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Dear editor: Aquatics injustice! ASATT prioritises swimming to water polo’s detriment 

“[…] How is it that a national team of one discipline has to pay to use the facility, while another discipline’s national team, under the same federation, has no cost?

“[…] There is probably nothing more heart breaking for water polo players and parents than to see the Minister of Sport present a cheque to the Amateur Swimming Association of Trinidad and Tobago to cover the cost of an international tournament at which both disciplines are attending—but only swimmers are on the receiving end…”

The following letter to the editor on the perceived neglect of water polo by the  the Amateur Swimming Association of Trinidad and Tobago (ASATT) was submitted by water polo administrator, Ryan N Smith:

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago National Water Polo players get ready for action.
(via Trinidad and Tobago Water Polo)

As a water polo administrator, having spent the last twenty years of my life building the sport from nothing to a highly competitive level in the region, I have often put on a smile for the media and pretended that all is well in the water polo community. However, a harmonious situation is far from the reality.

During my 20 year involvement in water polo administration, I have coached at a club and school level, refereed locally and internationally, managed club and school programmes. My perspective for this article, therefore, is based on my wide range of exposure to aquatics.

The local organisation affiliated to the International Federation for Aquatic Sports, FINA, is responsible locally for the aquatic disciplines of Artistic Swimming (formerly Synchronised Swimming), Diving, High Diving, Open Water Swimming (‘Open Water’), Pool Swimming (‘Swimming’) and Water Polo.

For those who are unaware, this local governing body is the Amateur Swimming Association of Trinidad and Tobago (ASATT). Yes, that is correct—‘Swimming’. The name of the organisation alone will suggest the start of the obvious bias that continues to be witnessed within the aquatics.

At a congress held on 13th December, 2018 in Hangzhou, (China), and in accordance with the FINA Rule C7.4, the FINA Bureau considered and approved the request made by St Lucia for the change of name from St Lucia Amateur Swimming Association to St Lucia Aquatics Federation. This shows that for even a small island like St Lucia, there is the will to modernise and to be inclusive of all disciplines.

Photo: Star Trinidad and Tobago swimmer Dylon Carter.
(via SPORTT)

Many requests were made to rename the local federation to an all-inclusive name that truly represents all the aquatic disciplines. However, these pleas have fallen on deaf ears of successive administrations of the local governing body. Why is this? Perhaps, we can start by looking at the composition of ASATT.

First, the Association is made up of affiliated clubs in Trinidad and Tobago. As it currently stands, over 85 percent of these affiliated clubs are competitive swim clubs, which also participate in open water. Naturally, then, the executives elected typically come from swimming and show no real concern for other disciplines—as they are unfamiliar with the workings and challenges involved.

In accordance with the constitution of the Amateur Swimming Association of Trinidad and Tobago, there is a position of First Vice President who has the responsibility to chair the sub committees for each discipline. With pool swimming, open water swimming, water polo, artistic swimming and diving, where would priorities lie for this one person, who historically comes from a pool swimming club?

The ASATT governance continues to neglect the disciplines that are not in the majority [and has resisted changing] its structure to allow for development and some sort of equality among its disciplines.

From a water polo perspective, however, the injustice does not end there.

Water polo, of course, requires the use of pool space for proper training and games. The international competition standard for a water polo field of play is 30 metres by 20 metres for men and 25 metres by 20 metres for women and juvenile athletes.

Photo: A water polo contest.
(via Trinidad and Tobago Water Polo)

Unlike pool swimming, of which training can be easily conducted in many pools, depending on the level, there are currently only two facilities in the country that can accommodate these water polo requirements—the National Aquatic Centre, Couva and the Marlins Aquatic Pool in Westmoorings.

The National Aquatic Centre can accommodate this in two of its three pools. So, teams attempting to properly prepare to represent this nation at international competition, must find themselves at one of these two venues to familiarise themselves with the distance of their field of play.

However, getting to use either pool on a regular basis comes with major challenges. The National Aquatic Centre’s schedule of lifeguards is such that by the time a team arrives to use the venue on a week day—with work / school commitments, plus heavy traffic—the facility is no longer available. So, the only available time is on the weekend.

The Marlins Aquatic Pool at St Anthony’s College is run by a private club that engages in swimming and water polo. Access to training time is therefore very limited, especially as swimming is the main sport that uses the facility.

If a national water polo team can even get availability at the National Aquatic Centre, that comes at a cost, as the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago now implements exorbitant costs for use of the facility for events and training.

Photo: The National Aquatic Centre in Couva.
(via SPORTT)

Of course, these costs are necessary to help in the maintenance of the facility. However, national swim teams pay nothing for their training there.

