Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Amateur Swimming Association


  1.  Founded in 1869, the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) is the governing body for the sport of swimming, open water swimming, diving, synchronised swimming and water polo in England and is the largest of the constituent members of the Amateur Swimming Federation of Great Britain.

  2.  The ASA employs 100 people throughout England, 40 of whom are directly involved in the development of the sport and all provide support to the volunteers. It has 1,554 clubs with a total registered membership in excess of 159,000 and provides a structure for competition from age group to masters in all the disciplines of the sport.

  3.  In addition to providing a structure for competition, the ASA supports a programme aimed at improving the nation's swimming skills, training around 12,000 teachers and coaches each year and operating an award scheme which recognises achievement in swimming from the very young first learning to swim to senior citizens swimming for health. One million seven hundred and fifty thousand badges and certificates are attained through this scheme each year.

  4.  The ASA has a strong tradition in giving leadership and help to disabled swimmers. This was reflected in the success of swimmers in the Sydney Paralympics when British swimmers won 50 per cent of the medals.


  5.  The ASA considers that all local authorities should produce a written Swimming Strategy, which addresses the swimming needs of all the community, the facility requirements to meet these needs and links into Cultural and Education Strategies.

  6.  Swimming is the nation's most popular physical sporting activity with almost 22 per cent of adults and 50 per cent of children taking part. Around 12 million people swim regularly. The ability to swim is the key to providing the opportunity to take part in a host of other water-based activities where swimming is a pre-requisite either in relation to the activity itself or in making participation safer. It also helps to develop a healthy lifestyle.

  7.  This high uptake of swimming is despite ageing, and in some places a complete lack of facilities. Indeed there is a latent demand for swimming which has been demonstrated where facilities have been either replaced or refurbished, often as a result of a contribution from the Sports Lottery Fund, and overall attendances have increased in the area. Indeed this is the case in Manchester where the use of the Aquatic Centre has exceeded forecasts but attendances in existing surrounding facilities have not reduced.

  8.  The purpose of a coherent strategy for swimming produced by local authorities and involving local education authorities and other agencies which have input into swimming is to give a wider range of opportunities to sections of the community which have limited opportunity to swim and to provide opportunity for talented youngsters whose aim is to develop their skills to international standard. The strategy can encourage the use of swimming pools as an aid towards improving the health and wellbeing of the nation.

  9.  The ASA has produced teaching and development plans which aim to ensure high standards of teaching and coaching. To assist local authorities and in a bid to remove the fragmented and piecemeal approach to swimming by clubs, which sometimes happens in a local authority area, the ASA has introduced "Swim 21" a programme of assessment which provides a structured approach and encourages clubs to work closely with local authorities and local education authorities. To assist local authorities further, the ASA has a network of Development Officers whose remit is to work closely with local authorities and further links are being established through the Active Sport Programme introduced by Sport England and which includes swimming as a major activity.


  10.  The ASA believes that pools which have architectural or historic significance may have a role to play within the swimming strategy of a local authority area and can complement more modern facilities and meet some, although not all the needs, of various sections of a local community. Redevelopment of historic swimming pools may be costly and higher than developing new facilities. Additional funding should be provided via the Heritage Lottery Fund.

  11.  In the retention of historic swimming pools, whilst every effort should be made to maintain the design as at the time at which they were built, care has to be taken that pools are upgraded to meet current health and safety standards and that they can be operated within reasonable cost parameters.


  12.  Apart from a few specialist buildings, swimming facilities should be built to meet the overall needs of the community in which they are located. However their design should be flexible and where necessary incorporate moveable floors and bulkheads which will allow varying needs, including the teaching of swimming, recreational swimming and swimming training and competition, to be met.

  13.  Of major concern is the age of the swimming pool stock, with more than 50 per cent of public pools being 20 or more years old. Because of the heavy use and aggressive nature of the swimming pool environment many of these require considerable investment either in terms of refurbishment or, in the case of older pools, replacement. A recently undertaken study of Scottish pools revealed a need for an investment of some £554 million over the period 1998-20 for 338 pools. Based upon this study an investment of around, £2 billion may be required for public pools in England.

