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


Memorandum submitted by Mr Brian Brinkley

  I was pleased to learn of your Committee's inquiry into the sport of swimming. As a former British Swimming Team Captain, Olympic and Commonwealth medallist, a professional swimming coach and ASA Senior Tutor I am very interested in making a contribution to the development of the sport of swimming.

  Swimming is an important sport both in terms of personal safety and as one that can provide excellent exercise for all ages. However, there is a real need to invest in high quality facilities that will help promote swimming as an excellent form of exercise and that can be used to support competitive swimming in Great Britain.

  Poorly maintained buildings and poor water quality discourage involvement in swimming, yet such problems are far too common. Even competitive swimmers, particularly younger competitors, can be discouraged from continuing their involvement in the sport by these problems.

  With regard to promoting swimming as an excellent form of exercise, poor maintenance and poor water quality again reduces the effectiveness of such promotion. In addition while some local authorities do try to promote exercise swimming by providing lane swimming, 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 lead to faster and slower swimmers being together in the same lanes, reducing the potential for individuals to get the best from their exercise. Lane swimming is also often only available in the early morning yet too late for people to swim and then go to work. In addition there can be some midday lane swimming sessions but again many people cannot make use of the facility at that time.

  One way forward would be to have an investment programme to develop 50m swimming pools at universities. These would provide high quality facilities and the investment could be linked to partnerships between universities and major swimming clubs. Such facilities would not only provide a base for the development of swimming performance, but if opened to the community could greatly enhance the access to opportunities for lane swimming for health promotion.

  It is important that any investment is made in at least 10 universities of which possibly a majority should be new universities and university colleges. One of the strengths of the US University sports programmes is its availability across all academic levels and another is the intense inter-university competition. The new universities and university colleges in this country provide the breadth of provision at a similar range of academic abilities to many of those US universities and therefore it would be important that they were strongly represented in any investment programme.

  The establishment of a high standard inter-university competition in the UK would also help provide the competitive edge gained by those swimmers in the US university system which is another reason why the strategy should be to develop at least 10 universities with 50 metre swimming pools.

  In the USA, the university sports programmes also have a substantial investment in coaching and in sports science and there is a large sports bursary programme at nearly all universities in the USA. There is therefore the issue of whether the financial support for coaching or sports bursaries would be available in Great Britain.

  There is however, quite a number of large swimming clubs that already employs professional coaches. By linking those clubs to 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. As many universities already have sports science staff, such a link between swimming clubs and the universities would provide the sports science staff with research opportunities and input to their courses.

  It is therefore the case that resources to support the development of competitive swimming at universities are already at least partially available but the best cannot be obtained for those resources as there are no facilities to help promote links between universities and swimming clubs.

  There is currently a major shortage of 50 metre swimming pools in Great Britain compared with Australia, the US and Western Europe. In a city and surrounding region with a population of 300,000 typically there would be two to three indoor 50 metre pools in Australia and the USA and close to that number in Western Europe. The construction of 10-15 modern 50 metre swimming pools at universities would also help overcome this shortage.

  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 also 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 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 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 other sports.

  I realise that finding the funding to develop a network of 50 metre 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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