Swimming Canada urges pools to accommodate youth, says can be done safely

Donna Spencer
·2 min read

The number of young swimmers in Canada is dwindling because of barriers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Closed swimming pools and pools operating at reduced capacity have impacted swimmers under the age of 12 the most, according to Swimming Canada statistics.

Total membership is just under half of what it was a year ago.

Participation among nine and 10-year-olds is down 60 per cent. For eight and under, it's 71 per cent lower.

Swimming Canada's high-performance director John Atkinson says swimming faces a "lost generation."

"I'd like to keep as many in competitive swimming as I possibly can, because that's my love," Atkinson said Thursday on a conference call.

"But if we don't do that, and we don't keep these facilities open, particularly through winter, the lost-generation crisis may become worse by February, March and April."

The country's national team was a test case of Swimming Canada's return-to-training strategy.

They were back in the water 122 days after high-performance training centres in Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal shut down in March.

Among the 46 swimmers who participated in almost 3,000 pool and 1,000 gym sessions, none had tested positive for the virus as of Sept. 30.

"That is really a good success story," Atkinson said. "We also realize that you cannot mitigate risk to zero."

While local and provincial health rules take precedence at any pool, Swimming Canada has produced a number of documents addressing such topics as what is a training node or bubble, the number of swimmers per lane and how to move in and out of the building.

The organization's database indicates about 23,500 club and university swimmers have returned to training across the country.

Based on a survey of 157 coaches, Swimming Canada says there wasn't a recorded spread of COVID-19 infection at pools as of Sept. 30.

"I think the data has demonstrated that we have committed, responsible coaches, athletes, clubs, provincial sections," Atkinson said.

"I would then implore people to look at how can we make this work for our youth for whatever the age group is."

Only a third of swimming clubs across Canada have access to all of the training time that was available to them pre-pandemic.

"Access to facilities that are open in some areas has been very much restricted," he said. "Some facilities have not opened because of safety issues. I think one of the issues is funding.

"I'm not so silly as to not understand that swimming pools cost money to run. It's a high-ticket item, but I think it's one that's well worth it because of the safety, the health, the mental-health aspects to it.

"Every Canadian should be learning to swim."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2020.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press