Swim England

A nation swimming

Olympic and Paralympic athletes sign letter urging PM to support ‘vital’ pools

Olympic and Paralympic swimmers and divers are among dozens calling for pools to be given ‘the fullest possible support to survive and recover from the economic crisis caused by Covid-19’ – as they have a ‘vital role in our recovery from this health crisis’.

Sharron Davies, Steve Parry, Jack Laugher, Alice Tai and Kerri-anne Payne are all signatories on a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressing their concern that ‘up to 2,800 gyms and leisure facilities in the UK are at risk of permanent closure’.

A number of organisations and celebrities, including David Williams, who famously swam the length of the River Thames to raise money for Sport Relief, and physical activity expert Professor Greg Whyte, have also signed the letter.

The coalition states: “We fully appreciate that these are challenging times for our nation’s decision makers, but despite the breadth of our group, we share a common belief that health solutions must be prioritised.

“To that end, we are deeply concerned by the latest forecasts from the trade body ukactive that up to 2,800 gyms and leisure facilities in the UK are at risk of permanent closure, resulting in the loss of 100,000 jobs and impacting about 6.6 million users, if they do not receive greater, tailored support.

“There are around 7,200 fitness and leisure facilities in all, serving more than 17 million users, and we stand united in our belief that these places are integral to improving the physical, mental, and social health and wellbeing of our communities.

“We collectively know that physical inactivity is the fourth highest factor in premature morbidity in the UK, leading to 37,000 premature deaths each year.

“This will tragically be exacerbated by Covid-19, and the deep and significant drop in activity across all ages and backgrounds.

“Yet, these facilities will be needed to support not only the rehabilitation of millions of people recovering from the effects of Covid-19 and long-Covid, but to support the impact of wider health concerns indirectly impacted by the pandemic, especially among vulnerable groups, children and older adults.

“The essential facilities provided by the fitness and leisure sector are also a cradle for developing our national sporting heroes, who in turn inspire greater physical activity among the next generation.

Enhance health of nation

“For many sport stars, including our Team GB Olympians and Paralympians, their journey started in their local gym, pool, or leisure centre.

“They will look to these facilities with a great level of gratitude, often as the birthplace of their dreams, helping them on the road to achieving success.

“The threat of losing these places has brought us together as a collective voice, to express our concern and hope that everything is done to ensure these essential facilities are available to support our recovery from Covid-19, and enhance the health of the nation, now and long into the future.”

Jane Nickerson, Swim England chief executive, said: “We thank our past and present Olympians and Paralympians, Greg Whyte and numerous celebrities for backing the fight to save leisure facilities.

“Ahead of Mr Johnson announcing his roadmap for easing the national lockdown restrictions, we hope he will take note of the true weight of feeling behind this and realise pools and leisure facilities are essential to help the nation recover from this pandemic.”

The letter can be read in full here.