Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 32 - 39)



  Chairman: Gentlemen, I should like to welcome you here this morning. We shall go straight into questioning.

Derek Wyatt

  32. May I ask David Sparkes a question? We did not do brilliantly well at the Olympics in swimming. What do you put that down to?

  (Mr Sparkes) A number of things. I should like to make the point that it would be true to say that this was our most disappointing Olympics for some time. You will find that since 1936, this nation has come back from every Olympic Games with a medal in the swimming pool. Perhaps I might remind the Committee that 50 per cent of all Paralympic medals came from the swimming pool. As a governing body we are totally committed to working with the Paralympic movement as well. In a sense you are right, the Olympics were a disappointment. There were several factors which I would ask the Committee to bear in mind. We have only had significant lottery funding for a short period of time. We always said that it would take us a long time to get there. There are several factors. Obviously we need talented athletes and the Committee will meet some of our past talented athletes today. We need talented coaches and our coaches have been starved of cash and starved of opportunity. We need facilities we can access at the right time and the right cost, 50-metre facilities, so that we can take on the world. Perhaps it might surprise this Committee to know that there are 170 nations which seriously swim. To get a medal in the Olympic swimming pool, particularly when you are in Sydney, in Australia, where swimming is a religion—I say that in the nicest possible way . . . I sat and watched the Paralympics with 17,000 crazy Australians cheering Paralympic swimmers. It was a moving experience. I saw the Olympics as well and it was just as moving but it was difficult to get medals. We recognise it was a disappointment but we have turned the corner. We went to Fukuoka and we came back with seven medals; in fact I believe it was our best World Championship since 1975 or 1976. It was a good turning point. We have a new head coach. He is Australian. He has started to change the way we think and we believe we are on the turn.

  33. I want more medals. I am greedy.
  (Mr Sparkes) So do I.

  34. If you look at the base, we had a discussion about athletes, as you may know and have had it several times over the last couple of years. What is it that you want to create even more medals? How many centres of excellence, how do you get them funded, have you been asked by the Sports Minister how much you really want so you can for ever have a rolling medal stream?
  (Mr Sparkes) The honest answer to that is that what we want is access to swimming pools which is affordable and at the right time and I do not mean just for the elite. For us to be successful, we have to consider the youngsters who are in every swimming club and there are around 2,000 swimming clubs up and down this country, who are doing an excellent job with volunteers. They have to get into that water as well and work effectively. We are fighting all the time to get access to public facilities at affordable prices. What we have to do is to connect the good work of the swimming clubs right the way through to the elite end. Yes, we need more 50-metre swimming pools. As a nation we are absolutely starved of 50-metre swimming pools.

  35. How many do we have?
  (Mr Sparkes) By the end of 2002 we shall have 19, which is about the same as they have in Greater Paris.

  36. Do they not have 750 in Australia?
  (Mr Sparkes) They have an awful lot but some of them are outdoors. By direct comparison, indoor to indoor, we are as a nation under-provided for with 50-metre pools. It is not just having the pool, it is having the ability to access that pool.

  37. In my slightly wider community a blind swimmer got a bronze medal. I think he lived in Dover but he had to find a public school in Brentwood to get swimming. He left at four in the morning, his girlfriend drove him across the bridge, it was ridiculous. He got a bronze and it is amazing but that is just not on, is it?
  (Mr Sparkes) No. All you have done is demonstrate that it is about accessing the facility at affordable prices at the right time of day.

  38. Then able-bodied swimmers say to me that they cannot get in to swim at the right time because it is not their pool, it is the local authority's.
  (Mr Sparkes) Correct.

  39. How do we break this?
  (Mr Sparkes) We have to create a culture where the elite can survive alongside the community. It is about having a swimming strategy.

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