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Tributes pour in for British Swimming chairman Maurice Watkins

Tributes have been paid to British Swimming chairman Maurice Watkins CBE, who has died at the age of 79.

The chief executives of Swim England, British Swimming and UK Sport have all paid respects to Maurice, who was appointed chairman of British Swimming in 2012.

He oversaw the development of a new, exciting era of aquatics sport in Britain, with our swimming, para-swimming and diving teams becoming powerhouses on the international stage, a success illustrated by the GB swimmers enjoying their most successful Olympic Games in history this summer.

His time in the role included the dual appointment of Chris Spice as National Performance Director and Bill Furniss as Head Coach of the British swimming team in 2013, with the team going on to achieve their best ever return from a World Championships barely two years later in Kazan.

A year on, at Rio 2016, Team GB claimed a historic first Olympic title in diving, thanks to Jack Laugher and Chris Mears in the Men’s 3m Synchro, with the diving team’s tally of three medals in one Games a new record. 

The swimmers recorded their then-best medal return – six – in more than a century, while the Paralympics saw Britain’s swimmers claim a staggering 47 of the 147 medals won across all sports by Paralympics GB, including 16 golds.

Away from the performance and culture development seen under Maurice’s tenure at British Swimming, he had international involvement and worked as chairman of the LEN legal committee, a position through which Maurice met his Holiness, The Pope, at the Vatican in 2018. 

Maurice presented Pope Francis with a commemorative British Swimming cap.

British Swimming CEO Jack Buckner was another of Maurice’s appointments, back in 2017, and Jack has paid tribute to the chairman’s unique impact.

“I have been fortunate to experience Maurice’s personal dignity and humility. He has been a leader of deep wisdom and patient intelligence, the wise steward at the heart of the sport,” said Jack.

“Even in his last days, his total focus was on Tokyo and the great events which unfolded there. Maurice, a piece of these medals belong to you.

“Thanks for your massive contribution to British Swimming and everything you have done for British sport.”

Enormous respect

Jane Nickerson, Swim England chief executive and member of the British Swimming board, paid tribute to Maurice.

She said: “Maurice was dedicated to his role with British Swimming and relished the success of all our Olympians at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

“I had enormous respect for him as chairman of the board and what he has achieved leading the organisation.

“His quiet, dignified manner, coupled with his sense of humour,  made him wonderful company at every occasion and he will be greatly missed.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with Maurice’s family and friends at this sad time.”

Sally Munday, CEO of UK Sport, said: “I was so saddened to hear about Maurice.

My thoughts are with his family and friends. Maurice was so well known in the sporting community and the sheer variety of sports that he was involved in throughout his life goes some way to showing the impact he had on the British sporting landscape.

“As Chair of British Swimming, he must have been immensely proud of the success that Britain’s aquatics athletes had in Tokyo in the recent weeks. He will be sorely missed.”

Before his time with British Swimming, Maurice was a director at Manchester United FC for 28 years, famously brokering the deal to keep Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford after he had decided to quit.

He was head of sport law for Brabners Solicitors in Manchester, as well as taking in roles as interim chairman of the Rugby Football League in 2012, Barnsley FC chairman for four years and as a director of Lancashire County Cricket Club.

Maurice was made a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list of 2011 for his services to charity. 

He was hugely involved in fundraising for the NHS Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity for more than 15 years, leading the charity in its three-year, £20m new Children’s Hospital appeal.