A teenage ironman was killed at the National Surf Lifesaving Competition on the Gold Coast in March after wild conditions generated by cyclone Ului, caused him to fall from his surf ski while racing. Prior to the event, it was reported that some other race competitors called for the event's cancellation due to heavy swell conditions. Event organisers chose to proceed with the event. A police investigation is underway to look at why the event went ahead despite the warnings expressed. Speaking to ABC news, Superintendent Jim Keogh said the investigation would cover aspects of planning and risk assessment.
Potential for conflicts of interest
With major national competitions such as this, competitors have invested significant time and funds to participate. They may also have travelled long distances to attend and as the pinnacle event of the sporting year, most had dedicated enormous time to training throughout the year.
Event sponsors would have invested considerable amounts for their benefits, and for the event to be cancelled or relocated, they may have suffered significant financial loss.
While it is unknown as to what were the motives of event organisers to proceed in this case, the potential for situations like this is for event organisers to be under pressure to balance commercial issues with the need to ensure the safety of all competitors.
Although elite competitions in all sports require pushing the limits, it is the event organisers' responsibility, and not the competitors' to determine the upper limit of safe conditions.
Duty of care
This responsibility is implied within the event organiser's duty of care. That is, the event organisers must take steps to protect those who might be impacted by reasonably foreseeable risks.
Event organisers who hold competitions in aquatic environments need to have a formal system of risk assessment that takes into account the views of relevant authorities and stakeholders, but places human life as the highest priority.
Implications of findings
The implications of the findings will have a significant impact on all water-based sports, including surfing, surf-lifesaving, ocean swims and any other organised recreational activity. This applies to all levels of competence, from beginners through to elite.