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Swim England turns weighing aquatic athletes guidance into policy

Swim England has taken the first steps to turn existing guidance into policy following a commitment made in its safeguarding, welfare and culture plan.

The national governing body vowed in the Heart of Aquatics to move towards publishing policy rather than guidance, where it is applicable, in areas that impact safeguarding, welfare and culture.

Now it has turned its position statement on weighting athletes into policy.

All Swim England affiliated clubs and coaches must comply with the policy, which covers all aquatic disciplines, and states athletes under the age of 18 should not be weighed, unless they are on a nationally supported talent pathway.

Olympic bronze medallist Cassie Patten, who has recently been appointed to Swim England’s new Oversight Committee as an athlete representative, has welcomed the move.

Cassie said: “I’m really pleased to see Swim England has changed its position statement on weighing athletes and turned it into this important policy.

“There have been too many instances in the past of unacceptable behaviour around weighing athletes and this policy sets out the parameters to prevent that inappropriate conduct happening in the future.

“Performance is a key part of an athlete’s development but we also need to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing.

“This policy also ensures there is the education and support in place to help reduce the risks of athletes potentially developing an eating disorder/disordered eating, or other mental health concerns.”

The policy states those on the talent pathway, and athletes aged over 18, can be weighed but this should ‘only be undertaken with clearly documented reasoning, specific to that athlete, and with the athlete’s optimal long-term development in mind’.

Duty of care

It contains a 15-point best practice plan for weighing eligible athletes, the potential risks of weighing and key facts.

The policy has been produced in consultation with British Swimming, Scottish Swimming and Swim Wales and follows on from the guidance on weighing athletes which was published in November 2021.

It goes on to say: “Swim England has a primary duty of care to safeguard the physical and emotional health of our members, a responsibility heightened if the member is under 18 years of age.

“We recognise that in some situations, where the appropriate policies and procedures are in place, weighing athletes can be a useful tool to contribute to tracking changes in health, growth, aiding performance and progression.

“However, the need for this policy is to prevent potential areas of concern due to some of the related psychological distress, which may come from weighing athletes such as disordered eating, anxiety and depression.

“With these factors in mind, athletes under the age of 18 should not be weighed unless they are on a nationally supported talent pathway.

“Reasons have been reviewed for weighing an under 18 in a club environment and apart from monitoring growth (alongside height), we do not consider any significant advantages or information gained from weighing athletes of this age who are not on a national supported programme.

“As height is the main measurement to address growth rates, this should be the key measurement taken.”

To view the Weighing Aquatic Athletes Policy, please click here.