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Katrice Rodrigues says diversity in aquatics is improving but still ‘a long way to go’

Katrice Rodrigues is hoping for change as she says diversity in aquatics is improving, but there’s still ‘a long way to go’.

As part of the England Swims campaign, the national governing body for aquatics, Swim England, is sharing stories of individuals, their perceptions of the sector and any barriers they face to participation in water-based activity.

Qualified Swim England tutor, Katrice, has been a part of aquatics at every level, from learning to swim, swimming competitively, becoming a swimming teacher and now a tutor.

She is a member of the Leicester Black Teachers Group and is currently working towards establishing a swim group called ‘Afro Aquatics’ in Leicester to provide opportunities for those from the Afro-Caribbean community to swim regularly.

Katrice is from a mixed ethnic background, her dad is from Jamaica and her mum is white English, but she was adopted at a young age and grew up with a white English family.

She grew up in a small village before moving to the city of Leicester whilst still in secondary school.

Her parents were supportive of her and her brother’s choice to start swimming, and the pair began lessons at around eight-years-old, with Katrice later moving into a competitive swimming club.

Just me and my brother from our background

Explaining her experiences as a young swimmer, Katrice said: “I was a member of the swimming club from as soon as I could be, I loved it.

“Me and my brother were the only Afro-Caribbean people in the club. There were a few Asian families, but there was just me and my brother from our background.

“I was in the West Midlands League so I swam at different pools all over the country except for London. I remember going to Sheffield, Wolverhampton and all over the East and West Midlands.

“I honestly can’t remember seeing any other black Afro-Caribbean faces there. There may have been a few but I really can’t remember.

“When I was younger it was kind of the normal thing. I did notice, but it’s only really now as an adult that when I look back and look into it more that there weren’t those faces within the clubs.”

Different factors behind not swimming

Katrice has been a swimming teacher since the late 80’s and she says that more children from Afro-Caribbean communities are now learning to swim.

However, she also believes there to be a lack of diversity amongst swimming teachers, adding: “From my experience tutoring, I have tutored as far as Tunbridge Wells and all across the South and East Midlands area and again, there’s not many Black swim teachers.

“But I think it’s a generational thing. There’s a lot of different factors to why Afro-Caribbean people don’t tend to swim but it’s not a thing that grandparents and parents really did, but it is becoming something their children are doing.

“Although a lot of the Afro-Caribbean families obviously come from islands where they may well have swum around the island and in the seas, there’s never really been that transition swimming in the pools in the UK.

“There’s also a lot of issues with the afro hair. The chlorine dries your hair out and dries your skin out, but there’s products around that can stop that.

“I’ve just actually bought myself a swim scarf where you can fit all of your hair in it, so there’s those things, but if you’re not into swimming you’re probably not aware of that.

“Particularly Afro-Caribbean women but men as well, they spend a lot of time and money on their hair with different hair styles and a lot of the time, if you get it wet, the hair style is ruined.

“That can be enough of a reason for them to not get into the water full stop.”

Improving but more to be done

Swim England understands that more needs to be done to positively promote equality, diversity and inclusion in aquatics.

The England Swims campaign aims to further understand the barriers to participation within ethnically diverse communities and help to break down those barriers.

Katrice revealed that aquatics is moving in the right direction, but more needs to be done.

She said: “I do find it’s a society thing, the negative stereotypes in general seem to be believed. In my short career as a tutor, two experienced swim teachers have said to me that they thought that skin colour affected their buoyancy in the water, not body types, but skin colour.

“So I think about education as well, not only within the Black and Afro-Caribbean communities but in all communities.

“I do feel there’s more parents encouraging their children to swim and putting them in lessons.

“There’s more so these days then there was, so it is improving, but not to the amount where it represents the ethnic diversity of the community we live in.

“So there’s a long way to go, particularly in the African-Caribbean community, but I’m hoping that will change.”