Swimming Gets the Media it Deserves: Not Great by Craig Lord, SwimVortex.com (2013)


Published


[introduction, by John Leonard]

All right.  Good morning everyone.  If we are ready, it is my pleasure this morning to introduce both a personal friend and a professional friend.  Craig Lord in my opinion is one of the, if not the, best-informed, most-educated journalist in all of Swimming about our sport.  He has lived the sport his entire life.  Craig was a swimmer before he became a journalist, and he was a journalist before he became a Swimming writer.  He is currently a sports writer and a Swimming correspondent for The Times in London and The Sunday Times in London.  He is the founder and editor of swimvortex.com, which is the sequel to his work with the great Nick Thierry at Swim News who passed away in the past twelve months.  Craig’s dad was a coach, and he’s one of the best swimming teachers that people have known.  He had international swimmers as well: Neil Cochran, certainly, two bronzes in L.A. in 1984.  So his dad was very, very involved his whole life in Swimming.  And when Craig was a young man, he met a gentleman that some of you I am sure have heard about by the name of Forbes Carlile, who might be the most famous Swimming coach alive in the world today.

And Craig says that when he met Forbes in London, he was 8 years old.  And I am going to quote from Craig now:

His enthusiasm was inspiring.  He not only signed my autograph book, but asked me if I swam, how often, what I liked about it, who I had spotted around the pool, who I could name at a glance, and told me to read everything I could.  I did that, my dad having every copy of swim magazines, American, Australian and from elsewhere, scattered about the house.

And Craig continues on:

I would also cite from my youth, long before I became a journalist, Americans Don Gambril, George Haines, Peter Daland, as coaches that he had met, heard, watched and was inspired by.  Bill Sweetenham, Don Talbot fit the same bill; I met them long before they would know me as a journalist covering the sport.

I think one of the things that we all know, if we have followed Craig’s writing over the years, is that he loves writing, he loves the sport.  And I am going to put this in my own words, he loves the sport as a pure sport, and he abhors everything that looks like corruption in sport, everything that looks like a twisting of sport into something else.  He is very brave and very passionate about writing about things and exposing problems.  He has been, as some other people have been, both a favorite son of FINA and also a hated son of FINA.  He has been a thorn in their side when it is necessary to be a thorn in our side.  He has certainly been a firm ally of coaches and every time we have had to do something with FINA.  He is a passionate man about our sport.

I asked him for a couple of personal things.  He speaks a few languages: Portuguese, Spanish, and German.  He reads French and Italian, which is fairly handy when you are in his business.  So he can get information from a large number of places.  Now, this is kind of an interesting thing about Craig’s background that I had no idea about, and again, I am quoting, “When I graduated in Geography and Geology, my thesis was: The Uniqueness of the Port wine demarcated zone.”  Anybody who want to pick up on that?  No idea, alright.

“I wrote to National Geographic and told them I was ready when they were.  The editor at the time wrote back a fine letter telling me that they were all journalists, and that was what I, now, needed to turn into or to train as.  I called my local paper in England and was asked to go along the office on a certain day.

Luckily, the day started with half of my swim squad being chlorine gassed and rushed to hospital.  By the time the editor of the paper arrived, I had written my story with quotes from swimmers, parents, doctors and councilors.  By lunch time, I had my first job in journalism, which came with a three-year apprenticeship in learning about the law, shorthand note taking, and much else.  I was 21, and then at 26, I left and landed a staff job on The Times with the Business section because the job on the Foreign Desk I wanted was already gone. 

 

That sounds a little bit like coaching.

 

Two years later, the man who covers swimming for the sport was moving on, and told the sports editor that there was a man in the building who knew about Swimming.  I have been covering the sport as a writer ever since. 

 

So we might have lost him to National Geographic have things twisted differently.  Everything in our life hangs by an eyelash.

 

Craig is married to Claudia; Claudia swam as a junior in the GDR.  And they spend most of their time in Germany.  They have converted a barn on the edge of a beautiful national park.  And ironically—and Craig, you’ll correct me on my pronunciation—Kreischa, the dark lab in East Germany in eastern Germany, about which he has often written about, is not far away.  So rather ironic he is right on top of a lot of the research that he has done.  The place in the country in eastern Germany is much changed; it is a great place for him and his wife to raise their two children.

 

I believe that Craig is not only a writer but he is also a visionary.  He thinks about our sport in terms of decades and not years.  I think he is one of the most informed people you will ever hear from on the sport of Swimming.  So please join me in welcoming from Germany, the UK and the world of Swimming, Mr. Craig Lord.

 

[Lord begins]

Hi.  Can you hear me?  It is a strange thing to have something on your chest.  Thank you, John; that was great.  If the tenses have been different, that would have been good enough for a wake.  Good morning to all of you; but it is afternoon for me and I apologize in advance if I kind of slump down you will know I have fallen asleep.  I thought about Stilnox but had visions of Australian Olympic Committee people coming-in and flogging me to death in front of people, so I did not do that.

 

And so to: Swimming and why it gets the media it deserves, okay?  This talk could easily have been about, you know, why it gets the media it does not deserve, or why it gets far less media than it deserves.  We will touch on some of those points, but the purpose is to give you a kind of insight into the things that makes Swimming less-attractive than we know that it can be.  Okay?

 

First, a brief nature, a kind of brief note, on the nature of the fourth estate.  I do not know how much dealings in your lives you have with the media.  Some of you will have had far more because of the National Team presence and so on, but you all will have come across local media at some point and so on.  It kind of has got a life of its own.  So in my position, if I am at the Olympic Games or I am at the World Championship or somewhere, and my national media tabloids and my national media focus-in on Rebecca Adlington; and the most important thing about Rebecca Adlington is the shoes that she wears and the choice of clothes.  That is what she… it was one sentence in the mix zone, and it became the headline in all tabloids.

 

The media, you will sometimes pick it up and think: why has even Craig Lord had mentioned this?  You know, it is so trivial.  But stuff like that takes-on a life of its own because there is a headquarters.  There are people back in London—or wherever it is—in a headquarters, and they are looking at all media, all of the time.  So if I do not mention the red shoes or the gold shoes or whatever that everybody else has got, I have missed something—I have missed a line.  So I have to mention it.  And that is how it works.  And that kind of environment then leads to people looking at the media suspiciously, and thinking we are all dimwits and focusing on the wrong thing.  But that is how sometimes it happens.

 

There is a kind of a perception of media here, of the worlds here.  And I think that is best summed-up in a headline in a newspaper from some years ago.  There was in the English Channel, there was a lot of fog one night.  And the headline in the newspapers in Britain, in one particular newspaper in Britain—it was a very famous headline—that said: Fog in Channel; Continent Cut Off.  And that is sometimes how the media… the way Britain sees Europe.  It was not Britain cut off as an island, it was the other way around.

