Memorandum submitted by Professor John
THE SPORT OF SWIMMING
I was very interested to learn of the public
evidence session on the Sport of Swimming being held by your Committee.
My involvement in swimming has been both as
a international level competitor at both swimming and water polo
and as a parent of competitive swimmers. As a competitor I went
to both the Commonwealth Games (swimming) and the European Championships
(water polo) and I will play club level water polo and compete
in Masters swimming competitions. As a parent I have two daughters
who are both keen swimmers and my elder daughter has reached a
sufficient level to be in receipt of a small Scottish Sports Aid
Foundation grant as a member of National Squad (Scottish Youth
I believe that swimming can be split into four
categories which are general leisure swimming, school swimming
(and learning to swim), exercise swimming and competitive swimming.
In the UK, leisure swimming is well catered for and both local
authorities and private operators provide leisure pools.
Unfortunately the other categories of swimming
are generally provided with a much lower level of support.
In the case of school swimming, some schools
have their own pools and some local authorities offer time in
their pools. However, many school pools are expensive to operate
and often have water quality and maintenance problems as there
are insufficient resources to support the staff trained to operate
pools nor to fully fund the other operating costs. My children's
swimming club frequently has to cancel training sessions due to
maintenance problems at pools, and even when pools are available
some sessions have to be abandoned due to poor water quality.
Local Authority schools simply do not have sufficient
resources to employ the specialist staff to operate swimming pools
and promoting excellence in school swimming is an unrealistic
target as again there are insufficient resources to employ the
necessary high quality coaching staff.
In addition, local authorities have to provide
multi-use facilities and this greatly increases the costs of building
any 50 metre pools. Pools such as that at Bath University and
at Millfield School had much lower build costs (of the order of
£3 to £4 million, as compared to the new pool at Manchester
which cost close to £19 million, and even the new 25 metre
pool at Cambridge cost close to £10 million. Investment in
50 metre pools at universities would therefore appear to be a
much cheaper route to providing 50 metre pools in the UK.
The UK is fortunate in that there are many excellent
swimming clubs across the country and what is really needed is
a strategic steer to shift swimming from within the school days
(where it presents problems for schools) to an after school activity
involving those swimming clubs. This would allow intensive swimming
classes over a period of a few weeks, which are more effective
than short sessions once a week within the school day. The involvement
of the clubs would facilitate the development of excellence by
providing the coaching input that schools cannot provide.
If this approach is to work it would need schools
to close their pools and for new high quality facilities to be
built which can be shared by groups of schools.
High quality facilities in a town would also
encourage the promotion of exercise swimming to build healthier
lifestyles (swimming is one of the very best forms of exercise
as it is aerobic, almost injury free and can involve all ages).
At present exercise swimming is sometimes available in the early
morning (not suitable for everyone) or a couple of lanes are offered
within a public session often at lunchtime (again not suitable
for everyone). The lane swimming is uncontrolled and no guidance
is offered to swimmers to help them get the best from their exercise.
Lane swimming in public sessions is often limited
to early mornings and there is no guidance or instructions to
the public given about how to get the best from such exercise.
As swimming is excellent exercise and has major health benefits,
this failure to provide sufficient exercise swimming sessions
also reduces the opportunities for improving the health of the
It is also of note that young swimmers are often
put off continuing with swimming as pool time for competitive
clubs is limited and a large proportion of the training therefore
has to be in the early morning. This can typically mean a 5.30am
start requiring that swimmers get up at 4.45am or even earlier.
Thus promoting competitive swimming is severely constrained by
availability of facilities.
The large clubs with professional coaching staff,
who are best able to develop excellence, face the same problems
and being large have an even greater demand for high quality water
time which is generally not available.
All of this highlights that facilities in most
of the country are inadequate for the promotion of both exercise
swimming for the community and for the promotion of competitive
The costs of developing high quality facilities
across the whole of the country would make unrealistic demands
on local authority, school and Lottery funds. However, there is
a model that has led to great success at Olympic Games and which
could be implemented in the UK by some targeted capital investment.
