Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2001
LONSBROUGH, MBE, MS
MBE AND MR
80. If we are going to do that, then we need
to start our support at a much lower level and Danny's emphasis
is very much on club swimming. Do you think that we really need
to look at the strategy which has to be developed, which has to
find some way of encouraging the clubs who are really the seedcorn
(Ms Davies) The funding is now there to keep the elite
athletes in the sport. If we look at the average age of swimmers
ten years ago it was about ten years younger than it is now because
people were having to retire because they just could not stay
in the sport. That is what Lottery has done to swimming. You do
need that broad pyramid. As a mum, as well as an athlete, I talk
about school sport as well. It is terribly important that all
children learn to swim in schools, therefore they can then be
encouraged to go to the clubs and the clubs have that system in
place to bring them through to be elite athletes or just to maintain
them as a regular competing youngster who wants to be with other
athletes. My son swims but he also does Tai-kwondo, he also does
judo, he does all sorts of things. Eventually he will do something
he enjoys the most and is probably the best at. There is an awful
lot to be got out of just doing it, not necessarily doing it to
the top level. What you have to have in place is the ability to
go to the top level if you want to. He looks at rowing and he
sees someone like Steve, so that makes him excited and want to
do it. If we do not have the Steves, no-one is going to be very
excited about doing it.
(Mr Goodhew) I have to take you back because you are
looking at a very complex thing in a very short period of time.
First of all you have to look at probability. Winning gold medals
is about probability. You have to get as many people taking part
as possible. In this country we are very firmly placed in schools
on the three Rs from the age of four. Research shows that it should
be six or seven. We are concentrating on intellectual skills rather
than physical bases for those to be built on. There is significant
evidence to show that the cognitive skill process is better developed
by physical exercise than classroom. That is in tandem with the
fact that you can reduce school time, academic time by 26 per
cent and as long as physical exercise is put in place of that
26 per cent, there is no change latitudinally or longitudinally
to school results. The current success of specialist sports colleges
shows that properly managed exercise enhances the quality of academic
work. Small wonder: we are not designed to polish chairs. The
physiology of children certainly does not encourage that. I chair
a cross-governmental group and quite soon there will be an announcement
from government research showing that specific exercise at specific
times during the day has a massive impact on a child's ability
to learn. Quite frankly, there is a huge learning curve academically
for us to go through in this country with regard to sport in general.
Swimming is a very specialist case because of its safety issue,
but also because of its particular nature. I shall just tell a
little anecdote here. My daughter is doing her first 25 metres,
she is sinking, every parent knows the feeling, nose just above
the surface, she sinks a bit further, periscope comes up and a
snorkel, I am stripping off ready to jump in and save her and
somehow she gets to the end, smiles from ear to ear and says "France
at last". There is such a sense of achievement given to children
in facing their fears and facing the change in environment because
swimming assaults the senses in a way that no other sport does.
It has particular lessons to be learned. The school has defined
25 metres as swimming. If there had been a ripple on the pool
my daughter would have been at the bottom. If the pool had been
ten degrees colder, she would have been on the bottom. If there
had been a current she would never have reached the end. I do
not know any sensible person who could sit down for very long
and define 25 metres as learning how to swim. If you start that
as our broad-based pyramid, then children are dumped in the pool
and one private company offers a school that they will teach the
children to swim 25 metres or their money back. You think of the
incentive for that provider to sign the certificate to say the
child has swum the 25 metres. It is outrageous. Quite apart from
that, honourable Members, I learned survival skills. Thirty-four
years later I was glad to help one of your members, Lord Sheldon,
when he had a heart attack and I managed to give him mouth to
mouth resuscitation and bring him back to life. Other skills are
learned through swimming. Basically you have a major problem in
changing the attitude of schools towards physical exercise and
in particular swimming which we are debating here. You have discussed
clubs. Clubs are about empowerment, empowering those coaches to
do their jobs. At the moment you have a publicly owned facility
usually run by a private contractor who will go for the profit.