 

And that is sometimes how polarized media and the worlds it deals with can become, because of the, if you like, herd instinct of all media having to cover the ground and sharing bad lines.  So I can… there have been occasions where I have phoned into my office and said: I know it was on the on radio, I know this was on the TV: something about Franziska van Almsick’s suit and so on.  But we’ve done it before and it is not true.  And you are still left with a situation where you have a conference full of journalists who are not there, but they think it is a great line and it is certainly a great picture.  So it makes it.  And you have to kind of tone-it-down and there have even been occasions where I will just say, “Well, if you’re going to do it, that is fine, I’ll supply you the quotes and so on.  But please do not put my name on it because it is not correct.”  It still makes it though, which is not good.

 

Okay, so in terms of provision of media in Swimming: some things have got better and there is a better general understanding at meets that provisions should be made for the media.  We are talking just 20 years ago, you know, some of our experiences were very different, and there are people in the room from Europe that were there on those occasions and may remember some of this.

 

There are meets like… some of them are big meets run by LEN [the European Swimming League] and so on, but there are also meets like the Acropolis meet in Athens used to be a regular summer meet where people would go.  And the first time I ever went, it was kind of shocking because I had been used to covering news events and business events where you go, it is over very professionally laid on.  There is documentation, plenty of information, phones galore; you know, everything you needed is laid on—even sandwiches and whatever.  A group of us walked into the pool in Athens on the first day to ask where the media room was.  And this gardener, or whatever he was, pointed down the poolside and there was a garden shed, right?  So we thought, well it’s better than nothing.  So we walked to the garden shed and opened the door, and inside there were no seats or anything, just a little stool, a little buffet, with a big… one of those old sit-up and beg black phones.  So I thought, well, again, better than nothing, but it is a bit dire.  And then we tried the phone, and there was no signal.  And the man that directed us to the shed came and just indicated he did not speak English; he just said, “No international line”.  So that was it; that was the connection to the outside world: nil.

 

And we then, from that had to… basically every time the last race finishes, we would run two miles across bare land, across an eight-lane traffic highway to our hotel to go file from the hotel and so on.  And nobody in Swimming thought this was unusual, thought it was, you know: not really going to get the best of media from this.  They thought that, you know, well, you’re media, you’re out there.  So it is not always the media seeing you as something different, it is the other way around too: something remote from us.

 

It means you have great memories, because I remember with Anita Lonsbrough at that time—when she was still covering—and she was our great heroine.  Of course, you have many; we only had one, so she was a great star in Britain.  And I remember her setting-off to the hotel with her Tandy in her hand; and I tripped on the pavement across this eight lanes of traffic and hit her in the backside with my head.  And that was our introduction to journalism; it was my first foreign trip with her—so that went down well.

 

And then we went to [the] LEN [Championships]—again, some people that were there all the time.  LEN introduced a European sprint championships sometime in the ’90s.  And when we got to Helsinki, there was basically no media stand at all: they did not expect media.  They said, “Oh, you’re journalists.”  And we said, “Yes, we’ve come to cover your meet.”  And so they did not have any provision at all; so they made some space in the public area where we could sit and put the little tickets on saying Media.  And then we asked if we could have a desk.  A desk; well we don’t have any desks in the pool.  So we got one of those benches that kids sit on in gyms for the reserve bench and so on, and that is how we had to work.

 

And it was… because it was a European… it was a new format, there was a world record basically every event: they were 50m short-course events.  And I remember sort of steam coming out of the ears of my colleague, Derek Parr.  And he actually… and this is something that I will talk to you later on: that the way Swimming is, it is not like watching one football match or one tennis match; it is many things happening at once.  And often in quick succession at these meets.  At World Cup events, you know, there might be 12, 16… how many finals in an average session?  And they are going very fast, one after the other.  So, often, you go home and you think: Did I actually see any Swimming?  Because this is where you are: you are down here and you are looking at that, and keeping one eye on this score board and one eye on the….  So you are actually… there is no time to be, if you like, poetic about it.  What is nice as a writer for me in Swimming is that it is a hugely aesthetic sport, and you can express the beauty of it.  But only if you have watched it; you cannot do any of that if you have not seen it because your head has been stuck down here because you have got 16 finals to cover and 15 minutes to turn around 800 words.  (We will come back to that later on.)

 

And then there were attitudes to change.  In the ’90s, we would arrive at meets and the same colleague from Reuter had ordered a phone—a phone point on a stand.  This is the national championships.  When he got there, he could not find the phone, so he asked where it might be.  So there was a bit of an inquiry going on.  And they finally found it: it was underneath the scaffolding for the platform for the broadcasters.  So it was under there somewhere.

 

And what should then have happened, of course, as you know and as you want to do as part of your culture as coaches: if there is a problem in your program or with or with the kid and so on, the thing to do is not find blame or what the source was and so on, it is to find a solution.  That is what you want: you just want to find the solution—what do we do about it?  That is not how many nations that I have visited down the years, it is not how they think.  So they find five hours finding someone to blame for putting the phone in the wrong place, which was another disaster.  It was kind of disaster on disaster.  So their attitudes.

 

Now, having said all of that, I think that, you know, now we stand here in 2013, much has changed.  Because we have, as journalists, represented ourselves and said: Look, this cannot go on; we need a much better service.  And I think on many levels, things have improved.  Even so, I think there are lots of areas where we could be much better with our dealings with media and how we communicate in the interface between these two worlds.

 

I will just give you a little background here, in terms of how Swimming is perceived beyond us: people who knows swimming, love swimming and it is part of our daily lives.  A sports editor of mine at the time once said to me that, you know, “The trouble with swimming, Craig, is…”—I was kind of doing my usual thing saying “300 words.  Oh, come on, you know, I need at least 700.”  And he said, “Well, the trouble with Swimming is there are no personalities.”  So I reminded him that most football [soccer] players I had ever met were as thick as two short planks—as we say in England—and had nothing to say for themselves, and that I could pick at least ten kids in the Swedish National Team who could speak better English than most English footballers and certainly more eloquently.  And to boot, they would be far more pleasant about it too.  So he, you know, having lost that one, he had no defense there.  He tried again; he said, “Well, the thing is Brits don’t win in Swimming.”  So I reminded him that 1966 was the last time we had the World Cup in football, but it still got the coverage.  So there was no arguing there.  But the third line of defense, his line of defense, was the one that hit home—that, you know, that is what it comes down to.  Popularity, big sports way out there, propped-up by the simplicity of sport.

 

And this cuts to something John mentioned in the intro there, that there is a purity on many levels in sport.  Not just where it comes to suits or angles of buoyancy and so on, but simplicity of presentation to a wider world that does not necessarily understand… well, does not understand a tenth of what you understand about your sport.  We all know, it is not difficult to… I am sure you have had conversations about this before, but if you watch a soccer match or baseball is a bit, maybe… I am not sure… but you have a lot of baseball here and I am sure you all understand it, but I could sit there and go, “What are they doing now?”  So I am not sure if that works either.  But certainly Soccer, Tennis, there is a lot of golf and so on: they are very easy to understand; the person at home has a sense, precisely, what is going on.  They do not necessarily understand what is going on in Swimming.  They do not get it because they have never been part of the culture.