In the USA, much of the development of competitive
swimming at a high level is through universities. The universities
have built high quality facilities (which are often available
to local swimming clubs) and they fund coaching and sports science
staff to support the swimmers. Top-level swimmers receive scholarships
to study at the universities and this approach has the advantage
that swimmers gain educational qualifications to help their careers
after they stop competing at the highest level. An additional
strength of the US model is that there are high level inter-university
competitions which provides an extra competitive edge to those
The Australian Institute of Sport also recognises
the importance of linking education with the development of excellence
in sport, something that one of the Institute's swimming coaches
confirmed to me in a recent e-mail correspondence. I cannot comment
on other sports, but this systematic link of top-level training
and education is not being done in the UK with regard to swimming
with the exception of Loughborough University where all their
swimmers are students at the university.
For example, I know of one swimmer who had been
given elite funding but did not get onto the 2000 Olympic team.
The funding was then withdrawn and the swimmer was left with effectively
nothing to show for that investment. The swimmer had been unable
to enrol on a university course as there was no real support to
help swimmers do that. What is needed is a link between the swimming
club/elite squad and a university or FE College (preferably with
both) and for there to be a Sports Bursary scheme in place. With
such an arrangement it may even have been possible to reduce the
size of the Lottery grant to the swimmer and therefore such a
scheme could offer the possibility of increasing the number of
individual grants that could be funded.
The crucial question is whether it is possible
to establish a US model in the UK.
That US model requires a capital investment
in facilities plus annual operating costs to pay for coaches,
sports science support and sports bursaries.
With careful targeted capital investment it
should be possible to fund the construction of a number of 50
metre swimming pools at universities across the country. Unlike
local authority pools which have to cater for leisure use as well
as exercise and competitive swimming, these pools would be designed
to support lane and competitive swimming and this will help keep
the construction and operating costs below a multi-use local authority
It is also crucial that the investment is not
just into the pre-1992 universities, who may be better placed
to provide their own capital investment (due to their historically
higher funding levels), as that would limit the degree level educational
opportunities to students with high A-level grades. The post-1992
universities and university colleges have also done most to meet
government targets for expanding number of students in higher
Such a development would need to be built on
a partnership between the relatively few large swimming clubs
that employ full-time professional coaches, the universities and
further education colleges and local authorities. The swimming
clubs would provide the coaching input which the universities
would be unlikely to fund, while the universities would provide
sports science support (the sport science department would benefit
in terms of research and input into the academic teaching programmes).
The further education colleges' involvement is important to ensure
that all levels of education are available for swimmers and local
authorities need to be involved to link with schools and to ensure
that the community use for exercise swimming at the university
facilities complements the local authority provision.
Such a partnership arrangement would provide
exceptional value for money as the coaching and sports science
would already be in place. The opening of high quality facilities
would also encourage more young people to become involved in the
sport and by working with the local authorities, there could be
benefits to schools and most certainly in helping improve health
by encouraging adults to take up exercise swimming.
The construction of 10-15 such swimming pools
at universities would also help address the major shortage of
50 metre pools in the UK. Currently only two 50 metre pools meet
modern competition standards of ten lane, deck level, 25 metre
wide pools (Tollcross and Sheffield). The new Commonwealth pool
in Manchester only has eight lanes and the other most recently
built 50 metre pool (Norwich) also only has eight lanes but is
too narrow for international level competition at just 17 metre
wide (instead of over 21 metre).
An illustration of the paucity of 50 metre pools
in the UK, is that in Australia, greater Canberra with a population
of around 300,000 has three indoor 50 metre pools (that is for
a population smaller than Coventry or about the same size as Northampton
and its surrounding villages). Another example is that in France,
greater Paris has more 50 metre pools than the whole of England.
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 50 metre pools available for pre-Olympic training
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 50 metre 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 is 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
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee would
send a very strong message to universities, local authorities
and swimming clubs and potential sponsors if it promoted this
model. In addition, it may well be that with a strong endorsement
from the Committee, sponsors may be more willing to support new
developments that fit this model.
Finally may I commend the Committee's interest
in the sport of swimming which I believe is one of the best forms
of exercise for all ages and which, with targeted investment could
have much more consistent success in major competition.
26 November 2001