The child in the swimming club is pressed out to the edge, the
profitable Learn to Swim scheme is poached from the club by the
private contractor because it makes money. Therefore the clubs'
earnings are squeezed to the point where it becomes like a mill.
You have 25 kids in each lane, if a kid drops out of the top lane,
they shunt them all up as quickly as possible, even though developmentally
they may not be ready. You have a nightmare at clubs at the moment.
Sport Englandwe talked about the environmentsay
we have enough pools. I run Swimathon, in which over 13 years
we have had half a million people taking part. Let me tell you
that there are about 1,200 publicly open pools which are open
for lap swimming in this country; 1,200. That is all for a population
of 60 million. I cannot even believe it. Their attitude is that
there are enough pools out there at the moment. Are there enough
pools out there at the moment? Maybe. I remember down in Kent
that there were floods in 1968 and the water board said they had
enough reservoirs for the country and it would be okay. When things
improve and you do not have to walk through the urinals to get
to the swimming pool and 50 per cent of the pools are like that,
decaying and seedy, perhaps a lot more people may want to use
them. I suggest that there will be a huge growth in swimming.
Leadership. The Amateur Swimming Association have a great history.
They are dedicated people, lots of wonderful people out there,
but some of the members here have said, "Amateur Swimming
Association? Who are you? Have you lobbied? No? Have you led?
No". They are not ready structurally to run a modernised
sport. If you look at Australia for instance, when they did not
bring back a gold medal in 1976 it became a political agenda to
win gold medals. They went around modernising sport and making
it more executive with responsibilities to perform and get there.
To sum up. At the moment, we have excellence, as a director of
a pharmaceutical company said to me, like the Battle of the Somme.
It is not the talented, the courageous, the gifted who are left
standing at the end. The ones who are left standing at the end
just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It is
all left to chance at the moment. What frustrates me the most
is that the goal of winning gold medals is absolutely in step
with every other element you have talked about within swimming.
If you understand talent development fully, you understand that
a parent who swims is more likely to have a child who swims. It
is in our best interest as a sporting nation to get everybody
swimming if gold medals are a goal. If one were out in space and
looked down on this country with a dispassionate, objective view,
you would look at our heritageand if you have watched Walking
with Dinosaurs and the likethis physical being which has
managed to make it through all the obstacles, yet some of the
physically gifted young children are pushed to train in a pool
before anybody gets up and then if you come back in the evening,
they will be swimming while every other child is in bed. That
is the way we are treating our gifted young people in this country,
which is slightly embarrassing to say the least as a nation. Swimming
is the best all round sport for our health. It is the least discriminating,
certainly in age and ability and it has the highest appeal in
the nation. Some honourable Member here mentioned that we cannot
afford to do it. Well, we are not a third rate country, we are
not a third world country, we are the third largest economy in
the world and we should darn well afford it.
81. That sounds like the last sentence of our
(Mr Goodhew) I thought it was better said than written.
82. Well said; very well said. What three things
would you three want us to do for swimming? We have never had
a report on swimming ever. This is the first to be done.
(Ms Davies) I was out commentating in Sydney, so I
tend to get it from both sides, because I was disappointed for
the swimmers, because I know how hard they work. Every single
one of those swimmers was still swimming six hours a day, getting
up at five o'clock and getting to bed at eleven. They did not
want to go out there and not perform. We do need 50-metre pools;
we do. We cannot expect them to race over 50-metres when we do
not have that. When you compare us to other European nations and
America and Australia the facilities we have in this country are
83. That is one wish. What are the other two?
(Ms Davies) One other is that we have a better system
in place to take young talent and to develop it, to point it in
the right direction. We lose it. We find talent, people who can
swim and then they get lost in the system somewhere because there
is no system. The other is just to be pleased about excellence.
We seem to put it down. We do not seem to want to be the best.
We want to be mediocre.
(Ms Lonsbrough) It took Australia 25 years to become
the world's leading nation so things are not going to happen overnight.
It is going to be long term. We need more facilities. We need
better coaches and more money.
84. Duncan, you have said it all, but you can
say it again if you like.
(Mr Goodhew) There is certainly a whole bunch more.