 

And also, there is that other thing that we can all go out for a run.  You know, put some shoes on, go out; everybody knows how to run.  Everybody knows how to kick a ball.  We know, again, some of you are coaches that used to be swimmers, some of you are coaches that never swam.  But you all understand the difference between… there is a level of understanding that you get from being able to do something yourself.  And vast number of people in the general population cannot get up of a length of the pool—that is the reality of it.  So they do not associate it; they have no connection with it.  And so they do not understand.  They do not understand just how good something like Katie’s [Ledecky] 1500: just how fast she was traveling, just how relative that was, they do not really get it.

 

And I will come on to how the media works and who goes to events and who covers events in just a moment.  But that is linked to that sort.

 

So, it was hard to argue with that sports editor.  On the popularity level, you cannot argue with that, and Swimming does not help itself in that regard.  There was a time in Britain—certainly in the ’80s and the ’90s and so on and right through until Bill Sweetenham arrived and things started to change—where you could go to national championships, you could go into the bar after the event, and you would sit there in the middle of a whole coaching community and you would not hear one word spoken about Swimming.  Nothing that had happened was part of the topic; it was football, it was soccer, what they had seen on the TV.  It was everything other than what was supposedly their passion.  That used to rile me to no end, and I used to say, look, “If you’re not going to be passionate about your sport, how can you expect anyone else to be?”

 

So the sports editor, of course, knew that; he had been a local sports editor.  And in local journalism—and I do not know if it is the same in America but in local papers in Britain—they would have a sports section and there would always be someone covering all the local sports and so on and Swimming is included in that.  And as an editor of a local paper, he associated Swimming with a sport full of pushy parents, petty arguments over water time between local clubs competing, and so on.  That is where his mindset was; that is what Swimming meant for him.

 

Even at the elite end, he believed that it was part of the reason why Athletics was the bigger Olympic sport: everyone could put some shoes on, go running.  They were not Paula Normy or Michael Johnson or whatever, but they could do it and they knew they had an understanding of it.  Swimming, he said, took place underwater, behind caps and goggles; and most of the kids were faceless and nameless.  (I am sure you’ve heard all these arguments before.)  They are not seen nearly enough, neither in a race nor in-between big events.  So, you know, you can go through the ’90s and see a swimmer twice a year, if you were lucky.  They have no profile.  Also, it was not easy to access the understanding of what a 1:00 on a 100 Backstroke, or whatever it is; people couldn’t relate to it.

 

“People could,” of course, “relate to winning,” I replied.  “And wasn’t it our job, win or lose, to tell the story of the athlete?”  To be there, to follow their journey; speak to the coach, speak to the parents.  Know what was going on in this 14/15/16-year-old kid’s life.  An extraordinary life often.  We, the media, were partly to blame for that and could we not try to do better?

 

So he agreed to that, and I got to write in the ’90s features about Alexander Popov and…. You know, when Brit were not winning there was a bad side to it because I would have preferred them to be doing well; but there was a good side to it because if no Brits stood up and did anything I got to write about Alex Popov and all sorts of other great people who were doing fine things.  And that was something really nice to write about.  And around that time, in the mid-90s, Sydney was granted the 2000 Olympic Games.

 

And it was also the time, it coincided with the time, when newspapers had to think as we got closer to Sydney, it was the first wave of internet age in terms of newspaper coverage.  It was the first Games where the time difference between Europe and Australia meant newspapers start to think: right, okay, well the newspapers are going to be so out of date by the time there.  Let’s do it for the first time: we will put the instant take of news online and the newspaper will be reserved for features, follow-ups and predictions and throwing forward and so on.  So it was… in that spirit then, it was decided that sports editor—the same one who said to me that there are no good personalities, you are all boring—he was given the task of running the news desk not from London but from Sydney.  So for the first time, we would have a sports editor with the team of writers at the Olympic Games.

 

So, the boss got to come to the Games, and when he got there he was stunned by the size of it.  You see the size of this room, well, that is just the kind of entrance hallway in the Olympic Games in the media center.  It is like 5, 6, 7 football fields on three floors; you know, you can easily get lost.  And my first Games, it was overwhelming; you know you do not know where to go, you do not know who to turn to.  You soon get it and you get the geography of it, but it can take you days.  And of course, if you are only there two days before your main event starts, you are still finding your way and the thing is live and it is a difficult environment.  So he got that for the first time, and he, for the first time, understood—although he is very experienced in the office and the headquarters—he now suddenly understood that, you know, when a reporter said, I am sorry, I cannot get into the Village; I cannot speak to this kid; or I cannot get that official and so on.  He, for the first time, understood: yeah, there is a barrier here.  There is a distinct barrier between these two worlds; you are not accessible all the time.  And there are good reasons why that should be; but sometimes it goes the wrong way and it alienates you from me, me from you.  I do not mean that personally; I mean, the worlds of media and Swimming.

 

So the Swimming unfolded in Sydney, and we came to Day 3 or 4—or whatever it was.  And the sports editor mentioned to me that he was going on the Friday night, or whatever it was, he was going to take his wife down for a meal.  Have an evening off and go down, sit in the harbor and have an evening off.  And I said, “Oh, that’s the night of the 1500 Freestyle; you should get there early.”  And he said, “Oh, yeah, yeah, Craig.”  He was just thinking I was trying to bump-up Swimming again and so on.   Well, he did not listen and he didn’t get dinner either, because he couldn’t get a seat—they were all gone.  It was a wonderful thing then for a sports editor to see how wrong he was.  He sat there, or stood there, with his wife in this square full of restaurants and cafes and bars with people hanging out the windows, every single screen that you could find tuned to the 1500 freestyle as Grant [Hackett] and Kieren [Perkins] went off.  And he got it.  He loved it, he got it, he finally saw it.

 

And that moment coincided, and this comes back to… I think, the several speeches this week where I have heard people talking about being in the right time at the right place and so on.  And that all coincided with Bill Sweetenham’s arrival in Britain.  And you know, he arrived there with Britain having left Sydney with no medals for the first time since 1948, and in desperate need of a change.  And for me as a journalist, it coincided with a moment where a sports editor had gone: you know what, we should do more Swimming.  Which is really nice.  So I got to do more Swimming, and more of it made the papers.

 

It remained that way…  it was basically… I mean, Bill Sweetenham and media coverage.  The reason I link those two things is because it was a huge change in culture that we had not seen for forty years in Swimming in Britain and media-wise as well.  There were times in the 1960s where you could go to national championships—I remember it as a very young boy—where the venue would be packed.  There would be three TV cameras, the press bench would have 40 people seating in it.  Gradually, over the years, that declined and left and went from the sport, up to the point where swimming was of much lesser importance.  I will not go through the reasons for all that: it is a long journey and there is lots to say in this.

 

Now with Bill Sweetenham, I raised Bill Sweetenham for a particular reason.  Some of you will know him.  He is verbal, he is in-your-face; he has lots to say, he is happy to say it out loud, he is happy to be public about it, he is happy to tell things in story-fashion.  So he tells stories to get over a point: that is very translatable to media.  So he was quoted—not just by me but widely in Britain—and Swimming got more media coverage in Britain than it had had in 40 years because of his presence and the way he dealt with the media and the way he talked to the media.  Many in Britain complained about it; they did not see why he should be building a profile for himself.  He was not doing it for that reason, but that is how it was interpreted.  They did not get it that here was a man who came with a hard message: he was turning-around a sinking ship.  And it was a win-win for Britain, in the sense that he was changing the culture and getting more attention for the sport.

