European Masters Championships – A Flawed Gem

The European Masters Swimming Championships took place last week in London, hosted at the same Olympic Aquatic Centre that only the week before had seen the elite European championships take place. But whereas those championships had sparkled like a diamond, the masters’ equivalent was a deeply flawed gem.

It all started some time before when entries first opened, sold out to the maximum of 14,000 swims in around 48 hours and then were duly reopened to allow more swimmers in. The result of this about face from the organisers was a total of around 28,600 swims to be fitted into the same period of time as the original number. Cue the warm up pool being pressed into use as a second competition venue and the cutting of maximum event numbers from 5 to 3 per person. One’s viewpoint on these changes is perhaps largely influenced by whether entries were made in the original batch or as part of the top up, but the outcome was the same either way: approximately three times as many people swimming as originally intended.

Queuing was a significant issue
Queuing was a significant issue in London
But having made the decision to double the size of the meet it seemed that the organisers hadn’t then thought through how they were going to deal with so many people in enough detail, and in particular how they were going to manage flow through the pool buildings. On the training days, swimmers were left standing in queues to get into the pool which was “at capacity” only to be let in and find 27 people in the water, demonstrating inadequacies in the procedures that had been put in place. Those inadequacies were bought home on the first major of day of competition when the queues to get into the building were such that many swimmers were left stuck outside, unable to make it in for their races.

In fairness, lessons were learnt and by the third day of racing, things did improve. The queues outside were segregated into groups of heats so that entry was managed more in line with progress in the pool, but that still left many people sitting outside on the tarmac for considerable periods of time waiting to be let in for their swims. Given this was an inevitability, some thought as to how the queue could be protected, perhaps with temporary marquee, would not have been inconceivable. The weather was kind enough to prevent this becoming a bigger issue than it was. But even in the new improved queues all was still not well with communication still lacking in many areas. One group patiently queuing for their warm up on “Survival Saturday”, the day with the highest number of swims, were kept outside for nearly two hours past their allotted entry time, only to be told their warm up session had already finished by the time they got in. This lack of joined up thinking was symptomatic of the whole organisation, even in the build up to the meet. The strength of feeling amongst competitors is most eloquently captured in an open letter to LEN General Secretary David Sparkes from erstwhile chairman of the now disbanded British Masters Comittee, Verity Dobbie. Sparkes and LEN Masters Bureau chairman Simon Rothwell have since responded.

But credit where it is due. Once in the building the swimming side seemed to run with remarkable efficiency, and it was quite incredible how the poolside team of officials combined with their volunteer colleagues to get such a tremendous throughput of swimmers. The main pool generated a great buzz for all those lucky enough to swim in it, particularly during relay sessions, and the volunteers played a great part in keeping the event both running and to a large extent, fun. Even the security staff, faced with an unenviable task, were for the most part efficient and friendly in trying circumstances; they only did what they were asked to do and any failure was down to the process not the individuals.

And in spite of all the problems, there was much fast swimming, old friends were reunited, medals were won and for many the meet was a great experience. And that sums it up. Was it perfect? Far from it. But for all its faults, for most it was a flawed gem, but one they would not have missed.

8 thoughts on “European Masters Championships – A Flawed Gem”

  1. Fair words. I had a good time (though the less said about the totally unfair PCN and subsequent towing away of my car over a tiny little mistake the better).

    But they didn’t have make it hard for themselves. If you were english or at least had good grasp of english then the event would have been as good as it could be. Initially angry that we were being made to queue outside for ages when we could see lots of empty seats through the door way….you soon become understanding when they explain the building has a body count limit and its full; most of the bodies are down stairs waiting to swim.

    But try explaining that to a non-english speaker. I really felt for those guys because even to me the whole process of queuing to get in, queuing to change, multiple queues for warm up, queuing to get in the call room, queuing in the call room etc felt like it was on the verge of chaos. If I struggled to hear and understand what the man with the weak ass megaphone was barking, god help those whose english wasn’t so good.

    The call room for the 50 free really stressed me out. It was throbbing with nervous energy down there. Your 6th sense kinda tunes in on the fact people were on edge, present, but not really sure what was happening. The guy with the mega phone continually reeling off numbers and asking swimmers to come to the table with their lane number as well. I’m sorry but I bet a lot of guys there hadn’t a clue what he was asking.

