Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Dr Alan McClatchley

  As a former international swimmer and Olympic medallist I have a keen interest in making a contribution to the development of the sport of swimming. As a General Practitioner, I am also acutely conscious of the potential health benefits for promoting swimming as an excellent form of exercise for all ages.

  In discussions with my former international swimming colleagues, a number of whom are still directly involved in swimming as coaches, it is clear that there are many challenges facing swimming throughout the country.

  There is a major need to invest in high quality facilities that will help promote swimming as one of the best forms of exercise to improve the health of the general population, and to promote competitive swimming at all levels.

  Poor water quality and poorly maintained buildings act to discourage participation in swimming and even when swimming for health is provided for by having lane swimming available, there is often little or no control over those lanes and no support to help people get the best out of their exercise. The lack of control of lanes and their limited availability can lead to "lane rage" as very slow swimmers hold up stronger and faster swimmers. It is also the case the lane swimming is generally only available in the early morning and often too late for people to swim and then go to work or at lunchtime when again, many people cannot make use of the facility.

  Ideally, there would be lane swimming available at all times and that there would be some coaching input to help those swimmers get the best out of that exercise. This could perhaps be done by providing by pamphlets or possibly even by some free input from local swimming club coaches.

  Apart from my professional interest in promoting the health benefits of swimming as an excellent form of exercise, as an Olympic swimming medallist, I am keen to see the development of competitive swimming at all levels and for the Great Britain swimming team to become more successful.

  In the year immediately proceeding the Montreal Olympics, I recognised that although I was a member of one of the most successful clubs in the UK, the training opportunities available were rather limited and relied heavily on very early morning training In addition, there was no arrangement with the university to allow me to combine my university course with training for the Olympic Games.

  As a result I transferred to the University of Michigan for a year as that university provided the opportunity for me to combine my pre-clinical medical studies with a training programme, something that was not possible in the UK. I am therefore privileged to have experienced the benefits of a US university sports programme and I believe that as the most successful swimming nation over the last 50 years the US approach is clearly very successful and if possible should be adopted in this country.

  I am of course not naive in believing that the resources are immediately available to bring the facilities at all UK universities up to the level found in the USA. However, I should like there to be some careful investment in a number of universities across the country that would at least begin to develop such a system.

  Please note that it is important that any investment is made in at least 10 universities which should include both old and new universities and university colleges. One of the strengths of the US university sports programme is its availability across all academic levels and also the intense inter-university competitions. Those competitions hardened my competitive edge and undoubtedly helped me and other members of the Montreal Olympics team, who had also been studying in the USA.

  The US university sports programmes benefit from substantial investment in coaching and in sports science and there is a substantial sports bursary programme at nearly all universities in the USA. While it may be possible to find the capital investment to build the 50m swimming pools needed to support a US-style system, it is less likely that there will be the annual support for coaching or sports bursaries.

  However, the UK does have many excellent swimming clubs that already employ professional coaches. If those clubs could be linked with universities then not only would the coaching be provided for the university swimming teams but the younger club swimmers would have access to much better facilities. Many universities also already have sports science academic programmes and linking with the swimming club and university swimming team would provide those scientists with research opportunities and input to their courses.

  Many of the resources to support the development of competitive swimming are therefore already available but not linked, as there are no facilities to help promote such links. If the university facilities were open for community use for lane swimming, the investment in such facilities would also help promote the health benefits of swimming.

  The construction of 10-15 such swimming pools at universities would also help overcome the shortage of 50m pools in the UK. Many of the existing 50m pools are old, too narrow for major competitions and of the newer 50m pools, as far as I am aware only two fully meet modern standards.

  In Australia, the USA and throughout Western Europe there are far more 50m pools per head of population with typically at least one indoor 50m pool in every town or city with a population of over 150,000.

  It is perhaps of note that if London ever wished to hold the Olympic Games, not only would it need a main competition pool, but there would be additional pools required for the water polo preliminary competitions. In addition there would be an expectation that there would be 50m pools available for pre-Olympic training camps for visiting national teams. A London bid for the Olympic Games would be enhanced if it could be shown that there was an investment programme to develop those 50m pools around the country to ensure they were in place for the Olympic Games.

  What I have outlined is a model for developing swimming in the UK that would allow the development of a US style model with exceptional value-for money. Much of the operating costs for coaching and sports science are) already in place but without the facilities it is impossible to build on this existing investment. Importantly, although my interest is in the sport of swimming, I believe this model could also be applied to many other sports.

  I realise that finding the funding to develop a network of 50m swimming pools at universities will not be easy, although the approach proposed here would have much of the longer term support for coaches and sports science already in place. However, strong support from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee would encourage the development of partnerships between universities, local authorities and swimming clubs and may encourage potential sponsors to support such projects.

  The sport of swimming would greatly benefit from the developments proposed here and I do hope the Committee will be able to endorse this approach.

26 November 2001

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