Open Letter to David Sparkes


Dear David,

This is an open letter.

The European Masters in London was always going to be huge. You take an already proven event, place it in the premier swimming venue in the world, the iconic London Aquatic Centre; in one of the most accessible capitals in the world; and a must visit destination; and then to ramp up demand even further the major international Masters event for the two preceding years is held firstly in a relatively expensive place for European’s to travel to (Montreal) and secondly in an unheard of and difficult to visit venue (Kazan) and you have created the perfect conditions for a successful event.

At a presentation to the ASA board in 2013 (attended by you and the Chair of the LEN Masters committee) I called the 2016 European Championships a ‘monster’. At Manchester in June 2015 I mentioned that this would be a 10,000 swimmer meet to the CEO of the LOC, who didn’t engage in relation to this discussion but said something about 4500 swimmers. In Kazan in August 2015 in a conversation with the secretary of the LEN masters committee, he discussed the numbers expected in London and the challenges that would bring.

Faced with clear signs of the likely demand how did you/LEN deal with it? It somehow feels completely wrong to talk about the “limitations” of the “The London Aquatic Centre” but you knew from the very outset there would be problems and the event would be massively oversubscribed and you failed to enter into any consultation with the Masters community to enable them to take the right decision for Masters about the event at an early stage; ie how to fairly limit numbers (a debate which should have taken place long before the launch of the website).

This was compounded by allowing people to incur costs by booking travel and accommodation without any suggestion that they may not be able to compete; you also failed to publicise the opening date for entries; and then having decided to limit entries on a “first come first served” basis finally released the opening date with a mere 4 days notice.

The resulting debacle and the ensuing scramble to shoe horn as many people as possible into the event, led to administrative chaos and completely avoidable strain on both competitors and the people delivering the event.

Having fudged that first decision and encouraged the demand you then failed utterly to provide the facilities required to deal with the inevitable consequences for the benefit of the competitors, a temporary pool was the minimum requirement and should’ve been included as should facilities to allow swimmers to mix and spend time together.

The errors and missteps taken by LEN in delivering this event are too numerous to mention and I can only conclude that the income from the Masters had a greater priority then delivering a memorable competitive experience for them.

This event exists for the benefit of Masters but did anyone consult the Masters community about any of these decisions? and where was the voice of the LEN Masters committee in all of this? Did they say anything? Did you listen to them? Were any Masters consulted about the initial decision to link the Elite Championships with the Masters? I would be interested to learn of any discussions which took place and the reasons and rationale behind these decisions. It seems to me that it is a reasonable assumption that the Masters Committees from the various constituent Federations of LEN would have been asked to contribute to that discussion.

I have scratched my head about how we came to be in this position and initially my thoughts were quite generous that “you” in a very British and modest way did not dare to believe that the event would be so successful. I was reluctant to attach any other motivation to this, particularly as I realise that these meets are incredibly expensive to run, but I have reluctantly arrived at the conclusion that it boiled down to money and the cynical exploitation of the Masters community.

The consultation and communication in relation to this event has been woeful, and your breathtaking arrogance in this matter is matched only by your ability to avoid responsibility for the absolute mess that you have created and the utter disdain and contempt you hold for Masters. Make no mistake David, the debacle we have witnessed in London this week is firmly at your door, a fact eloquently corroborated by your absence from the event.

You knew what was coming but failed to grasp the nettle and subjected over 10000 swimmers not to mention 100’s of officials and volunteers to the conditions they faced in London last week. Masters are in this for the fun, camaraderie and the competition and are prepared to invest large amounts of time and (as you are acutely aware) money in pursuing swimming. Masters have a positive contribution to make to our sport and they deserve better.

The fact that the week was successful on some levels, is a tribute, firstly to the hard work and absolute dedication of the officials and volunteers and also your beleaguered LOC who went over and above the call of duty to ensure that the meet worked in a fashion; and secondly the good nature and resilience of the swimmers.

It is profoundly disappointing that faced with the opportunity to showcase such a positive and life affirming celebration of Masters in our country, the legacy of London will be to reinforce other nation’s views that we are a country renowned for queueing, but we couldn’t even organise that, at least not for the first two days.

