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It isn’t the ASRL’s desire to continue a public debate on the cancellation of the water events, or to labour the point without offering solutions. Equally, statements that are designed to cover for an error of judgment by some at SLSA should be challenged if we are to bring balance into the discussion and make any progress in preventing similar events in the future.
The ASRL have always been at the forefront of safety discussions, as evidenced by:
• Our introducing Gate Cans to separate racing boats.
• Meeting with and strongly advising SLSA Officials at the 2010 Aussie Championships no less than 8 times that the event must be postponed before someone was seriously hurt - only to be continuously rebuffed by the safety decision makers.
• Forcing the issue for the introduction and acceptance of the Surf Hazard Rating system as a key tool in understanding and managing the dangers of surf conditions.
• Standing firm against a wave of competitor displeasure at the introduction of Helmets into the sport
These are just a few examples of what qualifies us to stand strong and have our say over the recent situation of prematurely cancelling the major competition event of the season.
We saw statements attributed to the SLSA Emergency Management Coordinator for the Championship, advising of briefings from Government Agencies, Emergency Services and Council Lifeguards around “water quality from debris and clarity”. He then stated that he was “very comfortable with the process we went through” before the carnival safety committee (CSC) made the decision, sometime before 8.30 on Friday night, to immediately cancel all water events. This decision begs the following questions:
1. Why would the CSC feel the need to make this decision around 8.30pm on the night before, rather than wait to assess if the possible risk actually eventuated in daylight the next day?
2. If we have learnt anything about surf, it is that it is not always predictable, with influences like current and wind always variables, so why was the decision made on Friday night?
3. Did the CSC do any water sampling at any time over the last 4 programed days of the event?
4. If you are going to rely on a factor such as water quality to make a decision you needed water testing, so if this was not done, why not?
5. How is it that organisations like Triathlon can be organised to undertake these most basic tests for the protection of their athletes based on actual facts, but an organisation that sells itself as the product expert in ocean beach safety, does not have the ability to do the same - especially with the long window of watching that Cyclone develop?
6. Why, if the advice from the Lifeguard Service on Friday afternoon was so serious as to make our CSC cancel the event because all beaches would be closed, did 15 of the 17 Gold Coast beaches open for business on Saturday and Sunday mornings?
7. Why if the Government agencies advised you on Friday afternoon that the situation was serious enough to close all GC beaches for the next two days, did this same body allow an organised Surfboard Competition on Saturday at Coolangatta (right next to the Tweed River outlet) as well as general public swimming right along the Gold Coast on Saturday and Sunday?
8. How is it that the Gold Coast Lifeguard Superintendent Peter Ball (the very same Lifeguard body our CSC is claiming we took our advice from to cancel) opened 15 of the 17 GC beaches and made the following newspaper statements: “they were aware of the risk however conditions were fine …………… I don’t think you could ask for better conditions to hold a surf carnival”.
9. Did anyone even check or consider to look for another beach location further up the road from the Tweed, if that was where the risk was coming from?
It certainly makes the SLS argument very weak when we know the beaches were open to the public and in Television interviews conducted by Channel 9 during Saturday, we have the Chief GC Lifeguard Warren Young stating on camera: "the beaches are cleaning up really quickly" and a GCCC Councillor states "there is absolutely no sewerage in the surf " - all while the SLS cancelled all water events.
Had SLSA made the very simple decision to wait for daybreak on Saturday to see if the possible risk had actually eventuated, every bit of this would have been avoided and your membership would be travelling home happy for the adventure.
The decision to cancel did not appear to have anything to do with the correct process and common sense of decision making. The ASRL was not invited into the room, so will never know what advice was actually delivered by the various agencies to SLSA that Friday afternoon. What we do now know as irrefutable fact, is that the very group of agencies being relied on by SLSA to cover them in this bad decision, all obviously had the ability to assess the risk on Saturday morning and then kept everything open to the public.
The task in front of everyone now is to heal the wound and mistrust that has resulted from a decision making error by SLSA. The best place to start this process, in the opinion of the ASRL would be for SLSA to immediately stop trying to justify itself and the decision and offer a simple apology to the membership that came out of this with no Championship. Reconciliation starts with the word “sorry” not recrimination against extremely disillusioned members.
The first step is to embrace the various Product Experts that exist in each of the key Surf Sports disciplines and actually listen to them and include them as part of every future major event committee.
The ASRL, as always, stands ready to be a part of the future solution, but only if we are now going to be treated with the respect a responsible representative body that carries the extra title of SLSA’s Surf Boat Committee deserves.
We will follow through by making some considered representation to SLSA for discussion and action and look forward to fruitful discussions in the months ahead.
5 April 2017