So appealing is the opportunity to race in the competition pool at the London Aquatics Centre that entries for the Arena European Masters Championships, 25-29 May, sold out in two days last month.
A massive tick for London’s 2012 legacy, 14,000 opportunities to compete in the Olympic competition pool were snapped up, leaving many with the conundrum of having flights and accommodation booked, but no entry into the Championships.
LEN, the European governing body, responded to pressure by reopening entries with no upper limit on numbers, and they rapidly doubled. Racing will now take place in the training pool, which was not designed for competition and has zero spectator provision. Warm ups and swim downs can’t be offered and only a ‘very limited’ number of spectators will get into the Aquatics Centre.
Masters swimmers from across Europe have become so infuriated by organisational blunders that lawyers have been called in with just over two months until the start of the Championships.
Many are disheartened and have asked for a full refund, something that would seem to help solve some of the problems. LEN has refused this in line with Regulation MA-G 2.8. However, other regulations, such as the number of events each person can take part in, have been changed, although not appropriately communicated.
Swimmers could initially enter five events each, as is normal at championship events. However, the LEN Bureau has approved a change to provide for a maximum of three events per swimmer to facilitate ‘maximum opportunity’ for participation.
According to the recently amended FAQ on the event website, those that do not withdraw by 15 March will see ‘LEN selecting the events to be withdrawn on your behalf.’
Masters swimming is about fun and friendship, and everyone who met the qualification standards for this event and paid their entry fee has a right to be there. However, at a championship event that gives out medals it is a shame that some record holders and champions will now not be able to compete in the events they originally entered, despite being in London.
The issue here has been the failure to recognise the level of interest and not to mitigate for it. The qualifying times were too easy, and there is no reliable system for checking times; the annual European rankings lists are fraught with errors and are not extensive enough. The result is a large bank deposit to LEN, and an event that will not live up to the expectations of competitors.
This event has demonstrated that an engaging offering at the right time of year can inspire swimmers to train more, even come out of retirement to take part. The FINA World Championships in Kazan had underwhelming numbers, but Masters events are selling out in Britain as swimmers prepare for the Europeans.
Keeping them involved and inspired is the next challenge, and ensuring that the provision is engaging and fit for purpose. Masters swimming cannot afford to become exclusive by cost or opportunity, but the governing bodies that represent masters swimmers should review every aspect of success and failure from the Arena European Masters Championships to ensure that this scenario cannot not happen again, especially with the FINA World Championships in Budapest likely to be popular next summer.