Cole Classic... here we go again...

The original blog is posted on partnersite Oceanswims since Monday, January 31, 2011

The Cole Classic is this weekend, the third outing of this event under the ownership of Fairfax Meeja. And we expect to be welcoming a whole lot of new ocean swimmers as a result, and that's terrific. But every year, we have a whinge about how we believe Fairfax Meeja diss the ocean swimming community, and every year, we get the odd few people whingeing back at us for our whingeing in the first place.

These issues remain, however, and we feel we have a duty, as the unofficial meeja outlet of ocean swimming, to point out a few things. Heaven forbid, if we didn't do it, all these new swimmers whom Fairfax are bringing into our sport -- and we acknowledge that they bring in lots every year -- well, if we didn't point out some truths, then all these new swimmers would think the treatment they get from Fairfax is common to the sport, when it's not. The only result of our whingeing to date, however, is that Fairfax won't play speaks with us, and by and large their dissing and ignorance of the ocean swimming community continues.

This blob now is prompted right now by the imminence of this year's Cole, next weekend, and by the news that Fairfax Meeja now have taken on a "new" event -- new for them -- at Dee Why, where they seem to be perpetuating many of their existing practices. The third prompter is an email we received today from David Collins, who wrote to Fairfax yesterday, thus,

I have just broken my wrist and cannot compete in the Cole this year. Can I transfer my registration to another person? If not, is a refund available?

Seems a reasonable request to us. Most swims automatically would allow a refund, especially seven days ahead of the event. We do this all the time in cases of genuine need and, often, when swimmer's circumstances change and they cannot make a swim for which they've entered and paid. Generally, we retain a small admin fee to cover bank transaction fees for two transactions (payment and refund). Anyway,  Fairfax's "Natasha" responded to David...

We are very sorry to hear that you will no longer be able to participate. Unfortunately, was have passed the cut off for a medical refund.

Then Natasha appears to cut and paste a section of the Cole Classic's FAQs...

 "Can I get a refund or Transfer my registration?

There are no refunds or transfers for this event. If you have an injury that prevents you from swimming, a medical certificate may be submitted for a refund of 50%. This can only be done up until 5pm on Friday, January 14, 2011."

David is not the first one to be disadvantaged by this policy of whom we're aware, but it's sad and a reflection on the Fairfax organisation that they are so unsympathetic to the plight of people in his position. It's not as if, after all, David planned to break his wrist right now and contrived to seek the refund. The matter is even worse when you consider that "earlybird" entries to the Cole's main event are $49, and $59 in the final several weeks. Fairfax are making a fortune out of the Cole and give very little to charity in return. They trumpet their support for charity, but most of their support is to encourage entering swimmers to raise funds themselves to donate. Fairfax themselves donate very little, indeed nothing that we're aware of apart from a $25,000 donation to Manly LSC for providing course layout and water safety services on the day. In the meantime, Fairfax are raising something in the area of $200,000 from entry fees alone, never mind sponsorship, and that's a conservative estimate.

It's hard to know how much precisely they make, and how much they may pay to various organisations and individuals for various things, because they don't publish their accounts. Indeed, we went through Fairfax's annual report last year to see what we could find, and we couldn't even find the Cole Classic mentioned, or any of their other highly lucrative events.

Apart from exorbitant entry fees and unreasonable requirements for "early bird entry" -- swims are not runs: New South Head Rd does not change in wild and windy weather, whereas the ocean does, and swimmers like/need to better assess conditions closer to swim time before deciding whether to enter -- they also do questionable things like require you to pick up your "Race Pack" in the city on the Friday ahead or at Manly on the day ahead (early, early entrants have theirs mailed out to them). What this means is that swimmers are inconvenienced by having to make a trip across town, probably two trips in two days, just to get their chips.

There is a worrying corollary to this: by distributing chips in advance and not providing on-day registration, Fairfax Meeja has absolutely no idea who enters the water on race day. Thus they have no idea whether all swimmers make it back to the beach safely. We remain amazed that their insurers let them get away with this. We regard that as an unsafe practice.

There are many other matters that we would raise, but ...

But if you have problems, issues with the Cole Classic, then this is the place to vent them. Often, it helps just to be able to have your say.