17th December 2015
Swimming is universally extolled as one of the most healthy and beneficial physical activities available to us. It is known to promote fitness, stamina and mental health and can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. While it remains one of Britain’s most popular sports, however, numbers of active participants, at least in England, have steadily declined over recent years. The six-monthly Sport England Active People Survey has registered this pattern several times, with the latest statistics, published in December, showing a drop of 39,300 swimmers to 2.51 million. The disabled and those defined as being from a “lower socio-economic class” continue to be under-represented in figures for regular swimming. In this piece, we discuss the reasons for this problem and the government’s newly-announced strategy for remedying it.
Why Is Swimming in Decline?
Several reasons are routinely cited for the decline in active swimmers, with rising costs appearing to be the central problem for many people. Private pools are often prohibitively expensive for those on modest incomes, and local authority budget restraints have prompted councils either to alter their charging structures or abandon non-statutory services such as the provision of swimming facilities. The latter has an impact beyond cost. Where they exist, local authority pools are required to be accessible to the disabled and to be equipped with a swimming pool lift or a pool pod. In other words, if there are no municipal baths, the physically impaired are unlikely to find facilities to accommodate their needs. School swimming lessons have also been a casualty of public sector cuts, with schools abandoning their swimming programmes and increasing numbers of children leaving primary school unable to swim.
Aside from cost and the absence of aids such as a swimming pool lift, a further issue is that pools aren’t always available for individual swimming sessions, so those wanting an hour or so of exercise after work, for example, often find that their local pool is being used for such organised activities as group swimming lessons.
What Is the Government’s Strategy?
Tracy Crouch, the Sports Minister, recently launched the government’s strategy to increase participation in sports such as swimming. The headline strands of the new approach are:
Firstly, public funding will be specifically targeted at groups with low rates of sports participation, including females, people with physical and other disabilities, those in lower socio-economic environments and older people.
Secondly, there will be greater emphasis on promoting general physical activity rather than participation in traditional team sports, which many people find intimidating.
Thirdly, funding will be made available to those organisations working to encourage children as young as five to take exercise and enjoy sports.
Fourthly, the over-arching strategy is that sport should be used to benefit society at large. The Prime Minister said “We will be much bolder in harnessing the potential of sport for social good.”