Examination of Witnesses (Questions 32
TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2001
Chairman: Gentlemen, I should like to
welcome you here this morning. We shall go straight into questioning.
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 religionI
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.