Your decisions have set back the development of Masters and severely hampered the opportunity to capitalise on this event in this country and probably assured that Britain is never trusted with another major international Masters event again.

You are not interested in Masters, I understand that. We do not sit comfortably with “performance” goals. I have no doubt that certain elements can be an unpleasant distraction. But as we have pointed out on many occasions we are a discipline run by adults and well capable of both running and financing our own activities in a responsible way.

Masters should be given the freedom to make our own decisions and be able to get on with running our discipline without interference or exploitation from the National and International Governing bodies.

Masters needs to be left to manage its own affairs, it is apparent that it needs to be recognised as a separate discipline, and to be free to take the sport in the direction that is best for Masters.

Masters would value its administration being accountable and transparent to the membership, and I would support Eddie Riach when he says we need to be represented at an international level by someone who is truly an advocate for Masters.

I think Masters swimmers deserve an unreserved apology and the disbanded British Masters Committee would welcome some positive discussions with British Swimming as to how we move this forward.







50 thoughts on “Open Letter to David Sparkes

  1. We try in this country to promote active participation in sport to all ages. swimming is one sport we oldies can continue for many years, but I think this last week very little concern was shown to us. The officials etc were great when faced with so many participants, but this should never have occurred.
    I wonder how many people have been discouraged to continue through their experience in Lonodn.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. So sorry to see that , Rosemary. You have been a stalwart in the Masters movement for so many years, it is appalling that someone like you should have been so badly affected.


  2. I think this is an eloquent and measured assessment of the situation Verity. I would also like to commend the officials who ran the meet with such efficiency. They all seemed to be on the poolside for much longer periods than usual. All the volunteers of course and the security guards, who took a lot of flack when they were just following instructions and they also worked long, long hours.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The fact that concessions were only given when threatened with legal action says everything. David Sparkes is a disgrace to swimming and only his resignation from LEN and British Swimming will be good enough for a lot of people.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A fantastic letter verity setting out the facts. I will remember the Europeans in London for all the wrong reasons rather than the success it could and should have been if masters views had been acted upon. I feel that masters swimming has taken a very big backwards step as a result of these chaotic championships.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Having returned to competitive swimming just last October after a 49 year break, my times are not yet such that I would have traveled from Los Angeles to London to participate. However, being involved at a management level for four years planning and delivering athlete, press, and special visitor transportation for the 1984 Olympics, I watched in horror as this debacle unfolded. Who would want to spend time and money to attend an event so poorly planned and organized? Verity’s letter was well written, and competitors’ posts on social media bear out her points. I trust the British swim community will take swift and decisive action in response to this disappointing event. “FAILURE TO PLAN is to PLAN FOR FAILURE.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Arena LEN European Masters Championships 2016 ???
    “Wankers on duty” in front of such a big venue, with hundreds of free seats inside… keeping everybody for hours in front of the doors. That big fat guy put a mother to change her 3months baby’s pampers, layed down near acces door, because she leaves the long row of people, after 2 hours waiting, asking for rest room to do her baby’s natural thing. There were several mothers with little babys, waiting because of this unbelievable dumb idea of a smarthead of this english event. This is the worst organized master event, I ever saw in my life! WANKERS ON DUTY! (on our own cost)
    Organizers for this year event, you will never understand what’s “master” trully is or what could meant for young’s, general public, etc…. but you understand well, how to make money and that’s fine! (for you)
    Happy worsty event !!!


  7. I absolutely agree with the content of this open letter. This was my third either World or European Masters Championships and it was just chaotic. I had really looked forward to this event and had high expectations. But after hours and hours of queing, not knowing whether one would be let in for the race or not I was just frustrated.


  8. Well said,a good letter although I wouldn’t say it is a fun event as you only have to look a some of the incredible times achieved by the swimmers.British Swimming have a history of treating Masters like second class citizens,I am the County Masters Rep for Essex ASA and I have noticed that since I have been doing this job the County don’t really have much time for Masters Swimming. Until we can get people to change their attitude about Masters Swimming nothing will ever get done.
    The European Championships was utter carnage but hey look how much money LEN made on the event .
    Doug Drake

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Had a great time. No bother at any stage.