That was just the opening. Seriously that is it. It is a very,
very complex issue. I set up the Youth Sports Trust with £1
million from John Beckwith and £1 million from a sponsor
and it has taken us since 1993 to get to the point where we have
changed the first introduction to every child in primary schools.
Those kids are now five years' old and it is another 15 years
before they come onto the sporting horizon we are now talking
about, gold medals. It takes a very, very long time. What I should
like to see is a proper defined strategy at local levels, to understand.
There is a lot of waste and duplication of resources. You have
two clubs swimming in and fighting over the same water. You do
not have a defined strategy of swimming at the local level. Really
we have to trace the young person. We have to look to see what
they need. Quite often these gifted individuals are good at many
different sports, so that whole process needs managing. We have
effectively to get local people who are very skilled at managing
talent and that means that at the moment you can have a talented
swimmer who can swim for the school and maybe play soccer for
the school or something else. They swim for the local club, they
swim for the county, they swim for the district and they might
swim for England in the meantime. The parents are pulling out
their hair going "Help. How do I cope with all of this?".
It is a very difficult process to manage because everybody wants
a divvy. Success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan.
Everybody wants a part of that and that really does need sorting
out. At the moment the sport is also a middle class sport and
that is hurting our potential as a nation and it is not doing
justice to the young people. That needs to be changed. Unless
you have two cars, swimming is almost impossible.
85. Is it your perception after six years of
the Lottery that we rely on the Lottery in sport rather than fighting
the Treasury for funding for sport itself.
(Ms Davies) We have to realise that swimming is an
expensive sport because of the cost of running the facility; not
doing the sport but just giving us the facilities. Whereas with
a football field, they can put on a pair of boots and just go
out and play, that is not the case with swimming and you have
to have these facilities. The difficulty is that the councils
try to run a swimming pool and provide that facility at the same
time as these other sports which are much cheaper to run, yet
there are all these people who do want to swim. We have to accept
that and that is something we have not done in the past. The other
difficulty is about where the money comes from and it comes from
this middle group of people who want to go to swim in their lunchtime.
Unless the facility is good enough from the local council, they
are not, they are going to go down the road and go to Cannon's.
The money is not going to come back into the public sector, it
is going to go elsewhere. You have to make sure that our public
facilities are good, because it is not going to create the turnover
86. I want to take up what you were saying about
the contracts. Previous evidence demonstrated that we have a real
problem with the contracts by the sound of it, this squeezing
out young people for financial gains. You touched on it as well
more or less accusingand I want you to clarify thisthe
private contractors to some schools shall we say, certainly not
all, of being less than honest with their results.
(Mr Goodhew) I just said there would be an awful temptation
just to make the last few yards. I did not level it as an accusation,
I was just saying it was a profit motivation to sign a certificate.
87. I would assume from that, that in your experience
you have noted that this is potentially happening or is happening.
(Mr Goodhew) There is a noticeable difference; the
core skills are not laid down like they used to be, whether it
is in water safety or swimming itself. Swimming is a skilled sport,
it is more like tennis than any other sport, because you have
to feel the water, you have to use the water, you have to develop
skills within it. Learn to Swim in this country now is just getting
through 25 metres and ticking the box. That is not investing in
a life-long love of a sport and a concern for your own health
88. I must say I agree. This tick-box mentality
without monitoring what it means is something which really concerns
me. This whole thing about how we are getting good quality teaching
to the children via these contracts and who is monitoring them
and all of that is turning out to be a very, very dodgy area.
(Mr Goodhew) When Swim for Life was put forwardand
it was an Amateur Swimming Association initiative so well done
to them on thatand won, somewhere or other somebody had
to define what swimming was. Unfortunately of course, not only
did they say 25 metres, but some people, through disablement or
whatever, for instance my son does not have ear drums so he cannot
swim, so it cannot be put down in the statute book and they use
the word "should" so people can find ways out of it.
89. It has been suggested to us that maybe the
American model of excellence being linked to universities, locating
a 50-metre pool in a university and that sort of thing would be
a good way.
