Or why British Swimming needs to stop making excuses and embrace social media. And pronto.
At the weekend, I took the family to watch the British Swimming Championships at the truly wonderful London Aquatics Centre. This event also doubled as the trials for this year’s swimming World Championships in Kazan, Russia and the European Youth Olympic Festival in Tbilisi, Georgia. It was a lovely afternoon out watching some of the best of British talent – these people really are among the most accomplished athletes on the planet.
If the quality on display was anything to go by then the long term future looks much brighter for British Swimming than it did after the disappointment of the 2012 Olympics. But if you ask the average man or woman on the street to name a current British swimmer I could pretty much guarantee they would struggle to name a single person. That’s despite the fact that swimming remains the biggest mass participation sport in the UK!
So why is this? It is in part because the officials who run British Swimming have done absolutely NOTHING it seems to me to bring these athletes to the public’s attention. In fact it seems they are actively discouraging the general public from finding out about them.
Take Adam Peaty, undoubtedly the most successful British swimmer on the planet right now. Last week he broke the World Record in the 100m Breaststroke, becoming the first man IN THE WORLD to swim 100m Breaststroke in under 58 seconds. To put this in context Duncan Goodhew – perhaps our most famous living swimmer – won the Olympic Gold in 1980 in the same event in a time of 1:03.34.
So you would assume that in this day and age you would have been able to watch the race live at least somewhere – if not on a digital TV channel, at least on the British Swimming website. Nope. Not at all. Instead the only half decent footage you could see of the event was uploaded on behalf of rival swimmer Ross Murdoch who came second in the same event, as well as some people in the audience who filmed part of it, illicitly, on their mobile phones.
Only 24 hours later did British Swimming finally cave into pressure from social media and upload the footage onto their own YouTube channel. Of course this didn’t stop specialist blogs and websites across the world like SwimSwam from having their opinion on the race. But most were commenting on the unofficial footage in the absence of the official video.
Imagine if Usain Bolt broke the 100m sprint record and the IAAF only released the footage 24 hours later? What’s more, three days after the championships ended, the Adam Peaty world record swim remains the only bit of actual race footage from the British Swimming Champs.
Embrace social media
However, British Swimming’s inability to stream the races on its own website (something that seems relatively simple and low cost in this day and age), let alone sell them to a broadcaster, isn’t just the organisation’s only failing in giving the sport the profile which it truly deserves. (And the reason why superstars like Adam Peaty remain unheard of outside of select swimming circles. After being shortlisted by Rebecca Adlington in the recent BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards Peaty finished last with one tenth the number of votes of third placed Jo Pavey and under half the number of votes of Lizzy Yarnold, Skeleton Bobsleigher).
We must also look at the organisation’s chronic failure to understand the benefits of social media and the way it hides behind mostly spurious concerns of its dangers in order to stick its head in the sand and do nothing.
This was brought home to me the week before the event started when I received an advisory note from Ticketmaster on behalf of British Swimming. It was a very confusing document indeed. On the one hand, it was encouraging people to use the #BSC15 hashtag to promote the event on social media. All well and good. On the other hand it talked about its concern about the ‘new wave of camera phones’. These are the ‘new wave’ of camera phones that were first introduced in 2001 when many of the current swimmers were still toddlers.
Nowhere on the advisory did it say you couldn’t take photos or video at the event. However, when I started taking pictures of my son and his friends with the pool in the background, I was informed by a steward that I needed to stop and go back to the entrance to get a special band with the word ‘Photos’ scribbled on it in marker pen. I also had to sign a form to say that I would only photograph my son or daughter and not any of the athletes taking part – imagine having the same restrictions at an athletics meet or even a football match!
Other swimming fans, including children, who were taking pictures on their camera phones of Hannah Miley on the podium getting her gold medal for winning the 400IM were also forbidden from doing so by the stewards. How does that help fans spread the word about swimming and increase the profile of these great athletes? In short, it doesn’t.
At this point, no doubt some people will say ‘ah yes but at the British Champs there were minors taking part in the and we need to protect them’. I agree. But does anyone honestly think that filming in a swimming pool from a remote spectators’ area at a venue like the London Aquatic Centre with a camera phone provides any real risk to them?
In my experience as a lifeguard the biggest risk to children is inside the changing rooms (particularly the toilets) and the pool itself where, worryingly, it’s now possible to get cameras small enough to fit inside a pair of goggles.
The problem is that all too often the evils of social media are blown up out of all proportion and used as an excuse to preserve a comfy status quo by people who don’t understand technology, rather than embrace change. At leisure centres therefore the knee jerk reaction is to ban all forms of electronic equipment, rather than banning photography in sensitive areas – ie in the pool, changing rooms and areas at the side of the pool close to the swimmers.
What’s needed is a common sense approach where at national events people are positively encouraged to share their experiences – both images and video – on social media. Only then will some of the greatest and most dedicated athletes on the planet get the recognition they truly deserve.
Ironically it was only the recordings of a few swimming enthusiasts which ensured that Adam Peaty’s legendary record breaking swim was seen by the public via social media until British Swimming bowed to pressure on Facebook and Twitter and finally put the video up on YouTube.