Do we really need sanctioning/ratifying organizations?
This is something I’ve been chewing on for a few years now, so please bear with me. I don’t know the right answers, so I thought maybe we could start a discussion here.
At what point can swimmers bail on an existing sanctioning/ratifying organization? Some organizations, such as the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, the CSA and the CS&PF, really do offer a great service to swimmers. For example, you can’t swim the English Channel without the CSA or CS&PF and I wouldn’t suggest doing a Catalina swim without the CCSF. These groups provide local knowledge, have vetted boat captains to see you across safely, send someone out to watch you, help provide basic medical care in case of an emergency, and provide legitimacy to a swim/swimmer. But what happens when a group isn’t doing their job anymore? What do you do when a sanctioning organization is essentially the same as the boat pilot and you have no choice except to pay extraordinary fees because these people have a monopoly over a body of water?
Right now, the status quo seems to be that you just suck it up, keep your mouth shut, follow weird rules, suffer through lack of communication, and hope that you make it. I’m just not sure that’s going to cut it anymore. Why should one group/organization/person essentially “own” a body of water, and for our community to vilify swimmers who find alternatives when they don’t want to pay huge fees for a swim when they can logically and safely complete a swim without hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars in extra fees?
Yes, I can think of several locations worldwide where those fees are worth it and I would happily pay up for a cool swim. But, I can also think of even more places where I’m not so sure it is worth it, and where new groups are even popping up where people have been happily swimming for years without them. From a swimmer’s perspective, you can’t help but to feel taken advantage of and stranded without local knowledge- so you just go for it with what you have available and keep following. But, the costs of a marathon swim are already high. By the time you pay for a boat, pay for your travel, and then pay federation fees, you are easily looking at $5000-$10,000. I swam 104 miles in a lake, self-supported (and lived!) for far less than what we have to pay for an organized swim of 20 miles. Something isn’t right, but I don’t know what we can do.
I 100% support the idea of documenting swims with an observer, particularly if you’re claiming a first or a record of some kind. I agree that swim records should be stored somewhere, for posterity. I like reading about swims people did, following GPS tracks, and seeing pictures. Somewhere down the road, I hope, someone will want to know about all the swimming we did, in the same way we look back at swims in the early 1900s and think, “How neat- I wish we had more information!” In Pre-Nyad days, I think a simple recount of the swim that was done was fine, but we have her to thank for instilling a large amount of distrust into our community. We can no longer take people’s word at face value, which is sad, but now I think it’s part of our community’s swim history. Though, another part of me asks: As long as someone isn’t claiming a first or a record, does it even matter how well their swim was documented? So what if they’re making money off of their swimming or raising money for a cause and they wore a wetsuit or cut a corner or saved a few hundred bucks and had their husband kayak 20 miles instead of renting a boat? Does it really matter to me? I don’t know that it does!
A friend messaged me today, asking for advice: She wants to do a 20k swim, in a lake close to her home. There are a few groups who help swimmers across in her particular area, but they have weird rules and high fees. She asked what she should do:
1. Go rouge and swim it on her own with her own support/observers, and just leave it at that?
2. Go rouge and beg the MSF to ratify her swim when it’s done?
3. Suck it up and deal with the absurdity of the rules and fees, just to have it done “right”?
I didn’t know what to tell her, other than she’s not alone and I’m hearing of more and more swimmers facing this conundrum. What do we do, as a community? How can we fix broken organizations? How do we prevent new, ridiculous groups from coming in? What is our responsibility to keep costs minimal so we don’t price out really good swimmers who simply can’t afford $5000/swim?