    Got in ok everytime. Queued for 1.5hrs to get a spectator seat for the other half but that was about it.

    My only issue is that the women couldn’t compete in the competition pool.

    In regards to some of these comments people needsay to maybe priorities themselves and their families. Also, if you are hungry I would suggest eating. I ate at many of the places around the site.


  10. I totally agree. I did come to the same conclusion that money was the focus and also asked for a public apology. Nothing has come and likely nothing will come. That’s a shame.


  11. Interesting to read all the complaints, which were apparently correct, but I would have liked to know how a meet like this could be better organized? More days of competition? Different pools for different Age Groups?


  12. An excellent letter Verity. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to express all our thoughts. Let’s hope somebody takes notice…


  13. Having run a (successful) bid for the World Masters Athletics Championships and worked at the event, a similar event to yours, I think that combining Elite events and organisations with Masters events and organisations just will not work. I am sure that the goals of FINA/LEN and Masters’ Swimming are just as far away from each other as they are with IAAF and WMA respectively.

    Whereas Elite championships are about medals, sponsors and TV coverage, Masters events are about the joy of sport, winning oneself, camaraderie and, yes, tourism. I visited your games and saw the same commitment and joy of sport – and heard the same frustrations about being the ugly duckling beside the Elite event.

    It would serve everybody’s interest to keep these two separated – at least until there is real will on both sides to work as one.


    1. Well said, , and thank you Elite swimmers and Masters have completely different aims, and should never be organized by the same team of people, Their meets should be held in different centres and at different dates so that they get different treatment from different organizers who can cater properly for their needs


  14. I would like to thank the officials and volonteers who worked under very difficult conditions, and very very long working hours. You did your best to cope whith problems than others had created for you!


  15. Very well written! Thank you Glen!

    I would like to add:

    on February 11, 2016, the Austrian Swimming Federation (OSV) has sent its first written protest ( to LEN-president Paolo BARELLI, to LEN Executive Director Paulo FRISCHKNECHT and to Simon ROTHWELL, chairman of the LEN Masters Committee, after LEN had decided to close the entry process not even 48 hours after having opened the registration, and has urged for a quick re-opening! This re-opening later included a restriction to three individual entries, and the necessity of withdrawing two entries for those who had been lucky enough to register within 48 hours. We were all left with the option to either travel to London for three (3) individual entries instead of the five (5) that have always been allowed for LEN Masters European Championships, or to withdraw for a complete money-back guarantee.

    On May 9, 2016 the Austrain Swimming Federation has sent a second mail expressing major disappointment ( to LEN-president BARELLI (who had been re-elected the weekend ago), to Executive Director FRISCHKNECHT, and to chariman ROTHWELL (an earlier mail would not have made sense, given that the LEN Congress could have brought about a new president, and/or a new chairman of the Masters Committee), after the masters community had been informed by a posting on the official homepage that half of the events would be scheduled in the warm-up pool (( This bad news was issued two weeks before the beginning of the championships, well after any withdrawal deadline.

    No reply from LEN was recieved on any of the two letters that were sent by a member federation.


    Masters-Coordinator, Austrian Swimming Federation (OSV)


    1. These organizers should certainly apologize, it is being left to the ordinary British swimmers (who suffered as you did , of course) to apologize for them. Suggestions are being made , and we hope there will be a complete change of this most unfortunate collection of people who have been unable to take any advice from us, despite it having been given , several times.


      1. Dear Jane!
        For years, I´m tempted to write: for decades, you´ve been an inspiration to the world-wide masters community; not only through your breathtaking performances in the pool, but also by rising up for masters-interests, to stand up against problems created by people that have priorities other than just providing the best venue for one of the most appealing international masters events, and – last not least – by feeling embarrassed by the arrogance of the resposnsible people (LEN and the local organizing committee) that are not willing to apologize!
        Thank you so much! You´re comments, your apology, is highly appreciated!
        Masters don´t bring advertising or TV renevue (I should say: maybe not yet), yet Masters provide role model effects – for continued health, fitness, friendship,…. but also moral integrity. May the almighty Pound, Euro, or Dollar never come to sole power.
        Best regards from Vienna, Austria

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Brilliant letter and totally agree with all the points made. We spent almost two hours in a spectators queue only to receive a text from our family member competitor that they had completed their swim. We didn’t even make it into the building. No information was given and we had no idea what point had been reached in the heats until a swimmer who was leaving told us.