 

And it allowed Swimming to be seen and to have a profile beyond its deck.  By that, I mean, you all get, we all get, some level of coverage somewhere; but mostly it is the core audience.  And what you need is to just widen the scope a little bit, so that your sport can be appreciated by a wider audience.  Which brings me to the U.S.  And, of course, I have mentioned Britain: it is a totally different place with different… you know, with Cricket as one of its main sports, and so on.  You have your own, different environment and you have pro-sports and you have a different media as well.  Now what is noticeable about the U.S. in the last… well, let’s put it this way: you have got here in America—if this was any other sport, imagine it—the US Swimming team is arguably, and possibly not arguably, but the success rate in the number of years must make it the biggest running success story in the history of world sport.  I cannot think of anything else that has been so consistent in its leadership and success at the helm of a sport.  Whether you are talking national teams or league teams or whatever: it just does not exist.

 

The US was also blessed, again, with the right time, right place, right circumstance with the moment a skinny boy called Michael Phelps walked through Bob Bowman’s door at Baltimore.  We know what happened next, and we know that it needed… with Michael talking about his desire to grow the sport, those twelve years ended with Michael talking about the reason why he was in London.  The reason why he stuck with it was because he had this desire to grow his foundation, to grow the sport, and to not let pass the moment of his presence having taken Swimming to a higher level of attention.

 

I mentioned that because in London [2012 Olympics], of course, when he was there at the end—I cannot give you an exact figure—but I would say that must have been 50, 60, 70 American journalists at the press conference.  To say goodbye, to watch all these races, and so on.  Barcelona, one year later [2013 Worlds], if you take out the presence the John Lohn—who is an American working with us at SwimVortex—and Swimming World, Jeff Commings—there is Jeff.  If you take those out of the equation, then you are left with two American journalists.  That is just a year after Michael Phelps is gone.  Now, I do not link that just to Michael Phelps, and that would be a mistake to do so because there is always that drop off from the Olympic Games.  Even if Michael was not there, there would still be that drop off.  Olympic Games is still considered… far more organizations want to be there because it is a multi-sports event and it is the Olympic Games.  But basically you are left with Paul Newberry, who many of you will know, the Associated Press; and you are left with, again who many of you will know, Alan Abrahamson.

 

All of those people, all of those four people that I have mentioned there, all do a fine job.  But, was that it?  Less U.S. print/website media at the World Championships than I could recall for a long time.  I cannot think back and think that there are any two American journalists at a World Championship in former years: it was the lowest I had ever seen it.  And you have to ask yourself: why is that?  What could we do to change that?  And it spilled beyond America.  Reuters used to send at least three people to a major event: one would do the mix zone, one would be writing, one would be doing features.  But they would have at least three people to cover the ground of a lot of things, because they put-out results and so on.

 

In Barcelona, both Reuters, AFP and several other agencies, had one person there to do the whole thing, which clearly means you are going to cover the sport at the surface.  Now I will come to the environment in which we work in a moment.  But, you know, it is a lot of work, and one man for one organization cannot do it.  I can thunder-away at Swim Vortex, that is something else.  But if you are an agency like Reuters, putting out every… supposedly putting out everything that moves and getting it right and accurate and whatever, one man cannot possibly cover that ground.

 

Now, media budgets have something to do with that.  But even that argument fits back into the realms of, you know, Swimming finding a very much unchanged place in the pecking order it has been familiar with for a long time.  I thought it was a very sad state of affairs to see just two journalists there from America.  And America was not alone: I think Japan and China were the only nations that had strong media presence.  No other nation had a strong media presence in my mind in Barcelona.

 

Now it is a sad state of affairs, but please keep in mind when I say this, that Barcelona was a relatively-good experience and this is not a criticism of Barcelona and the organizers there, okay?  But nonetheless, here are some of the kind of backward steps, in Barcelona this summer, that we have to think about.  How could it be, in 2013, that not a single member of the world’s written media had a view of the finish of races?  Every single seat was behind the finish line.  So the world, written media, that paid to be there, spending big budgets of hotels for the two to three weeks—depending on what they were covering because they were covering Diving and all the other stuff as well—flights and all the rest of it, coming from all over the world.  And when they got there, basically if you imagine that row of seats—that line going down there, the middle—that is the finish line, the blocks there and they are traveling that way, okay?  And this is where we are all seating.  So you cannot see anything.

 

If there is a controversy, if there is a difficult decision, if there is a 50m race.  Every 50m race is, you know, you have to be there visibly to see it.  If there is a controversy like the one in Beijing [2008 Olympics] where, you know, Michael won by 0.01—and there was a slight protest, and Omega had to get its little pictures out and all the rest of it—your office will ask you as media: Did you see it?  What did you think?  And it is not acceptable to have an answer that says, “I am sorry.  I was sitting behind the line; I didn’t see it.”  Or “I was buying a coffee at the time.”  That is not what your office wants to hear.  They paid for you to be there: to be their eyes, their ears, their nose, their everything.

 

So putting the entire world media—not just me or two others or something—the entire written media of the world behind the finish line was just something that was mind-boggling.  Okay.  And of course, it is noticeable.  It is noticed and the minute on Day 1, the whole media arrive at an event like that, you get them in a bad mood.  You do not want… you know, you want the media to feel good about this event.  You do not want them walking in from Day 1 going, “Oh god, bloody Swimming.  You know, we’re here again; here we go.”  You know, you do not want that; that is the last thing you want.

 

How could it be that biographical start lists are not complete.  With dozens of finalists every evening so unknown to world Swimming, it seems, that they did not have a height, a weight, a birthdate in some cases; let alone a coach, a club and a place to call home.  You know, they just had a country code and a name; no other biographical detail.  Some of them were making the podium.  And under-pressure, on deadline, you cannot possibly… not even with me who follows it all the time, I cannot possibly know the personal details of a Finnish guy who steps-up from 20th in the world and ends up with a bronze medal.  I do not know him; I need to know more about him.  But I need to know it now—right now, next ten seconds—otherwise, I will drop it because I am on a deadline and I have got 800 words to cover.  I would love to mention his coach; I would love to know where he came from.  Because it is not just about that information, that instant information; it could be that he was born in Barcelona.  You know, he is Finnish, but there could be something of interest there.

 

And all of that goes, all the interest, all the color, is gone.  If you do not have that basic information, you will not have time as media to then respond to it and make anything of it.  It will just turn into a report that says: so and so finished first, and so and so finished second.  You might as well read the result sheet; it is not good writing.  It is not then going to compete with the writers who are writing Golf, who have time and they can sit there and make it prosaic and so on.  You are not going to be able to compete with Tennis and so on.  And of course, you will file something that is like a very basic agency report of what happened, and your office will print it.  But Swimming will remain in that box of sports where we tick it over: we cover it.  It will not rise to being something that is interesting beyond… you know, the depth of interest that we know is there.  You all have kids and stories and parents and situations in your own programs where you know it is a great story.  It is a story of courage or it is a story of whatever it is.  It is all out there, but how do you get that across?  In this environment?

