Swim England

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Tokyo Olympics swimming official Helen Akers urges volunteering involvement

Swim England and British Swimming official Helen Akers, who has been officiating at the rearranged Tokyo 2020 Olympics, has urged others to get involved in volunteering.

Helen has been officiating for around 30 years and was selected as one of seven European International Technical Officials for the swimming competition at the Games.

She already has some wonderful memories from her involvement in swimming officiating, from travelling the world to being part of history as Adam Peaty broke the world record at the 2015 British Championships.

Discussing her journey to officiating at an Olympic Games, Helen explained that she has made ‘amazing memories’ and developed new friends from all across the globe.

How did you get into volunteering/officiating?

“I’ve been involved a long time so it’s difficult to remember! I was/am a swimmer myself and I started my volunteering journey by completing the old Preliminary Coach qualification, but never really took it any further.

“Then after finishing university, I moved back to my childhood club where I was lucky enough to have individuals at club and county level who were strong advocates for the training of new officials.”

How long have you been involved?

“I qualified as a timekeeper in March 1993. I then moved on to take my judge and starter exams. In those days they were all written exams, with a practical to complete your starter qualification.

“You learnt the rest of your craft on the poolside afterwards. I passed my referee exam in 2000 at the first attempt.”

What do you like most? What’s your favourite moment?

“There are so many things I like about it, it is difficult to pick. For me, it’s all about being part of a team to deliver an event for the benefit of the athletes, be that my own club’s championships (although I’ve had to miss them this year due to limiting my physical contacts before Tokyo – sorry Long Eaton SC) or the Olympic Games.

“Likewise, a favourite moment is difficult. As a FINA referee I have been lucky enough to work at some amazing competitions and see some fantastic swimming – although sometimes you are so in the zone doing your role that you don’t always realise until afterwards what you have been part of.

“However, I suspect you never forget the first world record in an event you are refereeing – Adam Peaty, 100m Breaststroke, 2015 British Championships in London.”

How great is it to be involved in events such as the Olympics?

“It would be very easy to be overawed by events like the World Championships or the Olympic Games, but as someone once told me you have to remember it’s your “day job”.

“These are swimmers that want to swim the best that they can and it is up to you to help them do that in a fair way.

“Saying that, you also get to make some amazing memories and develop a whole new friendship group of likeminded people from all over the world.”

What message would you give to someone who was unsure about getting involved?

“To anyone who is thinking of getting involved, but is unsure, I would say what have you got to lose?

“Everyone on the poolside in white started out at the bottom and I hope that the officiating community would welcome any new additions with open arms.”