Swimming: What can be done to get people back to their local pools?

Rebecca Adlington.
Rebecca Adlington.
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Amid falling participation numbers, swimming has taken the worst hit and in the past six months figures show that almost 200,000 fewer people are attending their local pools.

These figures come as a shock just three years after the London Olympics that saw participation figures surge in other sports such as athletics and boxing.

On a local level, things were brought home when the elite Bradford swimming scheme suffered huge funding cuts and had an uncertain future for several months.

The City of Bradford Swimming Club is made up of no less than seven squads, all developing different levels of local swimmers and the highest level paying a monthly fee of £60 as of January 1, 2013.

However it was proposed by Bradford Council this monthly price must rise to save the scheme being cut, yet this means working class swimmers with ambitions of joining the club, can no longer afford it.

Reacting to the dwindling numbers in sport, Sports Minister Tracey Crouch has launched a public consultation into what can be done to increase access to sport and vowed to “rip up” the old strategy.

However this promise of a ‘new strategy’ falls on deaf ears, as it would appear Sport England has exhausted all of its marketing resources after launching new campaigns encouraging people to take part in sport, including ‘This Girl Can’.

‘This Girl Can’ is about engaging women in exercise and attempting to raise female participation in sport, however with the falling figures and a record low number of people swimming it can be concluded that this alone is not enough.

Twenty-year-old Heather Williams, who used to swim with the Nottingham Nova Centurion Swimming Club, thinks that instead of funding campaigns targeting specific age groups and genders, the focus of Sport England needs to be shifted to integrating swimming into the school curriculum.

The former elite swimmer said: “Pools and schools go hand-in-hand, the more schools that are built too far away from a local pool, the more the numbers of swimmers will fall.”

“It’s the childhood swimmers who go on to pursue swimming and carry the love for the sport with them for life.”

But it is not just the participants that are important – sport has a positive impact in every aspect including its spectators and every successful sportsman or woman starts off as a fan.

Team sport figures remain stable (including football and rugby); this could be down to the spectator aspect of these sports as once a love of watching a sport is formed, this is followed up with a desire and love of participating too.

Former City of Manchester Aquatics swimmer, Molly Ormrod said: “You see nothing about swimming in the news or on TV, the events aren’t shown on the BBC or Sky Sports.

“How can people join a swimming club if they don’t even know a local one exists? Everyone knows the local amateur football club, where it is and how to join.

“This needs to be the same with swimming if the numbers are to go up, instead of new campaigns - the sport needs to be givens some air time.”

All famous sporting figures will say that it is their participation in their sport that has made them who they are, they face challenges and have to work hard for their ambitions.

Although some names including Rebecca Adlington and Michael Phelps have brought swimming into the media, sporting news coverage is still dominated by football, rugby and cricket.

Is it time the sports not usually in the spotlight need their debut? Will this see an increase in participation numbers?

Maybe Sport England’s next strategy should be to make people aware that there are a lot more sports out there that could interest the 23.6 million people who fail to take part in any sporting activity each month.