Sparkes & Rothwell Respond to Criticism of 2016 European Masters Meet

Controversy struck the 2016 European Masters Championships, as an open letter yesterday was published directed towards British Swimming CEO David Sparkes. The meet ran from May 25th to the 29th.

The letter, which you can read in full here, criticized the lack of limitations on meet entries. There were allegedly far too many swimmers entered in a meet that simply wouldn’t be able to host such a large amount of athletes. Thus, many swimmers entered the meet and invested time and money to get there and compete only to be told far too late that the meet was overbooked. According to the letter, entries to the meet were given out on a first come, first served basis only four days prior to the beginning of the meet.

“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.”

The author of the letter, Verity Dobbie, concludes her letter suggesting there might be a new federation established to run affairs for masters swimming.

Sparkes responded to Dobbie, saying that he had “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.”

In his response, he also said that “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.”

Simon Rothwell, LEN Masters Chairman, also gave a reply to Dobbie’s letter. He echoed that there were issues regarding the entries, saying “you are right that at the beginning of the week the challenge was extremely difficult to manage but by working together things did improve. Not something any of us would want to repeat though.”

Neither Sparkes nor Rothwell proposed any explicit changes or further actions that would take place following their responses.

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Typical masters swimmer, in the “somebody else should do something for me” category. This guy never proposes himself as a volunteer or to do any of the heavy lifting involved with putting on a major meet, let alone running an organization. Which reminds me, thank you to U.S. Masters swimming organization and all the volunteers for all you do!


Verity was the (volunteer) chair of the British Masters Committee (all volunteers). This committee worked tirelessly on behalf of masters in Britain to put on events and help masters swimmers. They tried very hard to advise Britush Swimming and LEN about the Europeans which was always going to be a massive event in London’s Olympic pool. The response by the governing bodies was to bluntly disband (by email) this body a month before the Europeans. Our volunteers are great, our governing bodies are not!


If you’re referring to Verity with your barb then you couldn’t be more wrong – she’s been at the forefront of masters swimming in Britain for many years, most recently as chairman of the now disbanded British Swimming Masters Committtee. So your criticism is wildly misplaced. (And yes huge thanks due to all those volunteers who make these events possible)

Graham Short

You are wrong! Verity has worked tirelessly and selflessly for many years to ensure that British Masters Swimming is properly run. I can assure you that Verity is not, and never has been, in your category, “somebody else should do something for me.” Your comment is not only misguided but it is offensive to masters swimmers in the UK who are grateful to Verity for all she has done for us.


Why bother commenting when, clearly, you have no idea what you’re talking about?


Hi Trainwithnogoggles, I am aware you don’t know me (otherwise you would realise that I’m a her) and it is perhaps a national failing that we Brits tend to understate matters and are modest about our achievements but there is a hint of the work I do for our sport in the second paragraph of my letter. However if you consider a typical masters swimmer to be someone who has amongst other things:- swum at every single FINA world championships, and 7 or so European championships, has sat on the ASA Masters and British Masters swimming committees for 24 years, at various times holding the position of secretary and chair; with the support of Walt Reid set up the first… Read more »


Mea culpa Verity! After thinking about my anger, I realize I took out my own frustrations on you -erroneously lumping you into that category of individuals – who are not representative of worldwide masters – that ultimately caused me to resign my position and say let someone else do a tour of duty. I have been LMSC officer and usms delegate. You have earned the right to rant from time to time.

Keep swimmIng,


Apology accepted TWNG, no hard feelings,I understand where you’re coming from and agree it would be nice if a few more people helped out every now and then though!


It’s about time some form of qualifying time gets implemented at such large meets so at least numbers can be managed in the interest of all stake holders.


There were qualifying times which were far too easy…


A case in point was the 800m Frs at the Australian Masters Champs earlier this year, swimmers had to swim 2 to a lane!! As entry numbers were way above expectations and otherwise this single event would have taken all day…time for some qualifying times perhaps to manage entry numbers.


Agree. Masters swimming should be inclusive, but a national/international championship should have QTs set to keep the meets reasonably sized.


We regularly swim 2 per lane in distance events at all levels of meets. Its not a big deal in a 50 meter pool. Is it ideal? No, but not really hard. I agree qualifying times at major meets make sense.


But it is still should not happen. A swim-mate of mine swimming the 800 fs had to repeatedly avoid the oncoming swimmer in the same lane who did not keep to her side!

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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