  14.  There is no reason to believe that pools built on school sites are any better placed in terms of their need for investment and there are indications that in recent years a number of school pools have been closed, not to be replaced, having reached the end of their economic life.


  15.  All school children at key stages 1 and 2 should have access to swimming tuition. Children between years one and six should have two opportunities to learn to swim with each opportunity having 30 sessions of swimming with a minimum contact time of each sessions of 30 minutes and that this should be backed up by a minimum of 10 hours of water safety tuition which can be classroom based in order to meet the standards of the National Curriculum.

  16.  The OFSTED report into school swimming, based upon an inspection carried out in November 1999, indicated that, whilst overall 80 per cent of pupils could swim 25 metres at the end of Key Stage 2, in inner city areas and those areas with a high level of deprivation based upon the free school meals indicator this was reduced to just over two thirds and in a minority of schools water safety and survival was not covered sufficiently well. Additionally half of schools surveyed did not have a policy of provision for pupils who are non-swimmers or reluctant swimmers. There could be an opportunity for those children who have failed to meet the National Curriculum standard to be provided with a further opportunity after completion of their SATS examination to achieve the standard through an intensive course.

  17.  The provision of school swimming is an entitlement of all children and local education authorities should produce a swimming strategy. The strategy should identify facility needs, transportation issues and seek to overcome those factors which the OFSTED report indicates are a barrier to school swimming: cost and the availability of qualified instructors familiar with National Curriculum principles. The ASA is well placed to deliver training to school teachers and swimming teachers through its CPD programme but this will require funding.

  18.  There is an opinion amongst organisations which have an interest in water safety, and this is subscribed to by the ASA, that there is a lack of a strategic approach to the subject:

    —  569 people drowned in the UK in 1999, one more than in 1998. Whilst this rate of 0.96 per 100,000 population is an improvement compared to 1.17 in 1983, this is still too high;

    —  there is a very concerning increase in the number of children under 14 who drowned—a rise from 36 in 1998 to 54 in 1999; and

    —  a preventative strategy through education of the whole of the community is needed.


  19.  Whilst the provision of an adequate network of facilities is important, equally significant is the way pools are programmed in terms of providing time and opportunity for the various groups which go to make up a community and how they are managed. In recent years there have been many examples of proactive management which seeks to optimise the use of facilities by programming and in so doing increasing their viability and giving opportunity to all sectors of the local community. A number of these innovations in programming have helped to promote inclusion and have offered swimming as a means to the promotion of good health.

  20.  Some local authorities have gone further than just improving timing and opportunity and have also considered affordability by offering free swimming for children. Three examples are Glasgow, Torfaen where the scheme is linked to library membership and Nuneaton, whilst a number of local authorities promote family swimming with concessionary rates for family groups and many provide swimming at a reduced charge for the unemployed.


  21.  All Local Authorities should provide training and competition facilities within their area within a planned swimming programme at an appropriate time and at affordable costs in order that the voluntary sector, in the form of swimming clubs can deliver their contribution towards the swimming experience.

  22.  The requirements at the lower end of the competitive swimming continuum in terms of pool design and size are no different from those required to meet the general requirements of the swimming community and most can be met by the provision of 25 metre pools which are suitable for basic training requirements.

  23.  There should be pathways from learning to swim through to its clubs who can provide for the development of swimmers and guide them into the most appropriate disciplines of the sport in accordance with their abilities such as competitive swimming, diving, synchronised swimming, water polo and open water swimming.