 

So how could it be in 2013 that there was no official, printed guide, with all the relevant stats, stacked-up in orderly and easy-to-understand fashion?  What the media relies on often is the USA Swimming guide, or my privately put-together SwimVortex guide, or whatever it is.  From the officials, it is scanned.  Or it is a huge document called HistoFINA that is thrown together, and no one… a mad man might go there and go: I feel really at home here.  But anyone else would think they had all gone mad.  And how could it be there was still no transcription of press conferences for the media.  I was at the US Olympic Trials last year—I had the privilege of being there.  It was really well organized; it was terrific.  There were transcriptions—I think it was the first time they had done transcriptions.  (I may be wrong there, but Jeff may be able to… had they had those transcriptions before, Jeff?  I think… no, exactly.)  So it was a really good service.

 

Now bear in mind that something like nearly ten years ago now, I told FINA that I have been to [the] Wimbledon [Tennis tournament] on a day pass, because my wife was covering it—she is a journalist too.  And she was covering Wimbledon for her newspaper and I got a day pass: they let me in and be quiet in a corner and do not get in anyone’s way and so on and so on.  I had this press pass and I got to speak to the people running the media center.  There were 40 staff people running it—40 staff people.  Bear in mind that the whole of FINA is… 10 people?  So this was just the media operation of Wimbledon.  And she made, the lady there, made a very kind offer and said, “Look….”  I was telling her about media, how Swimming is, and so on.  And she said, “Look, if it helps, please bring the FINA people along, and we’ll show them around.  Not during the tournament, but on the way, a few weeks out, and we’ll show them what we do. We’ll show them how to do it.”  And so on.  That offer was made; I never even got a response from anyone.  It is almost like, you know: we learn what we want to learn, but if it suits us not to listen, we will not listen.  That hopefully will change, and I will come on to that in a little while because some of us on the FINA Press Commission are trying to make a change in the next Olympic cycle and hopefully we will manage to do so.

 

Okay.  Now, when I mentioned transcriptions and you think: ‘Okay, well, why would you as a journalist… you know, isn’t that a bit lazy?  You could go to the press conference and do your work?’  Well, if there is any sense in anyone that it is lazy, there is a whole environment that you have to understand behind that.  And some of you will—like John and anyone who has been to international competitions and so on—will understand a little bit about that.  Some of you, it will be an alien world.  And if anything I say in this next little bit, you do not get the geography of it, or it doesn’t make sense to you, just stick your hand up and I will speak to it.

 

I should just to explain, okay, just who goes to meets?  Which journalist goes to meet?  So that people like me, people like Nicole Jeffrey, people like Karen Crouse, like Jeff, people like John Lohn and so on: who knows what the sport, who are working with it all the time, and grew-up in the sport, as it were.  But come to the big occasion, even if news organizations have a freelance or a dedicated Swimming person who covers that sport all the time and has been sent to all sorts of local meets and who has got a good understanding of it.  Come the big moment, the accreditation process for an Olympics, for example, is handled this way.  You have an NOC [National Olympic Committee]; every country has a NOC.  Every news organization will apply for a ticket of accreditation.  So it might be from The Times, we might apply for fifteen accreditations to cover across all sports and color writers and whatever—it might be twenty.  In that mix then, the decision, the accreditation is given, with no name on it.  It is not allocated with a name; it is simply you have got twenty press tickets to the Olympics.

 

So then it comes down to the media organization: they choose the names from their writing stuff.  It is a nice thing to go to the Olympics, and so everybody wants to go.  So the line outside the editor’s office is very long, and you have to fight to keep your place in that line.  So I have had Golf correspondents queuing-up every four years saying, “I once met Roland Matthes in a shopping center, wouldn’t I be the better man?  I could do a better job than Craig Lord.”  So you get that, there is competition and so on.  And to some extent it does happen, that you get someone who has done six years, four years, whatever, of covering Swimming, and at the last minute will not go.  The person that will go is someone who has never stepped foot in a pool before, knows nothing about it, but can turn a nice phrase.  They can write, but they do not know what they are looking at.  And so Swimming is served that.  That environment, that is something you cannot control necessarily.  Swimming, the sport of Swimming, cannot control it, but it can manage it.

 

Which takes me to a venue like Barcelona; this is the environment then in which we work when we arrived at the big event.  Among the ranks of the written media will be people like I have just mentioned—that have barely set foot in the sport—and there will be lots of others who have.  But they have got, these days, something much more difficult to handle than twenty years ago.  Twenty years ago, you would go to a swim meet and you would have one deadline, maybe two—if they were busy.  You would have two editions to serve and you would have a newspaper.  So basically, one story, maybe a sidebar, something like that; he could handle it very easily—you could do it like that, sometimes.  But now they have got a website, at least two editions possibly more—depending on where you are, time zone relative to… venue relative to your home nation.  They have got several iPad editions in the middle, each of them demanding that they write a slightly different version of the same thing sometimes, or different copy entirely, maybe history and maybe articles on it.  They have got a newspaper then, a third set of people who sit on the newspaper news desk and want a third set of the same thing—but do not write it the same way, we want it slightly different.  So you are doing nine times the amount of work, at least, then you were doing twenty years ago for the same coverage of one event.

 

So in that environment… and you also have then in the mix of that you have freelancers who… you know, they serve many masters.  They do not just serve one news of organization asking them to do this, they serve several.  Because they have to make it pay: they are paying for their own flight, they are paying for hotels.  And the hotel, if they have gone in the media hotel, organizations like LEN—and they have been clobbered over the head several times but still do it—if you book privately the same hotel several months out, you can get it cheaper than the official media price for the hotel from the organizers.  So that is not very inviting to media, and it is noticed and it is not very clever.  But there are costs involved and the workload is immense.

 

It is harder than in many other sports.  Simply because, you know, if you are a Soccer correspondent, yeah, you have got a bit more space to cover, but you have got one thing to watch out for.  In Swimming, it is not like that.  You cannot pre-write; you have to wait until it happens.  And then often, it does not happen as you might have thought it was going to happen; you have got to react right on deadline to many different things going on at once.

 

So in the detail of those Final sessions in Barcelona, the journalist will: sit in the stands, tweet, Facebook, file live to a website, and then a version of one of those aforementioned editions and platforms on a particular race, dash down 250 steps, get quotes in the mix zone, dash back-up the steps, file that while watching the next race unfold.  If you are lucky, the timing is right.  And then do it all… that again for every single race.  In the mix of it all, the phone rings several times with new instructions from different desks and the office back-home asking for things like: could you just put together a small box for a graphic we’re doing showing how this compares to the 1986 final, or whatever it was.  And you know, please think about that and get the quotes at the same time.  So why are there no quotes in this piece, and so on.  And it is still going on.  So it is frenetic; it is a mad, mad world.