  17. Yes, indeed, the officials were pleasant and helpful to the end , and they must have been exhausted. It shows the spirit of true lovers of the sport, and appreciation of the efforts of swimmers, which unfortunately does not seem to be the case with the members of the organization who made it such an unpleasant experience for all of us.


  18. I with my brother we are since 1993 in Europe and world championships while almost all. I swim for austria he swims for Hungary. There were very nice. There were sometimes good sometimes not so good organize daily. One was always good, we masters swimmers have less felt we be excluded. There were always expensive but we have come to account. We met with nice sportsman. Each had a different goal setting for this time. One wanted to win others just simply be there. But there was a common desire was fulfilled a respectful for masters swimming. We felt valuable. Montreal in 2014 year was disappointing. First signs are masters deficit balance .of elite sporting event. Kazan are few swimmers come for unnecessary anxiety .I have seen my best competition there. I’m sure if more people come just as good. people were heart love who treated us respectfully. They did not skimp on master swim. I thought of this great event that we masters receive an appreciation by merging to elite. London has shown. We are good only for spending money. It is a shame even the certificate for 4th to 8th place. I have beautiful medal for 4th place in Kazan. I also call Independence for masters swimming. we masters whether we swim well or not so well. should not be backer for elite swimmers. We are independent, we respectfully deserve. Hajdu Judit


  19. Whilst I am glad that I managed to (finally…) swim in the 50m breast on the Thursday; it was an experience marred by the chaotic queuing. No warm up etc. I agree with Verity’s comments and conclude that the focus was on money rather than celebrating the fact that so many Europeans continue to swim at a high standard well into their prime!


  20. This is heartbreaking. We can only hope that David Sparkes and his acolytes have the grace and humility to take a good look at their performance and learn the necessary lessons.


  21. A resounding “Get Lost, who cares about Masters” from the politician David Sparkes:

    “From: David Sparkes

    Verity I have noted your letter, I don’t propose to respond in detail as
    it would serve no purpose. However I will say that to date I have received
    numerous positive comments from Masters Swimmers who participated in
    London from around Europe and expressing how appreciative they are with
    the opportunity to swim in London in the Aquatic Centre. We all agree
    there were challenges and we all also agree that the Organising Committee
    did a great job. There are of course lessons to learn as there are from
    every major event and both LEN and British Swimming will take these on
    board in due course.

    Regarding your closing remarks on the formation of a separate Masters
    Federation, this is of course not something I can in my role in British
    Swimming help with. I suggest if this is the direction you and your
    colleagues wish to go you need to take this up with the HC Federation who
    together are the sole members of British Swimming. British Swimming in
    turn then is the sole member of FINA and LEN, as you are I am sure aware.

    I have passed your letter on to Simon Rothwell also as he may want to
    consider your views both as a member of the BS Board from the ASA and the
    LEN Masters Chairman.

    David Sparkes
    Chief Executive
    British Swimming”

    There were a lot more very unhappy swimmers than “positive comments”!!


    1. of course he does not want to reply in detail, he has just washed his hands ………as has been done before! And will be done again unless proper action is taken.
      It was amazing that the whole week was managed despite the complete lack of care before it started.
      We owe a great debt of gratitude to the people who picked up the pieces and kept it going despite the “challenges”. Many , many thanks.



      Liked by 1 person

  22. Thanks for the voluntary employees. They have really worked on their limit. You have attempted to deal with the chaos. End of the event is quite well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. It was amazing to see how badly organized a big event like this could be.
    A few hints from a routined official and masters competitor from behind the Austrian mountains were enough to see improvements the following days.
    I was not let in for my 50m Breaststroke, so I had to compete in heat 112! Very motivating !!
    For the 50m Backstroke on the following day we were called in heat by heat, and on Sunday, for the 50m Freestyle, there were no long queues at all. That´s what I call improvement.
    I was glad I was listened to by one of the many officials who went to their limits to make this a positive event (for me) after all.
    But it wasn´t worth the €25 per entry at all. And the hundreds of pounds that we all spent on travel and food.