    Grabbing some guys who could say numbers in french or german and perhaps know a few words like “heat” or “freestyle” wouldn’t have gone amiss.

    Fortunately for me I had heard what was going on on wed/thur by people down there. So I was prepared. I knew it would probably be best to bring skips and stretch cordz for dry warmups and arrive at the pool wearing some kind of swim kit just in case of getting caught short.

    Still the atmosphere for the relays was epic. Really enjoyed the buzz in the waiting area outside the changing rooms whilst waiting for the relays. Then the french chime in with a couple of renditions of their anthem. Great stuff. That night didn’t finish until nearly 1 am!

    The poolside operation was super slick though. I mean I would have at least liked a few more seconds to get me kit off at the blocks but the throughput they were managing was great.

  2. I have previously entered both European and World masters championships but this is the first time I have had to change into my race suit in a cafe toilet and take all my gear onto poolside for my race.
    Organisation characterised by a total disrespect for the master swimmers.
    Having said that, the technical officials and volunteers were brilliant and rescued the event from the organisational nightmare.

  3. This is well put- it was a rubbish meet horrendously organised but for those who took part they made the most of it and made it good for themselves DESPITE the organisation. The organisers can take absolutely NO credit for the people and volunteers making it work under extremely difficult circumstances.

  4. Organisation horrendous, no taking responsibility by those in control, but that does not surprise me. Attitude of swimmers and officials, excellent and, as mentioned above, made the best of a bad job. I felt for all the volunteers who were placed in totally unwarranted stressful situations to make it work for the athletes.

  5. I agree with the above comments, the meet was horrendous and I will seriously avoid another LEN event in future.
    I waited outside the competitors entrance for in excess of 2 hours for the 100 Fly after receiving panic text messages from friends trying to get into the preceding 50M Breaststroke.
    Ironically there was a temporary mini heatwave during this time and I managed to get some sun cream from a fellow swimmer.
    Once inside there was standing room only and another huge wait for a totally inadequate warm up with swimmers 3 abreast in some lanes with people diving in over the top of them.

    Due to the proposed timing of the event I decided to avoid having lunch, this was a huge mistake as I didn’t compete until approx 4 PM. The swim was a disaster nearly 2 seconds slower than my swim at the National Loncourse in Sheffield 1st April where I placed second.
    I later swam in a couple of relays and the 50 Fly which was slightly better organised the following day.
    When I saw there was over 200 heats of the 100 Free I decided to withdraw and watched some of it from the balcony. The swimmers that were in my session were corralled in the changing room area again for about another 1 1/2 hours. The start was adjacent to the diving pit with synchro in full swing. There was loud music, thundering drum rolls and all sorts of crashes and bangs. Most swimmers could not even hear the starter or the gun. Thankfully the normal strict rules were relaxed or there would have been some big arguments !
    We cancelled our final relay due to some members not being able to get the train home as the swim would have been about 12 midnight.

    I suppose once the initial flood gates were opened and thousands of hotel rooms and flights were booked the events fate was sealed.
    To say the demand was unprecedented was a complete lie. All previous Europeans have been over subscribed to a lesser degree. Anybody with half a brain predicted the demand hence the thousands of entries within 24 hours.
    I do believe the entry process should have been staged with faster entry times in the first instance. Once initial demand had been established a secondary less stringent entry time list could have been ‘calculated’ to a pre determined level.

    Having said all that I did enjoy some good company with my fellow team mates from my own squad and from many other clubs in the UK but the event in my opinion was not what it should have been. The poolside officials were very efficient and I must credit them for their stamina and overall high spirits.
    As with most high level failures though I’m sure the organisers made a fortune, manage to blame others, and will continue to strut around in their Blazers arrogantly confident that they know best.

  6. I looked forward to my first outing at these championships, especially as the British championships always seem to go very well.
    I knew the volume of people would be high, I knew there would be problems, but the queuing was ridiculous, although it did improve for my event on Friday. I would have liked to experience the main pool much much more, however all this aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the event on the whole.
    It would be beneficial however, if the people responsible for the issues and problems, stood up and acknowledged them. We all make mistakes, we all have to deal with unknowns, but what really counts is how in the aftermath, those responsible, work to put things right the next time and don’t treat the rest of us as if we are insignificant….we aren’t.

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