 

In the midst of the actions which, as I have just said, we cannot predict it.  You cannot pre-write; you do not have the luxury of careful consideration and timely thought.  So it is particularly annoying when, as I do, make several literal mistakes in any piece of copy.  When you see that on the website, bear in mind that… do not hammer me please: there is an “e” missing or an “a” missing.  But what you see there is the tip of the iceberg: I am also writing for several other organizations and having to file huge amount of copy.  And by the time it is 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, you want to go to bed and not go through your old copy and check whether there is an “a” missing.  So please be nice.

 

So look, they then organize press conferences.  So I do not know, again, how many… John will know it, several of you will know that: there is the distance between the press stand—which say I am seating in the press stand, here is the pool—you are talking about two blocks away is the press conference room—that is where the press conference is going on.  So in that frenetic environment, there is absolutely no chance of getting to a press conference.  I got to one press conference in Barcelona—one.  Out of all those finals, I made it to one press conference because of frenetic pace.  And what you do is you manage to share the quotes.  You know, colleagues that did manage to go share the quotes with you, and you give them something else and so on.  So we cooperate between the media so that we can get the job done because it is the only way you can do it.  Physically, it would be impossible to do it.

 

So the press conference is a ten-minute walk away, at a place where you might have to sit for five minutes waiting for the athletes to come.  Then you spend ten minutes in the conference and so on, and then you have to get back to your seat.  By which time, you have missed two more finals; you have missed the whole show.  So really, you should not be moving from your seat because the show is going on.  So that is why the transcriptions, that I was mentioning earlier, are so important.

 

In terms of covering and getting the best view of world Swimming, of what is going on in the action, it is a disaster.  Especially if you consider that I am considering it difficult, and I know what is going on.  Imagine having that environment, like the AFP man—who I will not name or embarrassing him, but—someone who admitted he did not… had not done much Swimming and so on.  There he is sitting and all of this is going on; and he has got to do more or less what I am doing but with no knowledge at all.  It is a complete disaster.  The man will have gone home and will have said: Never, never send me to Swimming again.  Which is not good for Swimming.

 

Many of us even struggled to get to the mix zone, which is closer: it is down 250 steps or so.  Let alone the press conferences.  In the past, you might be lucky enough to be in a time zone where that means, you know, your office were asleep when the Finals were going on.  So you had slight luxury of saying, okay… I can remember Perth ‘91 and Rome ‘94 were slightly different.  But anyway. Perth ’91 was a fine example, where I had the luxury of time.  Where I had… the office was sleeping—and there were also no internet in those days—so you had the luxury of watching what was happening.  And you could write really nice prose and really good copy because you had the luxury of that time to contemplate what was going to happen, who the people were.  You could do your homework, you could get the color of it all, you could go to press conferences and listen to what the kids and the coaches were saying.  You could have time to get back and do it.  That is just… forget it, these days: it does not happen; you have no luxury of time.

 

I am raising this…  if any of you are lost in what I am saying—or rather I have lost you—the point of this is that Swimming then has to find mechanisms to compensate that.  Otherwise, it is losing an audience.  Because of the frenetic pace and this inability to have a moment to sit and think about what is going on.  So what you get, as I said before, is you get a lot of copy that is just, you know: Mary Smith, won in 1:10.  That is it.  Which is not good journalism.

 

All right.  Journalists are often in the building for [Preliminary] Heats—most of us are.  And they are still there two hours after the Heats; because with all these editions and iPads and so on and different time zones, you are filing live on Heats, as well as Finals.  In between, you might then have to write features on the people who are likely to do well in the Finals.  So you file pieces that may never make it.  They may make it, they may not make it; but you are still sitting there and you are working for several hours in the middle of the day.  If you are lucky, you might get one hour off—two hours off, maybe—in the middle of it.  Colleagues from Japan and China are famous for never leaving the venue: they just sleep at their desk or on the floor and so on.  So it is a hard toil and that is before you get to the Finals, and this huge end of the day.

 

And when coaches say to us, Oh God, my kid was kept back in doping for an hour last night and didn’t get to bed until ten o’clock and whatever; of course, you are sympathetic because you understand what that means for the kid.  But you also know that when that athlete put their head on the pillow, you were still working for four hours after that—so it is 2:00 in the morning often when you are finished with all the different masters that you serving for the different editions and platforms and so on.  Then you go to bed and you sleep for four hours, I think.  You know, most of us…  I do not know Jeff’s regime was like, but I think I saw Jeff there regularly at two in the morning, and so on and so.  You do not sleep much, and that goes on for day after day after day.  Long events.  It used to be six days, when I came into Swimming; and now the World Championships in eight.  Now you have added Mixed Relays, so that is going to be… potentially, there will be somebody in the FINA Bureau who think it is a good idea to go to nine days.  And on it goes.  Anyways, they are long and brutal days, and there is no other way of saying it.

 

And if you have long and brutal days… when I talk to my Golf correspondent, the golf correspondent and the Golf people and the Tennis people and so on, they still are living okay.  They are busy, they still have these editions to serve and so on; but they are finding it fun still.  There is still fun in those sports.  They come away from their events saying, God, what a great week we’ve had in whatever it is.  Often, Swimming journalist come away thinking: God, let me go to bed for three weeks.  It is absolutely punishing, and that is not good.  You want to come away from a meet thinking: Swimming, woah, that was fabulous.  Let’s do it again.  That is what you want, even though you are tired.  There is a kind of a tipping point of tiredness, and in that, you very quickly lose the people who are not really dedicated and involved in this sport.

 

So how can organizers help?  Well, they can do it in lots of ways.  I have told you about Wimbledon and the offer for the transcriptions and seeing that process, which was turned down.  So with that in mind, let’s look at information—the information.  So if you are someone who is coming into Swimming and you do not have… even if you do, sorry.  It does not matter whether you are one of the journalist who does not have things at their fingertips.  I have lots of stuff at my fingertips: I have got a database online with lots of information in it—a big brain before me and whatever.  But even then, under pressure of deadline, it cannot be that we do not have… you know, when I think back the start list in the 1990’s when Nick Thierry and others were doing them, they were better than they are now.  Now, how can that be?  That cannot be that over 15 years, we have let something like that get worse.  Because for sure, that is essential stuff.

 

If you cannot get your stats right, and so on… I mean, there was ridiculous things go on in the media bench at Olympic Games and so on.  Where I will put-out straight away online something like Florent Manaudou in winning the 50 freestyle made him and his sister, they were the first sibling solo gold medalists in Olympic history in Swimming… in the same sport.  AP, several other organizations—L’Equipe and so on—went to FINA to ask: is this correct.  And the answer was, Well if Craig said it is, it must be.  So they did not know themselves, and that cannot be.  So there is a problem of ownership of your own assets.

 

Knowledge of your own sport: that is really important.  That you should know instantly whether that is so.  And if you cannot keep all of that—because there is a lot of stats and you cannot keep everything in your head—there should be a guide, there should be something official.  If you trotted across to the Athletics stadium in London, you could go straight through the door at the media place and on a desk, immediately as you walk through, there was a volume list of fat.  Every result in history, every stat, everything you wanted was there in a book.  Why do we not have that for Swimming?  Why is it not there?  It should be there and we have been asking for it for many years.

