School sport carnivals are becoming elitist

My 9-year-old grandson was looking forward to his school swimming carnival in 2024, completely aware he may not be competitive, but just wanting to have a go and perhaps cheering on others in his school house. So, it was a real surprise to be informed over the weekend, he and most of the other kids in grades 4-6 were denied the opportunity to attend, let alone swim, as they were not “squad swimmers”.

The Sydney Morning Herald carried a similar story on Sunday, “Swimming Carnivals are competitive. Safety experts want to change that.” Christopher Harris’s story highlighted a growing trend in Sydney schools where parents have been told “the annual swimming carnival was limited to those who were confident swimmers.”

School swimming carnivals, like the annual athletics and cross-country carnivals, have always been competitive. But that alone shouldn’t be a reason to prohibit kids from participating. The pathway from the local school carnival to State & Nationals has always been present, but not allowing those that don’t or won’t make that cut is elitism at its worst. It tells kids not to bother unless you are very good and the system won’t support you unless you are.

Having teachers in my family, I am also aware some kids aren’t the best judge of their ability and I’m reliably informed it’s not uncommon for lifeguards (or teachers) to take a dip when a kid in the 50 ‘fly doesn’t make it all the way. I get that and support 100% the focus on safety.

School carnivals should be about allowing kids to support everyone in their team or house colours, regardless of ability. Modifying events to cater for those that want to have a go, should be part of the schedule, while allowing those that will shine the opportunity to do so in front of the whole school, not just the kids they train with.

Daring to try, regardless of the outcome, is a wonderful thing in my humble opinion.

Robert McMurtrie
Director, Talent & Search
Sportspeople Recruitment



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