(Mr Goodhew) I went to an American university. They
are fantastic. They are like Hoovers, they suck up talent. The
reason they do is in the culture of America; certainly in men's
sport, the place to be is at university on full scholarship. That
is a great thing to happen and in fact they brought in women's
sport as well. The funding comes through American football. The
American Football League recruits out of university, not out of
primary school. The leading players are cultivated within university
and my team for instance had an average gate of 48,000 people
and that football revenue funded all the other sports.
90. How would you see disadvantaged youngsters,
perhaps of not academic ability, finding their way up through
(Mr Goodhew) In America it is a treadmill. They really
pull the kids through and the university happens to be the level
where they do that.
91. Do you think it is transferrable?
(Ms Davies) It is happening to a degree in Bath. We
already have Bath as a very successful centre and we are talking
about Loughborough which is also attached to the university. Maybe
we do not need to attach them quite so closely only to universities;
possibly they could be centres of excellence which are spread
around the country so that you do not have to travel. I spent
all of my youth training in a 331/3-metre
pool in Plymouth and my closest 50-metre pool was four hours away.
We need to look at the country and work out where these centres
should be so that youngsters can gravitate towards them. It does
not have to be university based, or it does not have to be so
that you can only use it if you are of university age. You can
be at a very high level from very young. I went to my first Olympics
at 13. I was not at university at that age. You still have to
have those facilities.
(Mr Goodhew) The model which has been worked up for
sport at the moment but it is in its infancy is that you take
sports colleges, which are the technical colleges, secondary school
age, and they form a cluster of secondary schools and within that
they work through the cluster of primary feeder schools and they
work out who does what within that arena. Those specialist sports
colleges are linked to HE and FE colleges. There is a kind of
seed of an idea of how we could make that work in this country.
It is early days yet and it has lots of holes in, but we have
funding for 250 sports colleges in England. That is only five
per cent of schools in England. Quite clearly a lot of people
will be left out of that process and it will not catch all the
talent in this country.
(Ms Davies) What works well in Bath is not just swimming.
We need to look at sport as a whole, not just swimming from the
elite point of view. In Bath the pentathletes help each other,
people involved in winter sports are there. They have the background
and the physiological background is there for them as well. When
you start looking at elite sport you can group sports together
(Ms Lonsbrough) All this depends on funding of course.
Water space is very, very expensive. We build a lot of nice 50-metre
pools, but then it costs the swimmers an awful lot to go there.
As far as the university system is concerned, it is improving.
The universities have just had their most successful championships
and we have Bath, Loughborough, Coventry and Stirling who are
the leaders now in swimming. We do have to be careful that we
do not set up too many centres which we cannot fund properly.
It is not just about swimming in water, it is about all the other
things, the medical, the diet and everything else which goes with
sport in general now.
92. That is partly my worry. In my constituency,
I have five swimming pools, two 20-metre ones, two 25-metre ones
and one leisure pool. If anything, we probably have too many.
There is a danger that we are spreading ourselves too thin and
then not having the money to be able to keep them properly.
(Mr Goodhew) May I take issue with that? I was a Director
of the Barbican Health and Fitness Centre. One of the things we
did was spend a lot of money on promotion. The trouble is that
you have a facility and you do not market it. All of us know we
should exercise on a regular basis, you do not have to be a rocket
scientist to figure that out. That is our bodies. However, we
have to be encouraged, because it is hard work and the benefits
are very gradual. Our public facilities are not marketed and not
promoted to the community in the way they could be. I would wager
that with effort you could make those work in a much more efficient
93. It is a Welsh local authority so it is not
the business of here but it may be true that it has been spending
most of its time marketing dryside activities rather than wet
side. There maybe is a problem and you may want to comment on
marketing generally but if you had £1 billion to spend suddenly
on swimming, how would you allocate it between 50-metre pools,
heritage pools such as the ones we heard about earlier and leisure
pools? You have one billion.