  24. I am from Spain. I organized, together with a group of incredible people, the 2001 European Masters Championships in Palma de Mallorca (Spain). Since then, I have not been to any other European Championships, and I have to tell you that if things will continue like what we have had experienced in
    London, its going to take many, many years for me to attend another one.

    I have to thank from the bottom of my heart, all the officials and volunteers who did their best, and more, to keep up the event and not let it collapse.

    For me, there is no doubt that the main problem was to have granted the competition to be held in a facility that was not adapted to manage such a number of participants. This was clear, and had to have been clear also for the LEN. And this is what I do not understand. How is it that people that have been in that Organization for many, many years were not capable to see that in advance. Why was so important to do it in London???

    I hope that some day the LEN, will give an explanation about all what has happened in this London event, together with a a letter apologizing to all the Masters swimmers that participated in it.


    1. Yes, Jorge, You are owed an apology. Sadly it seems the organizers do not have the ability to say sorry. We, as British swimmers did try to warn those organizers that it would be very attractive here in London, and that large numbers would apply. They must have been concentrating so deeply on the elite that they did not listen to us. We are sorry, even if they are not.


  25. I`m very sad about this expirience; I mostly felt disregarded.
    There was no central place to meet, and to sit down and make new friendship even there is so much space in front of aquatics center, But no tables, no chairs, no catering., even no toilets – you had to go the whole queue into the aquatics center to use toilets. …

    The strongestes feeling was ” me as a cashcow”

    .We worked hard for one year and tried to make our best performance at this competition. The requirement for a good competition was missing.. Why no backstroke-helps? are we not worth it?
    All masters together ( about 10.000) spent a lot of money; , therefore we expected a fair treatment. What have you done with the whole money?

    many thanks to the referees and volonteers! they were not to blame, they just had to pay for this terrible organisation


    1. Totally agree with your comments, I found it very difficult to cope. The security were as considerate as possible in the circumstances, and I felt so sorry for them and all the volunteers and officials who tried hard to keep us moving.


    2. Thank you so much for adding your disappointment, Susanne. We British swimmers were so embarrassed to see our European friends so badly catered for. It was an appalling display of utter disregard on the part of the LEN and mainly the local organizers. We would like to apologize on their behalf, because they haven’t the grace to do so themselves.


  26. No need to be embarrassed, Jane, and the organisers ought to apologize themselves. We were all sitting in the same boat.

    But I have a suggestion. Lets ask the governing body of LEN, through our elected masters representatives of course, to cancel the championships retroactively altogether, because of serious impingements of LEN rules. In addition to the general unacceptable conduct of the championships, there have been numerous infractions on the Regulations for European Masters Championships as published by LEN. I quote the following examples: MA-SW 1.4 “Competitors may be entered for….five individual events…”; MA-G 2.8 “There shall be no refund of entry fees”; MA-G 4.3 “A commeratative souvenir shall be given to each competitor…”. My proposal is to rename the “championships” to “The Big London Swim-meet (or Splash) of 2016”, recycle the, admittedly, very pretty medals and distribute new ones of the same shape but less costly material with suitably corrected inscriptions on the back.

    All this should be done after getting the views of the participants, whose names and contact addresses the LOC has on file, via a general inquiry round – not a referendum….

    How about it?




  27. I was disgusted and appalled at the way swimmers were treated like cattle boxed from one queue to another – room to room without seeing anything of the completion and told to leave as soon as we had swum – and as a showcase for Europe – its was a complete debacle – I agree with all the comments made in the letter and those of people above. I was not allowed to swim despite being there due to lack of co-ordination and lack of time to take due care and attention. Certainly not an event for the swimmer – its all about the MONEY and certainly not the Swimmers. The event would have been a complete mess had the stewards and officials not done their best in an horrendous situation and the fact it went as well as it did is something we should be grateful to them for – and certainly no thanks those who set this shambolic competition up.

    I complained and had a condescending e-mail from no particular person calling me ‘friend’ and ‘Trusting in your understanding and collaboration’ without even answering my issues. They cannot even get an apology right so what hope do we have for them to run a competition.


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