Cross-harbour race organisers were at fault for false start, not honest swimmers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 October, 2015, 4:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 October, 2015, 4:52pm

Unfortunately I was caught up in the arbitrary disqualification decision at Sunday's Amateur Swimming Association's cross-harbour swim.

As last year's 35 to 49 category women's champion, I was keen to participate in this elite event again.

Six race groups (300 people) started together. In open water with strong currents, that isn't just confusing and disorganised, it poses safety risks for swimmers.

I confess that at 47, my hearing isn't what it used to be. With a bathing cap pulled over my ears, treading water against a strong current and surrounded by 300 swimmers, I found the start totally confusing and I did not hear a starting horn. I didn't realise the race had started until those around me started racing. Early on, I swam directly past an official kayaker who made no indication that the start should be called back. In short, we had no idea we'd false started.

I love swimming, love the open water and love to race. I play by the rules and don't look for unfair advantages. Now I have been labelled, along with 47 other honest and elite swimmers of Hong Kong, as a cheater. Newspaper reports quoted an official as saying that "all" those who started early were disqualified. That is patently untrue. The majority in our group fell prey to the confusion and started early in error - not in dishonesty.

I started together with swimmers I know. Some of us were disqualified, others not. The official boat stopped one group of swimmers; others were left to proceed.

There was no coherent plan to deal with a false start, nor by extension any emergency or mass panic among the swimmers.

Those who finished before the official lead boat were disqualified. But other early starters who passed the lead boat along the course were not disqualified and were crowned champions.

Only the fastest early starters were disqualified (including past category champions, a past Hong Kong Olympian and well respected swimmers in the community).

The arbitrary decision was unfair and impugns the credibility of all the results.

There is no good remedy for what happened, but the association should shoulder the blame for a very poorly managed start and ensure that steps are taken to improve the safety and efficiency of the event.

Most importantly, it should apologise to the 48 swimmers whose reputations have been called into question.

Christena Maria Pazos, Mid-Levels