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


Memorandum submitted by Mr Stuart Sherman

  I have two daughters aged nine and 12 who are active competitive swimmers. I am currently competing as a masters swimmer. At times I am amazed that my daughters continue to swim at all, considering the disgusting water and pool side facilities that they often have to endure, and the unsociable hours at which they have to train. Northampton Swimming Club do a magnificent job under very difficult circumstances. There are hundreds of swimming clubs operating similarly.

  I have seen at first hand the facilities that Australia had in the early 1980's and am ashamed that we in Britain are so far behind 20 years later. Northampton desperately needs the proposed University College of Northampton dedicated, modern, competitive 50m swimming pool for the following reasons and I urge you to accept it.

  1.  UK facilities for exercise, competitive and elite level swimming are very poor. Most North American, Australian and Western European Countries have at least one 50m pool for training and competitions in every town or city with a population of 180,000 or more and often there are two or more such pools. The UK has fewer than 20 in the whole country and only two of those (Tollcross and Sheffield) are full 10 lane 50m pools which are the standard for major competitions (the new pool in Manchester is only an eight lane pool).

  2.  The USA has been the most successful country in Olympic swimming in almost every Olympics over the last 50 years. The strength of the USA swimming is built on the swimming teams based at universities which provide an opportunity for a strong and broad base of swimmers able to move into elite level. The high-level inter-university competitions also provide the opportunity for swimmers to harden their competitive edge.

  3.  General leisure and "fun" swimming (pools with flumes and wave machines) is well catered for in the UK but the opportunities for exercise swimming and competitive training are limited. Lane swimming in public sessions is often limited to early mornings and there is no guidance or instruction 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 population.

  4.  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 5.30 am start requiring that swimmers get up at 4.45 am or even earlier.

  5.  There are already a number of large swimming clubs in the UK that have full-time professional coaches. Nearly all these clubs are based in a university (or university college) town or city. Most universities have sports science department who would often already give time to supporting local sports clubs (including swimming clubs) as they can develop research and teaching projects from that involvement.

  Universities do not generally employ coaching staff and are unlikely to do so unless given additional annual funding. If there was an investment in university facilities (50m pools) in those towns with clubs that already have full-time professional coaching staff, around 15 to 20 university centres could be established creating a similar high level training and competition environment to that in the USA.

  This link between large swimming clubs and universities offers a major value-for-money opportunity to make a significant impact on the sport of swimming.

  6.  If universities were supported to develop 50m swimming pools by public funds, a requirement could be that they offer exercise swimming sessions to the public. In addition the swimming clubs would be required to offer some pro bono coaching to support that public exercise swimming. This would potentially greatly enhance the health benefits that could be gained from offering exercise swimming sessions.

  7.  Developing such facilities in universities would also ensure that swimmers gained educational qualifications and could therefore be supported by a grant rather than being paid a salary from central funds.

  8.  The scheme could be strengthened further, if the establishment of such 50m pools at universities also required that the universities linked up with their local Further Education Colleges to allow provide educational opportunities for all and not just those qualified for higher education.

  9.  This value-for-money approach would noticeably widen the base of swimmers who might reach elite level as the opportunity to study and train would keep more swimmers in the sport (there is a substantial decline in the number of competitive swimmers among those who have left school).

  10.  The approach of combining training with education already well established in the USA is also being adopted by the Australian Institute of Sport.

  11.  Many of the UK's recent Olympic medallists in swimming have had to go to universities in the USA to realise their potential because there have been no opportunities in the UK.

  12.  Having 50m facilities linked to large swimming clubs at a number of universities from old to new universities and university colleges ensures that swimmers will have the range of educational opportunities and be able to meet the entry requirements for those courses. If confined to a few elite universities this opportunity will be lost.

24 November 2001

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