The local organising committee for the swimming World Championships in Melbourne – already at loggerheads with the world’s sporting press over their attempt to charge up to £800 a head for journalists to have guaranteed access to a desk and phone at the event – have now had to admit that they have blundered again.
This time the costly error has been over the construction of the temporary swim “tank”, a 50×25-metre, 3-metre deep pool at the Rod Laver Arena, better known as the home of the Australian Open tennis.
The organisers shipped the metal panels to construct a temporary racing pool from Spain, and began its construction last month, straight after the end of the tennis championships.
But on Friday, the Melbourne 2007 swimming organisers were forced to admit that that they had blundered over spectator seating positions. They admitted that they would have to reallocate or refund spectators who, for each session of swimming, had booked nearly 200 of the most expensive seats – with tickets priced at up to Aus$198 each for evening finals sessions – because advertising boards blocked their view of half of the pool.
“It has become apparent that spectators situated in the seats … will have an obstructed view of the pool” Damian Glass, for the local organisers, said.
“They can’t see all the 10 lanes of the pool, but they can see about five or six lanes. We’re putting a 50m swimming pool into Rod Laver Arena … it’s a fairly complex task and these things happen” he said.
A similar failure to attend to detail by the Melbourne organisers has caused the row with the world’s press two weeks before the first starter’s signal is sounded.
Gianni Merlo, the president of the AIPS, the world sports journalists’ association, and Craig Lord, the swimming correspondent of The Times, have alleged that the Melbourne organisers were warned last year that their plans for the press working areas at the swimming venue was too small to accommodate the expected number of media covering the event.
They claim that to compensate for this, the organisers have hiked their rate card for basic media services, including guaranteed seats in the press room and internet access.
Fees for the additional services, described as â€œexorbitantâ€, include Aus$986 simply for the hire of a phone for the three-week duration of the event. A more basic internet service, costing just Aus$110, is available but Lord says this was never made clear to “duped” journalists when applying for accreditation.
“The move to charge journalists, or their newspapers, exorbitant rates to do their jobs and deliver aquatics news to the wider world comes down to a simple problem: the organisers of Melbourne 2007 failed to allocate a big enough space for the media room and needed a control mechanism” Lord wrote this week on sportsjournalists.co.uk.
“Their solution: charge high rates and make good money by stealth in the bargain.”
Lord estimates that as many as one-fifth of journalists attending major swimming events, including Olympic Games, are self-funding freelancers, who have to meet all their own travel and accommodation costs when covering a meeting.
The high fees which the Melbourne organisers have been charging to accrediting media for the swimming World Championships might have raised close to Aus$200,000 towards the event’s costs, a significant contribution for the event.
Plans for the event, which also includes diving, synchronised swimming, water polo and open water swimming and involves 2,000 competitors from 175 countries, include offering US$2 million in prize money for the first time at a Fina World Championships.
Yesterday, if somewhat belatedly, the swimming world body, Fina, stepped in to guarantee a seating plan in the tribune at the various venues that works for all journalists. Fina press commission chairman Camillo Cametti said, “the policy of FINA is not to exploit the media representatives but to provide them with the best possible services”.
How that might relate to refunding journalists for services that they booked unnecessarily, however, may only emerge in 10 days’ time, as the world’s press begin to arrive in Melbourne for what ought to be one of the highlights of the 2007 sporting calendar.