Novelty races will be banned at school swimming carnivals in Wollongong for at least another year, after councillors voted to delay making any changes to its pool policy.
Greens councillor Mithra Cox had hoped to convince her colleagues to drop some council restrictions on carnivals, including one which dictates that there is “no non-competitive swimming”.
She said this meant all but the schools’ best athletes were missing out on taking part in the carnivals.
At Monday night’s council meeting, Cr Cox said the rule should instead state there was to be “no unstructured aquatic free play,” based on education department guidelines.
Cr Cox had also hoped to convince councillors to change a rule restricting primary school carnivals to half a day, except if they have a more than 800 pupils.
“This was brought to my attention by a school principal late last year, who had come from another council area that did not have this policy,” she said.
“Since then, I have spoken to many school teachers in our LGA to get a sense of whether this is a widespread problem and about half of them ignore the clause [about novelty events], and the other half say ‘yes, it is a tragedy we no longer have those novelty events and we now only take our very best swimmers to the carnival and we don’t have a proper school carnival any more’.”
C Cox said she was aware that safety precautions were necessary at swimming carnivals, noting there were recommendations made by the NSW coroner after a young girl drowned during an end of school celebration day in the Blue Mountains in 2006.
“The coroner found that school carnivals should continue, including novelty events, so I think there is no need for us to have non-competitive events,” she said.
“However, ‘aquatic free play’ is something very different and that is how that girl died… so we should change our policy.”
Other councillors were concerned changes to the policy were being made without them having full details or information about “unintended consequences”.
Jenelle Rimmer said she would support a change to the rule about non-competitive events, but did not think the council had enough pools to accommodate all schools at a full day carnival.
Labor councillor David Brown instead suggested councillors receive a confidential briefing from staff about the points Cr Cox raised and defer making changes to the policy until a later meeting. This was supported by all councillors after Cr Cox’s motion was lost.
With swimming carnivals scheduled before regional events in late February, any future changes to the policy will not come into effect until 2019.