Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 98)



  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 of swimming.
  (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 England—we talked about the environment—say 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 heritage—and if you have watched Walking with Dinosaurs and the like—this 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 report actually.
  (Mr Goodhew) I thought it was better said than written.

Derek Wyatt

  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 pathetic.

  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 otherwise.

Ms Shipley

  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 accusing—and I want you to clarify this—the 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 and safety.

  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 forward—and it was an Amateur Swimming Association initiative so well done to them on that—and 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 that route?
  (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 very well.
  (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.

Mr Bryant

  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 way.

  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 stage?
  (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 Games.

Mr Doran

  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.

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