to London intent on winning a medal or being the best in Europe, the majority hoped only to get a race in the Olympic pool and to perhaps swim a PB. Complaints about the standards or about how the competition is somehow devalued, while understandable, do feel a little disingenuous despite the circumstances.
Not that the organising committee get off scot free; following the outpouring of discontent over the handling of the entries, they were reopened with no official cap on numbers, much to the disgust of those who had originally entered and who now faced the less than enticing prospect of racing in the warm up pool at the London Aquatic Centre, thereby robbing the championships of one of its main draws. It was also announced that the racing would now last from 7:30am to 10pm throwing many people’s travel arrangements into chaos as well, while warm up facilities are likely to be unavailable except for an hour at 6am. Advice was already suggesting that swimmers should be ready to warm up in another London pool before travelling to the London Aquatic Centre to race; that may now be a necessity.
Added to that, in order to try and control numbers, those who had entered 4 or 5 events were told they must reduce them to 3. An email was circulated “kindly requesting that all those who entered either four or five events during in the initial registration phase from February 8-10 reduce their entry to a maximum of three” and providing a link to do so. What it didn’t say, and which later appeared in a press release on the LEN website was that this was compulsory, and that it needed to be completed by 15th March or LEN would pick which events were dropped.
One swimmer caught up in this turn of events is British and European masters record holder Helen Gorman (also read her excellent blog on this issue) who is frustrated that her entries have been curtailed. “One of the events I’m dropping I hold the European record for, and I’m not the only one in that position” she said. “It devalues the concept of a championship, as does making us race in the training pool which has no spectators. It’s a shame it’s all such a mess instead of a showcase for the sport.”
So far so unsatisfactory for everyone hoping to swim. Many decided they just wouldn’t bother, but refunds have been refused in line with terms and conditions. Terms and conditions which LEN have been happy to change to cut people’s entries.
All is not lost, however; amidst legal threats, and even more complaint, LEN is reportedly meeting to consider the situation, with a possible reversal of the 3 entries rule and the ability to claim refunds apparently on the table. An announcement is expected early next week.
Perhaps organisers really were simply caught out by the popularity of the event. With the new desire to have events allied to the relevant elite competition, the world championships loom large in 2017 in Budapest, although the next Europeans head to Kranj in Slovenia for 2018, rather than to Glasgow where the elite championships take place. There are many lessons in entry management that need to be learnt quickly. If nothing else it seems certain that qualifying standards will be tougher next time round.