(Ms Lonsbrough) We have to be careful not to do away
with old pools and replace them with smaller facilities. If I
take my own city of Wolverhampton, they are currently proposing
to close a 25-yard pool and a 331/3-metre
pool and build a leisure pool. We have to make sure there are
the facilities for our swimmers to learn to swim and to progress,
not just into the competitive side of swimming but leisure, fitness,
all these other things. It is a good sport for all ages. We have
to cater for that and then we have to make sure that there are
the development pools building up to the 50-metre pools. If we
do not have the pools where we teach our swimmers to swim, we
are not building the base and therefore our pyramid will never
get any higher.
(Ms Davies) As I said, four hours away from a 50-metre
pool, I hardly ever swam in one and still managed to do it. As
long as you have water and you have access to it you can do it,
but you do need the access to the water. We need to have a look
at the country and work out a strategy and work out this big pyramid
and enable people to go from one level to the next level without
losing them on the way. I have seen so much talent over the years
which has just not found its way through, usually because of lack
of money, but lack of facilities as well. The Lottery has made
a massive difference to the top in the fact that people can stay
in the sport instead of getting to 18 and having nowhere to go
unless they go to university which is what Duncan did.
(Mr Goodhew) Going back to your question, it depends
on your political agenda. If winning gold medals is the agenda,
then you knock down those pools because we used to fly across
the Atlantic in Sunderland Flying Boats on PanAm. We now fly across
in Jumbo jets. There have been developments in swimming pools.
There is deck level, there is filtration, there are new materials
which the old-fashioned pools are not very well suited for and
quite frankly we live in a different century. There may be very
good cases for one or two of those pools to exist from a heritage
point of view, but from a swimming point of view, there is very
little argument for them at all. It is all passionate, it is all
Wembley based. We have this pool which should be here and you
have been through that already.
94. You mentioned Wembley and Australia has
been mentioned a lot today. One of the big differences between
Australia and here is the weather which presumably affects whether
people choose to go swimming or not.
(Ms Davies) It is their attitude as well. They are
brought up on water.
95. Indeed and they are very strange people.
We were talking in our last report about the prospects of Olympic
bids and how Australia had decided when they did particularly
badly in the 1976 Olympics that right, their aim was now not to
put in an Olympic bid but spend all their money on grassroot sport.
Which way do you think Britain should go now?
(Mr Goodhew) That was not quite what happened. They
built the Institute of Sport, spent a whole lot of money on it
and then turned round and said only 500 people can go through
the door, which 500? It was as though they had bought a gigantic
star for the Christmas tree and then wondered what Christmas tree
to put underneath it, Christmas tree being the sports development.
Having such a big star they had to put up a big Christmas tree
as well. They invested after that in the sports development. They
started with the idea of making something at the top and then
figured out that unless you get the probability right at the bottom,
it is good for nothing.
96. In terms of our strategy for the next few
years, lots of people in Britain would like us to be putting in
an Olympic bid to host the Olympics in the next few years. Do
you think that is a waste of time and effort at this particular
(Mr Goodhew) Not really. At the moment we are going
to have to repair an awful lot of damage done by Picketts Lock.
You have to realise that it is an international community which
demands respect. Going back and saying we cannot afford to have
a stadium, or whatever the political row was behind it, and asking
to move it to Sheffield, is hardly building confidence in the
international community about our ability to deliver the Olympic
97. There is the impression in this country
now that we are not doing so well at sports and that is a whole
range of sports, not just swimming. I am a Scot, so it is even
harder for me. You have all been extremely successful in your
field and you have played on the world stage, been champions on
the world stage. What is different? What has changed since you
were young and aspiring?
(Ms Davies) Partly the world has caught up with us,
if we are really honest.
98. Or overtaken us.
(Ms Davies) Yes, in most cases overtaken us. We just
have not kept pace.
(Ms Lonsbrough) Sport is not as we knew it as sport.
It is now a business and we have not invested enough in our business.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
May I thank you a great deal for coming here today. May I thank
all our witnesses and in particular may I thank the first group
of witnesses from the listed pools because it was their pressure
which brought this extremely valuable inquiry about in the first
place. Thanks a lot. I declare this session closed.