How is it that a national team of one discipline has to pay to use the facility, while another discipline’s national team, under the same federation, has no cost?

The issue of the National Aquatic Centre is the same for when it comes to National Championships. There is no cost to run any of the National Swimming Championships. However, all the National Water Polo Championships are required to pay for the use of the facility.

Doesn’t this seem as though there is a deliberate attempt to restrict the progress of water polo and to advance swimming?

But it does not end there. When it comes to funding for national teams, this is where the bias is most glaring.

While it is the parents of pool swimmers that are mostly stirring up the media about the lack government support to attend international events as a national team, it is more often that not the national water polo teams, sometimes attending the same event, that are more in need of that support.

Photo: A National Water Polo youth team.
(via Trinidad and Tobago Water Polo)

Unlike swimming, water polo is a team sport and requires the chemistry of players who have prepared together to achieve a common goal. While a swimmer who made a national team can drop out without having an adverse effect on the group, it is much different when a player in a team sport drops out due to lack of finances to attend a meet.

Water polo teams have to continuously seek private funding to attend events and have often had to forego meets, for which they have qualified, due to lack of funding.

There is probably nothing more heart breaking for water polo players and parents than to see the Minister of Sport present a cheque to the Amateur Swimming Association of Trinidad and Tobago to cover the cost of an international tournament at which both disciplines are attending—but only swimmers are on the receiving end.

Our nation has the potential to qualify for high levels of competition in water polo, including world championships and Olympics. However, the largest opponent is our own local federation.

Had it not been for the tremendous enjoyment that playing the sport of water polo gives to young athletes, the retention of athletes at a senior level would probably be less that 5% in an already small community.

The frustration felt by many, mainly due to the lack of recognition and funding from ASATT and the government, continues to restrict the flourishing of our senior programmes to the elite levels.

Photo: A water polo contest between Trinidad and Tobago and the United States.
(via Trinidad and Tobago Water Polo)

On the rare occasion when the discipline manages to receive funding, not one cent goes to the senior programmes. This has made it virtually impossible for progress to be made towards the senior elite level, as no proper tournament preparations can be made.

It is inconceivable that the sport can be sustained at a competitive level in the long term in this manner, as junior athletes—while they may enjoy some assistance at that level—will have no desire to continue, as there may be no future for them in the sport.

The federation responsible for the administration has failed and continues to fail this country in its duties to provide all aquatic disciplines in Trinidad and Tobago, with its bias towards swimming. As it currently stands, there is no water polo in any part of the country other than the north west region. Why is this?

Competitive swimming has reached almost every part, including parts of Tobago. Artistic Swimming is still trying to take off. Diving and high diving are non-existent. All these are the responsibility of ASATT.

As I conclude, it is possible to start to correct the injustice that is being served within the organisation. First, the administration of the Amateur Swimming Association of Trinidad and Tobago needs to look within and take steps towards restructuring as follows.

Photo: A Trinidad and Tobago National Water Polo Team in action.
(via Trinidad and Tobago Water Polo)
  1. Revise the constitution to be inclusive of all disciplines and perhaps have a name change using the word ‘Aquatics’ instead of ‘Swimming’. Also, a vice president should be installed for each discipline, as is done in many of our progressive neighbouring territories. Each of these VPs would be responsible for chairing the technical committee of the respective discipline.
  2. Submit budgets to the Sports Company/Ministry of Sport that are reflective of the needs of all disciplines. Each discipline is so different and has different needs.
  3. Simply treat each discipline equally, especially when it comes to the use of the national facilities and funding. As the umbrella administration for aquatics, ensure that funding is appropriately distributed across disciplines to help achieve its objectives and organise the aquatics calendar for effective shared use of national facilities.
  4. Ensure promotion of each discipline at the senior level. Senior athletes are typically more needy than junior athletes as their preparation requirements are far greater than that of their junior counterparts. Additionally, most senior athletes stop receiving assistance from their parents to support their sporting goals.

As a water polo administrator who has had a vast range of experience, I would like to appeal to the Minister of Sport of the day to ensure facilities are made available to senior national teams and that organisations such as ASATT are no longer allowed to use funding from the public purse to serve such injustice to this great nation.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read the response from ASATT general secretary Gregory Mitchell.

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One comment

  1. Excellent letter! I hope this opens a lot of questions to those causing injustice and stifling the youth of our nation. Waterpolo is an underdog in Trinidad and Tobago so no one focuses on it but when we get medals and trophies it on the papers and news.

    I hope the people who supposed to right these wrongs can answer those questions from the article. Sharing this article for sure