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
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