Olympian Georgia Davies concerned by threat to swimming pools

Legendary swimmer Georgia Davies, a two-time Olympian as well as a Commonwealth and European gold medal-winner, outlined her fears surrounding the threat posed to swimming pools due to exponentially rising costs at the Welsh Sports Association’s (WSA) Annual General Meeting on Thursday evening.

The challenges being faced by facilities in the sport and leisure sector have been a topic for concern for a while now, with the whole sector feeling the pinch.

Ivan Horsfall Turner, CEO of Freedom Leisure, has said that one of the company’s facilities in England has already been forced to close due to unsustainable costs, and urges the UK Government to recognise leisure as a vulnerable sector when a review of its Energy Bill Relief Scheme occurs in January.

Freedom Leisure operates 19 swimming pools in Wales, including Penlan in Swansea (where Davies swam as a youngster), and Horsfall Turner, via a report from BBC Wales, has detailed just how difficult the coming months will be to maintain their status.

“I think it’s quite plausible that there will be an element of facility rationalisation or in other words, some facilities closing in order to keep others open,” he stated.

“We’ve got some 19 pools in Wales and the cost of running them for the next 12 months… will be some £3.3m more than they were last year so that’s the scale of the increase [per swimming pool].

“Across the portfolio, that increase will be from £8m in utility costs to some £24m worth of costs and that’s even with the government cap in place,” said Mr Horsfall Turner, who added that the jolt in fees that customers are being charged doesn’t come close to covering the increase in costs for his facilities, highlighting the stark reality we are facing.

Davies, who was the WSA’s guest speaker at their AGM on Thursday, uttered those sentiments when asked by WSA CEO Andrew Howard how much of a concern the potential lack of opportunity for today’s young talent is for her.

“It is quite concerning, because even during the time that pools were closed throughout COVID, there were a lot of children unable to swim…, missed out on that vital chance to learn to swim and they might have fell behind where they otherwise might be, which is scary because it is a life skill as well as a sport or a hobby.”

Davies explained that her illustrious journey in the pool didn’t start off with a vision of success.

“Swimming was not always in the family… but just living in Swansea and living on the coast, it was more for water safety,” she explained. “That was the main focus, so just making sure that if we ever did go on holiday or if I was part of swimming lessons with school, I was able to hold my own.”

The recent Welsh Sports Hall of Fame inductee outlined her worries if opportunities to learn how to swim were restricted.

“If people are unable to swim, if pools shut down altogether or if times (people) are able to swim are restricted, I think it is quite worrying because you’ve actually seen a lot, during COVID when people were swimming outdoors, of sad stories and casualties where people weren’t strong enough swimmers and then people had lost their lives. So, it actually shows how important it is to learn how to swim.

“It is important for people and for children to be active,” Davies concluded. “I think swimming’s great for that because it is a full-body type of exercise, so it would a huge, huge shame if swimming pools did have to close because of these cost increases.”

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