Veteran swimmers say they have been prevented from taking part in today's cross-harbour swim because organisers defined the oldest qualifying age category differently from the sport's world governing body.
The swimmers, in their 60s and 70s, are frustrated that the Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association had imposed 50 as the minimum age in the oldest category for men and women participants. The association falls under the oversight of the Swiss-based International Federation of Swimming (Fina), which states that masters swimming age categories can go up to 80 years old.
They say there should have also been categories for over-60 and over-70. Ian Polson, 67, who has been competing in open water races in the city for years, said trying to qualify in the 50 and over category would put him at a great disadvantage.
"It's hugely discriminatory to elderly swimmers," he said. "What chances do I have of qualifying for the event if I'm up against swimmers nearly 20 years younger than me?"
The cross-harbour swim caps the number of competitors at 1,800 based on eligibility - those who took part this year in local official open water competitions, and swimmers' performances at time trials held last month.
Organisers said the decision was an improvement on last year, when there was no dedicated category for more mature swimmers. This meant they had to compete with a much bigger pool of younger swimmers.
"To encourage more participation from senior members of the public, new categories for swimmers aged 50 and older was introduced," a spokeswoman said. "But we still have to use quotas [in each age category] as the waterways must be cleared to allow for marine traffic."
Open water swimmer Lloyd McBean, 60, said the categories were "contradictory" to Fina regulations. Another veteran, a 70-year-old woman, said: "Lumping together senior swimmers was a simple way of excluding elderly competitors."
Organisers said race categories were announced long before the time trials were held, and were not altered after a 58-year-old swimmer died last month at Tung Chung Swimming Pool.
The man was trying to finish 1,500 metres within 45 minutes during a time trial to qualify for the cross-harbour swim. Witnesses said he was 100 metres from finishing when he stopped.
The cross-harbour swim, begun in 1906, was held last year for the first time in 33 years after it was suspended because of harbour pollution.