 

So what you end up doing is, someone like me, I do my own stuff.  But then I get at any Olympics and in any World Championships, I will have a stream of media coming past me at inappropriate moments when I am on deadline and sweating and whatever, saying, “Is that right?  Can I just check?  Is that… is she related to her?  Is that her sister?  Is that….”  That should not be.  That information should be available to media, all of the media, from word go because it makes the sport much more accessible.

 

Especially in an environment where you then have—I’m leaving the script now, but it makes sense to say it now—where you have the only interface at a major event between the people who can tell you [the media] the stories are you [the coach]—that will know the kids and have something mature to say about them and the journey they have gone down—is in the mix zone for one minute.  And most of the coaches I know never go through the mix zone; they wait on the other side of darkness down a corridor until the athlete comes through and then they are gone.  So you can go a whole meet… I have been to meets where I have seen one, two coaches in the whole thing to talk to.

 

But of course, it is from you, the coaches, that the best information can often come; the most human information.  Only you will know what it means if a kid steps-up and makes the podium, and they have had a particularly difficult journey.  Only you will know that; it will not have been written about, especially if it is a kid we never heard of.  You are likely to have heard about Michael Phelps and what has happened there.  But it is not just about Michael; it is about tons of kids who make the podium that many of the media know nothing about until the moment they make the podium.  How do you then translate that into something, you know, that is colorful and meaningful and not just a split on a timesheet?  Okay.

 

Nick Thierry.  John mentioned Nick Thierry.  Nick Thierry kept the world rankings for many years, and did a very fine job for us all in keeping the history of the sport, the record of it.  FINA, for some reason, decided in a new media strategy that it would not have a print edition of that anymore—it would not print anything like that.  Now, there are some distinct problems with that.  First of all, take you back to the moment where those of us who were voted into a FINA Press Commission—and John will empathize and sympathize with this—in 2009, suddenly found out six months later that they held a whole series of meetings to discuss FINA’s new media strategy.  Without actually inviting any media to come and express an opinion about it, and how you might go about it and what would be helpful.  That was all set in stone, including a decision to scrap the printed edition.

 

Now, in the environment I have just described to you, we do not… if I got my laptop open here, I might have a file here open, I have got several things open all at once, running—live results and so on.  I do not want a whole load of rankings and start lists and such in digital form, okay?  I want physical copies of something that I can put there.  If you look along a media bench, a written media bench, we have this much space, maybe, to work with; and your elbow is here.  That is what you’re working with.  And your screen is full of stuff.  So you want a physical copy of something; it is very important.  Just because it is old tech, does not mean to say it is bad.  You know, if you prefer reading a book as a book, well then, read it like that.

 

And certainly in that working environment, to pick-up a physical copy of something and instantly go yeah, she was bronze medalist, she was this, she was that, she was that, on a sheet of paper, that is far easier than going to a search engine on a website and trying to collate all this information.  It should all be in one place on a sheet of paper; much easier and much more user-friendly.  Old tech but much better.  That is not to say you should not have the digital thing: you can.  But for certain points, like pressure points, you need to think how we work, how the media works, how you work.  Whatever the job is, whatever the role is around the building, you have to think: how are people working.  So they dropped the print and that was a mistake, and hopefully will rectify it.

 

Okay.  It cannot be… (I’ll go through that.  I am trying to sort of cut down because I am conscious of the time.  How are we doing with time?  Okay?  Close?  Okay.  All right.)

 

They spend lots of money, FINA, on services such as Infostrada—many of you will know what that means.  But basically they will have a whole team of youngsters in the mix zone and when you say, okay, I’d like to speak to Gregg Troy.  So Gregg will come, and he will know you, and you will stand in the mix zone.  And you will have a full interview with Gregg Troy, where you generate the questions: your mind, your knowledge, your relationship with Gregg and so on.  And behind you, all the while, is a young kid with a notebook taking everything down; or a tape recorder—know about it, just stands there taping it.  And Infostrada has been paid to do quote service, but no one has told them that they should not stand there taping my whole interview and then within an hour, it is on the system for everybody to see.  I do not work for Infostrada; I do not work for FINA, when I am at that event.  I am working for my news organization and I asked to see the coach.  So there is a load of protocol that is just simply ignored.  It is important that people know what those relationships, much more about those relationships, and how the media works.

 

Okay, all right, I am going to move on to this.  I have talked about the role of… there are lots of other issues to cover but it is fairly boring for you because it is all about the bureaucracy and FINA’s role in helping that.  But it does not just come down to FINA; you are coaches: it comes down to you.  On one level, on several levels but on one particular level, you are largely ignored.  And by that I mean that coaches are often never mentioned; they are never listed in guides, start lists, the information sheets that journalist work to on deadline.  So you have no… unless we actually know that you are there, someone like me knows that you are the coach of them, you get no mention.  And the problem is on-deadline, as I have said, you cannot just go to a college website to try and check.  You have no idea: is it out-of-date information.  It is just too late; you know, you cannot do it.  So it gets left out.

 

But also, in recent years… and this will sound strange to some of you because you are not in an environment—many of you are in a club environment and you are not in an environment—where you could potentially stand-up and make a difference.  So I apologize to you: it is not personal but I am going to make this point.  You coaches contribute to yourselves being ignored, sometimes.  And by that I mean that there is a distinct difference between what went on in 1998, say, and what is going on now in 2012/2013.  Back then, any number of coaches and athletes coming through in the mix zone, and if they were asked to come in to know what was happening with the Chinese, the doping, the HGH, the dubious performances, the stuff in kit bags and so on, were happy to say something.  Athletes, coaches, spoke out about it, and said: this is not acceptable; I don’t want this is in my sport; It’s not acceptable.  They were happy to go on the record… and of course, the record can be, you know, a coach saying extremely harsh things and being a head coach and making an assault like a Don-Talbot-kind of rant.  They could go from that spectrum to an athlete just saying, you know, I just want to say that I think it is wrong in this environment and I do not want to compete with people who are cheating.  That is okay.  No one is asking everyone to kill everyone, but say something because it is affecting your sport.

 

Now, of late, I think… I am thinking about a particular race in London, a 400 [Individual] Medley race in which one of your swimmers, an American swimmer called Elizabeth Beisel—and I have watched Elizabeth training, I know how hard she works and so on—she was made to look like she was treading water, in 15 meters up a wall, in the last 100 meters freestyle of the 400 Medley.  As far as I could see, at that particular moment, only one man—and he is sitting there—stood up and said anything; he was the only one.  When people were asked about it in the mix zone, they shied away from it, they did not want to know it.  Clearly, in my mind—I am absolutely clear—that we were looking at a serious problem there: girls do not go 58 and beat the boys on the last 100 meters of a Medley in an Olympic final.  But one did.  And she passed her opposition—called Elizabeth Beisel, an extremely fit athlete—within 15 meters of the wall and took 5 seconds off her over a period of what… 150 meters?  It does not happen.