  24.  The obstacles to the development of the young swimmer and the work of the voluntary swimming club are firstly the opportunity for young swimmers to train at appropriate times and secondly the costs to clubs in hiring facilities which have increased enormously in recent years. It is significant that in relation to major sports it is only in swimming where children who have the ability and talent to develop in the sport have to make do with early morning training at times when most people are still asleep. It is also true that clubs who have a commitment to the development of swimmers are finding it increasingly difficult to meet hiring charges and this has led to a number of clubs either curtailing their activities significantly or disappearing completely. One of the other effects of the high hiring charges is upon those children who come from less well off families and who find it increasingly difficult to meet the costs of training, travel and competition.

  25.  In terms of competition facilities, each county and large conurbation should have a minimum of one eight lane x 25 metre competition pool which will serve for competition up to county level.


  26.  If British swimming is to prosper at international level there is a need for a network of 50 metre pools throughout Britain. It is acknowledged that we are significantly under-provided with 50 metre facilities. In stating the case for 50 metre facilities, ASA recognise that only a small number of local authorities and other organisations are able to meet the capital costs of this type of facility. Nevertheless it is recommended that Sport England and ASA should work with local authorities and others in partnership to deliver a minimum of two 50 metre facilities each year for the next 10 years. In the main these facilities would be in areas which have a suitable supporting population or in Universities or other institutions. Even with such a programme there would still be fewer 50 metre pools in the whole of the UK than there are in the Greater Paris area and only just over a third of the total number of 50 metre pools in Germany.

  27.  There is only one major competition pool in the whole of the UK, in Sheffield, and even this does not meet full international standards as it does not have a 50 metre warm up and swim down facility. It is acknowledged that London has very poor swimming provision; it needs a minimum of four new 50 metre pools of which Crystal Palace, suitably refurbished, would provide one. One of these pools could be a major international facility built on similar lines to Sheffield but with a 50 metre warm up and swim down facility and this would provide a complementary facility for the Olympic Games.

  28.  The ASA does not recommend that a 50 metre swimming pool to meet Olympic and World Championship requirements be constructed with the 20,000 capacity, which is now needed. However, it is considered that when one of the 50 metre pools within London is planned it should be in close proximity to an exhibition hall or open space that could be converted with modern technology to a "bolt up" prefabricated temporary 50 metre pool with temporary seating and ancillary facilities that could meet the Olympic and World Championship requirements. Indeed this concept was successfully demonstrated at the recently held World Championships in Fukuoka in Japan in effect taking the swimming facilities to the arena.


  29.  There is a deep frustration within swimming that Olympic success, in the form of gold medal winners, comes only occasionally. However, swimming is hindered by a significant lack of 50 metre pools and, until the advent of the Lottery, it was impossible to produce a coherent strategy and swimming relied upon voluntary efforts through clubs and a few local authorities which were prepared to fund swimming squads.

  30.  The Lottery provided the necessary finances to produce a strategy for success but, based upon experience elsewhere in the world, it has always been long term. Australia, the strongest swimming nation in terms of population, considered that 12 years is necessary to achieve fruition once all the components are in place. Nevertheless under the guidance of the present National Performance Director we are hopeful that a significant improvement over the performance in Sydney will be shown in the Athens Olympics in 2004. We are encouraged in this view by the performance in the World Championships in Fukuoka this summer, when the team won one gold, two silver and four bronze medals.

  31.  However, in terms of financial resources there is still an under-funding of elite swimming compared to the world's leading swimming nations and, although it is coming, there is the need to develop the culture of excellence.


  32.  The ASA believes that all new swimming facilities should be constructed on the basis of a Swimming Strategy and that they should be designed to meet the needs detailed in the swimming development plan for an area.

  33.  When pools are built, they should, where appropriate, incorporate in their design moveable bulkheads and floors and discrete water areas that allow maximum flexibility of use and programming. Pools should also be managed proactively to encourage swimming and operate within a structured programme which ensures opportunity for all the local community.

  34.  Sport and swimming can deliver so much for the community—fun, exercise, health, a route out of poverty and away from crime and drugs. Whilst the investment from the Lottery has helped there is a need to invest far more into sport and sporting facilities. Part of this investment needs to be targeted at the volunteer clubs who are well placed to deliver so much.

27 November 2001

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