In the wake of the death of Francis Crippen at the 10km Marathon World Cup swimming races last Saturday (23 October 2010) in Fujairah, family and friends have been demanding answers, seeking explanations and calling for improvements to the swimming regulations that govern future races.
It is a good thing that the Fujairah Police, UAE Swimming, FINA and now USA Swimming are all undertaking their independent enquiries to understand the facts and learn from this tragedy.
Here are some constructive lessons and recommendations to come out of this international conversation thus far:
1. Clear and Transparent Reporting
The initial reports that were published online in UAE papers on Saturday afternoon stated that Francis Crippen was taken from the waters and rushed by an ambulance to the Fujairah Hospital. To readers it seemed that hope was still alive but those at the site of the race knew that Francis Crippen was already dead. Even after a pronouncement of death had been made at the hospital it was still hours before his death was reported.
While the death certificate from the hospital was brought along to the Sunday Press Conference and read in Arabic it has still not been made available to the public for translation. The delay in releasing written documents gives greater scope for fictional stories to spread and gather momentum.
Numerous stories posted online around the world have been in conflict with one another which has heightened the confusion and accentuated the mystery surrounding Crippen’s death.
It was a helpful initiative by FINA, UAE Swimming and the Fujairah International Marine Club (FIMC) to schedule a Press Conference the next day (Sunday) at the Marine Club.
Those addressing media personnel spoke mainly in Arabic. Although a request was made for simultaneous translation it was decided that one of the four speakers would later address the English language reporters and writers, which Ayman Saad (UAE Swimming) did with three people after the main press conference. This was helpful but for an international body (FINA) representing a large international audience it is important for interpreters to be on hand for the translation of the written and spoken words.
3. Number of Competitors and Safety Officers
While Ayman Saad repeated the mantra that no accidents like this had happened before, that the UAE Swimming has staged very successful races and that FINA had checked all the safety boxes before the races were started, he was asked what lessons could be drawn and what improvements might be instituted in the light of the tragedy. Mr. Saad said one recommendation may be to insist on there being fewer competitors in the race. He said there were 81 swimmers in the two races, 56 men and 25women.
Furthermore, he said, “In our meeting with FINA we may ask for there to be an increase in the number of safety personnel on the course.”
To delay the swimming of one of the races so there are not two competitions being staged at the same time may be one way of increasing the ratio of safety officers to swimmers.
4. Appointment of Spotters
One positive recommendation is the appointment of spotters—one for each swimmer. These would be people on jet skis, equipped with radio contact, whose sole responsibility is to monitor the progress of their swimmer and to report if their charge is in trouble.
Mr. Ayman Saad said that normally when swimmers get into trouble and start to struggle they take off their goggles but when divers located the body of Francis Crippen he was still wearing his goggles. This fact suggested to Saad that Francis Crippen had submerged and died in seconds.
Spotters who monitor their swimmer’s every stroke would be able to relay quickly the news of someone getting into difficulty rather than leaving it to coaches and fellow swimmers to report much later when a swimmer had failed to cross the line.
5. Helicopter on Hand
During the long search by the coastguards the coach of Francis Crippen asked for a helicopter to be called. Major Ahmed Ebrahim Al Beloushi, the Managing Director of the Fujairah International Marine Club, said a helicopter was ordered from Dubai. As the helicopter pilot needed the standard 30 minutes to get clearance to leave Dubai, during which time the body of Francis Crippen was found, the helicopter never left the airport.
Consideration should be given to having a helicopter much closer to the site of future swimming races.
6. Temperature Regulations
While Ayman Saad said that the race complied with existing FINA regulations in regard to water temperature, he said there was a minimum temperature of 16 C degrees but no maximum level was stated. The water and air temperature regulations will need to be reviewed in the light of the fatality and the instances of other swimmers being taken to hospital following the race suffering from heat exhaustion.
Related to this must be a rethink of the time each year when the UAE races are staged and the time of the day when the temperatures are not likely to be so high.
Enhancing Safety of Future Races
No amount of finger pointing will bring Fran Crippen back but the careful evaluation of what happened last Saturday in Fujairah and the formulation of new regulations will improve all future races controlled by FINA and enhance the safety of the swimmers under their care.
Take a Look
Some pictures from the early stages of the 10 km races held in Fujairah are posted in this photo album.
Tears, Tributes and Talk of Francis Crippen in Fujairah, UAE, FIF, 25 October 2010.
This article is also posted on the Fujairah in Focus Facebook Page.
Image: Some of the male swimmers rounding the buoy near the start/finish line.