Diving contest flops before starting
Published: Aug 01, 2013 06:53 PM Updated: Aug 01, 2013 11:51 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

With the searing heat continuing in the Yangtze River Delta and across the country, water parks nationwide are flooded with people of all ages. Photos of what the Chinese call "people mountain, people sea" in swimming pools and other water-based leisure venues have gone viral online.

But one upcoming aquatic event in Shanghai is an exception.

Local media reported this week that organizers have postponed the city's first amateur diving competition from August 3 to August 10 because they need time to attract more participants. The number of applications they have received so far is much lower than the organizers expected.

The competition was previously limited to people aged between 18 and 45 years old. Interested individuals will have to pass a series of physical fitness tests, including a 50-meter swimming test, to prove they are fit to compete, according to the Xinmin Evening News, which is a co-organizer of the event. These tests will make up the competition's first round.

No fees are charged for participating in the event, according to the organizer. The purpose of the event is simply to raise interest in the sport and give residents the opportunity to experience a physical discipline regarded by many as "far away and out of reach."

The Shanghai Sports Federation and the Shanghai General Labor Union will host the competition in partnership with several government bodies and companies.

It will take place at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center.

In the second round, competitors will dive from a 3-meter springboard. For the third round, they will dive from 7.5-meter and 10-meter platforms.

In the Olympic Games, the highest platform that competitors dive from is also 10 meters.

According to the organizers, there will be professional training for competitors during the second and third rounds.

Meanwhile, medical personnel and lifeguards will be on hand in case of an emergency.

The organizers hope that expatriates living in the city will be interested and expect foreign faces to turn up.

However, some of my expat friends have dismissed the event as unrealistic, if not ridiculous. They think it's dangerous and don't intend to risk injury or death attempting a sport that is new to them. They point out that diving from a 10-meter platform should not be promoted to complete amateurs.

Experts from the organizing committee admit that since it's the first time they've staged the event, they are just "wading across the river by feeling the stones." Critics see it as more like diving into a pool without knowing the depth. But the organizing committee is confident that there won't be accidents as they say they have taken all factors into consideration.

It seems that the organizers have under-evaluated the difficulties of diving from a psychological perspective. Every four years during the Summer Olympic Games, spectators enjoy marveling at the performances of top diving athletes from all over the world. Even those who represent the very highest level of the sport make mistakes, sometimes resulting in serious injury. So it's understandable that ordinary people who have received no training are not enthusiastic to take the plunge themselves.

By the end of July, Shanghai's amateur competition had about 100 registered applicants, far less than the 500 participants hoped for. In response, the organizers relaxed the age restrictions to include people under 18 and residents over 45 so long as they are physically fit and can pass the first round fitness test.

Still nobody can guarantee that extending the registration period by one more week will attract enough divers.

It's not hard to conclude that not all well-intentioned public events can stir a strong response from the target audience. What lessons can the organizers learn?

In this case, adopting a step-by-step procedure would have been more sensible.

The organizers are too hasty in introducing the 10-meter platform dive in the event's inaugural year. I bet many hesitant people are understandably frightened by it. The public needs time to accept a new practice and amateurs need proper training to know how to perform a safe dive.

Suppose the organizers only put the less challenging 3-meter dive on this year's agenda, and once it's proved to be practical and successful, they can add the platform dives in the second year. Then, for both the public and the organizers, the psychological pressure will be much lighter.

It was a risky move for the organizers to promote the event in such a big stride. I'd suggest that the organizers make some adjustments to make it a more acceptable competition for amateurs.

This step-by-step approach should be a principle in outlining blueprints for all kinds of future projects, whether organized by government departments or private companies.

It's not wrong to have big ambitions. But also never forget to establish short-term and long-term plans to make bold new ideas feasible.

The author is the managing editor of Global Times Metro Shanghai.