 

Now my question to you is why is there a reluctance, among coaches, athletes and others; why has that happened in that 15-year period?  Is it because you feel under pressure from federations?  Is it because you feel under pressure from someone else: yourselves, your programs?  Why is it that you cannot express that anymore?  Because I think that is very important.  Because if you do not say anything, you become the people who are part of a sport that has a problem but does not want to say there is an elephant in the room.  And that can be misinterpreted in its own right.  It can be interpreted as you being part of the problem: you know what is going on, but hey, you know, let’s get on with it.  I do not happen to believe that that is the case, but it is a problem for the sport.

 

I think you have to find mechanisms to say what you think, to have your voice heard, to be more visible.  I think if for no other reason, this is your sport.  You are the guardians of the sport: the people who stay, the constant.  It is from you that we need to hear.  You are the people closest to the athletes; you are the people closest to the color, the story.  The thing we all want to do in journalism, the best of journalism, is if you imagine a documentary scene… you know, you have watched documentaries like the one on Rick [DeMont] the other day up here and so on.  Those documentaries are full of the passion of the moment; they are full of the real human experience.  You are the people closest to that human experience.  And many of you are very skilled—if I sit down privately with you or I listen to a speeches here or last night at the acceptance speech—you are all people who can talk well.  You can tell stories, and you know these stories.  But they do not make it through.

 

I am talking about people like Duncan Laing, yeah?  New Zealand.  I do not know if any… he has passed away now, but he was Danyon Loader’s coach.  Danyon was an athlete who did not speak, would not speak, could not speak; he was terribly shy and would nod and so on.  The athlete did not want to speak, but the coach did—he was not shy at all.  He was full of stories, tales of how it all came about.  Stories that leap from the pool and told of a wider experience.  The stuff of life and lives.  You are all capable of that, as I have said.

 

But the space to allow that to flow in the environment, the interface between us, is a World Cup event, with half an Olympic program/half a World Championships program in a day.  There is no air there for doing any of that.  So I think, really, that FINA has to think between those major events of different formats, of different ways of doing things; of allowing a better interface and a better dialogue between you and the rest of the world.  Maybe you do not want that.  Maybe you are just happy to… you do not care; you know, you are just getting on with your jobs and you do not require the media to be there and so on.  But if you want the better media, if you want better coverage, I think you do need a better interface.  And the working environment certainly does not help.

 

Take in… (I am going to wrap-up fairly soon but) take Britain in 2012.  Bud [McAllister] is sitting there and I do not know how you felt about it; but in 2012 as a journalist, it was like an alien world to me, my own country.  That you suddenly had this environment where every kid that could have possibly made the team either was linked to an agent or had an agent.  And instead of me saying, Okay, what’s important this week is I’ll call Bud and we’ll do a feature on Jazz [Carlin] or whatever it is; what was happening was we were being called as media saying: I’m so and so and Swimmer X is going to, you know, show the latest shoe or the latest this or the latest that at this event and we’re offering this story only to you and these two other people; and could you please put the adverb on the bottom of that.  And so on.  And the newspaper was buying-into that.

 

Now, if media buys-into that, that is one thing; if the sport buys into that, that is quite a different thing.  And I think that part of… Britain looks for all sorts of solutions to what went wrong, and this and that and the other, but they never mentioned some of that stuff and I think it was critically important.  Bill Sweetenham used to tell them: “Look, until you’ve got the gold medal around your neck, you do not need any of that.  You do not need any of it.  It is not important.  You’ve got a job to do.”  And it was totally ignored, and I think that was a large part of the problem.

 

And again, they all had, because it was Olympic in their home country, something called media training.  And again, Bud, you probably have seen some of these sessions and so on.  What I think about media training is: if you are offered it, be careful.  Ask the question: Who is telling you this?  Where do they come from?  And what are the messages being told you?  Because almost everyone I have ever known coming out of a media training session sounds wooden, sounds like they are reading to a script.  Swimming is full of people with… very natural people.  What we want to see, what I want to see as media, is you talking to me like you talk to your kids in training: full of the passion of the moment and so on.  Be yourselves, whatever that is; to be yourself is the best way to be with the media in my opinion.  And that includes saying how you feel.  Of course, sometimes that might get you into trouble.  But do it: it will also get you a headline.

 

I will wrap by just saying something about passion, and it is talking to what I just said there.  On the way over I saw The Great Gatsby, the film, on the plane; and it got me thinking about all sorts of things.  I had read The Great Gatsby again over winter, with Wuthering Heights and various other things that I read last winter.  These things are art.  It is art, it is storytelling, it is lore—L-O-R-E.  That is what we are.  Before we could write things down, human beings told stories, kept stories; they passed them on generation after generation.  Swimming is like that: it is full of wonderful stories that have a thread to them through history.  And you are part of that, and I hope you feel a part of that.  You are the latest generation; you are the guardians of this moment.  And the passion that plays out in your lives every day with your kids and so on, should be what reaches the media.  Unfortunately, because of the environment I have just described, it does not make it and I think we can do much better.  We all have a role to play in that, and I urge you to let your voice be heard and let your stories be heard.

 

I will end it there—there was something else I wanted to say.  I think we have to get those two things… there are several things there.  Just to sum up: we have to get the information that goes out on Swimming.  We have to bring it together, so that media ignorant or clever—whatever you call it, whichever end of the spectrum of knowledge you might be at—it is a useful document that means you can cover Swimming properly, intelligently, and you do not need to scrabble around.  At the moment of pressure, you can devote more time to running down to the mix zone and saying, Please, can I speak to you.  I want to speak to that coach there; because I need to speak to you, I need to know a little bit more color about this person.  And I think you can help that.

 

And I just want to ask one question and then I will stop.  We were told by FINA—some while ago and this is something that I raised with my FINA Press Commission colleague Greg.  We were told that coaches… in the 1990s, we had a corridor in the swim-down pool, okay?  So we could get there.  We could not walk on to the deck and so on.  But you could get there, you could observe, and you could say to a coach, if you’ve got a minute.  And if they did not have a minute, they did not have to come—they could get on with their job.  But if they did have a minute, you could get that question in.  It was a little corridor in the swim-down pools.  Because of the events of ’98, with the HGH and all the chaos, we were then subsequently told, as media, that the coaches, you, did not want to see the media; so that facility was removed.  (Yeah.  Exactly.)

 

And so the mix zone was the only place you could go.  And, of course, coaches do not come to the mix zone unless they happened to be there with a kid—I mean, you know, when the event is going on.  So we do not get to speak to you.  When… at a major event, I hardly get to speak to a coach.  And yet it is from you that I can get the color that I need; it is from you that I need the stories.  I cannot predict beforehand.  I do not want to speak to you about 16 athletes on… and take down notes and spend six months transcribing lots of stuff—no one if their right mind is going to do that.  It only becomes a story when it happens; and we have to react quickly and as quickly as we can.  And for that, we need an interface.  And right now in the world of FINA, certainly, there is no interface and that is a bad thing.

 

Okay, thank you very much for listening.

 

 

##### end #####

 

Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news