An Aversion To Water? Keeping Afloat In Austerity Britain:

The renowned Jamaican reggae singer, Bob Marley, once admitted that he “didn’t swim too tough”. So he never went “too deep into the water”. That was despite the fact that he came from a tropical island famed for its “warm seas, beautiful coastline and serene beaches”

Marley’s misgivings about venturing away from “terra firma” are shared, it seems, by nine million people in England. A report issued by the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) in March has revealed that “20% of men and 22% of women aged over 14  in England cannot swim, with the highest number of non-swimmers being above 65”. However, it also concluded that 2.13 million adults would like to learn to swim, but just don’t have the opportunity. In the opinion of the ASA Chairman, Edward Lord, (quoted in both the Guardian and the Daily Mail) the main political parties should resolve this by “ensuring good quality, affordable aquatic facilities remain available to all”.

In fact, due to budget cuts, exactly the opposite is happening. BBC and ASA statistics have indicated that, although there is an apparent decline in the number of people participating in sport, there are still “more than 2.6 million adults doing 30 minutes of swimming at least once a week”. Second on the BBC’s list is athletics (1.96 m), followed by football(1.94m), cycling (1.87), golf (772,800), tennis (424,300), squash (257,700), cricket (189,400), rugby union (166,400) and boxing (150,100).

The main problem for swimming enthusiasts is that many local councils say they can no longer afford “non-statutory services” such as pools. According to BBC News, residents across the country are fighting plans to get rid of community baths. Birmingham has “axed three of its swimming pools”, the Newcastle city pool has “fallen victim to an attempt to save £100 million over three years” and Wigan Council has “withdrawn free swimming for people over 65 or under 16 to save £106,00 pa”.

It’s a similar story in Croydon where Purley Leisure Centre has reportedly been earmarked for closure. Derby City Council is “looking at its budget plans to see if there is any way it can find the money to keep its Moorways swimming pool open for another year”, and Coventry is set to replace its 50 metre pool (“which costs £2,000 to run”) by a 25 metre water park. There are exceptions to this trend: The threat to Woverhampton Central Baths was rescinded following a campaign which collected 6,000 signatures.

Rebbeca Adlington, Britain’s “most successful swimmer”, with four Olympic medals, has pointed out that “Swimming is not just a sport – you are cutting something that could save someone’s life”. She considers it a scandal that “about 51% of children aged 7-11 cannot swim a length of a 25 metre pool”. It would thus seem that the National Curriculum rules on water safety are not always being implemented. Schools are supposed to teach their pupils to be able to cope with that distance “competently, confidently and proficiently”, use a range of strokes effectively – for example, front crawl, backstroke and breaststroke – and also “perform safe self-rescue in different water-based situations”.

ASA has expressed concern that swimming is “in danger of being ‘sidelined’ due to the lack of monitoring by Ofsted (The Office For Standards In Education), increased pressure on schools to deliver good exam results and squeezed budgets”. As a result, “around 52% of parents doubt whether their child could swim to safety on open water, 39% confirm that their children are not having swimming lessons and one in ten say their child only swims on holiday”. David Walker, the leisure safety manager for ROSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents), has pointed out that “Very often, parents believe their children can swim, only to find out that their abilities are little more than being able to float and doggy paddle”.

The Daily Mail, however, has declared that the children themselves are partly to blame. The 6-15 generation, it has asserted, “are more likely to surf the internet (56%), chat on social-networking sites (45%) and play video games (43%) than take part in sports”. Even for those questioned who could swim and ride bikes “just 34% had swum the length of a pool and only 46% had ridden their bike over the previous week – yet 73% had found the time to play a video game”. Furthermore, of the 33% in the survey who didn’t own a bike, 77% did possess a games console. These children, concluded the Daily Mail, are “being fed the wrong food, which makes them fat but they are not getting enough exercise to burn it off”.

For the World Championship gold medallist, Karen Pickering, it’s a straightforward situation. She doesn’t like seeing pools close. “What’s more important than making sure everybody can swim?”, she has asked. “We are an island, after all”.


Filed under: Healthcare, Sports | Posted on April 10th, 2015 by Colin D Gordon

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