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Our biggest local swimming pool is closing

“The Olympics will promote sport and healthy living in the capital,” it says the website of Waltham Forest borough council. “We can now look forward to seeing the area regenerate with the best sporting, leisure and cultural facilities the world has ever seen."

Waltham Forest has also unveiled its slogan for the Games. “It’s happening here,” it boasts. And guess what is happening there? The biggest and best swimming pool, the one used by club swimmers and triathletes and talented teenagers with dreams of competing for Great Britain in 2012, is to close next month. It is closing because Waltham Forest College, where it is housed, cannot afford the £74,833 it loses every year, or the £159,000 one-off maintenance payment that will be required in 2007-08.

Now raise the ante to the Olympic mountain biking venue that will be constructed at South Weald in Essex. The cost is £5 million, the event will last six hours (including two medal ceremonies) and the facility will be torn down the moment it is over. We could keep the pool at Waltham Forest College going until 2074 with that cash.

Waltham Forest College pool is significant because it is 33 metres long: still 17 metres short of Olympic standard but superior to most council-owned leisure pools, which is why it is home to 11 local schools in winter and numerous swimming and triathlon clubs throughout the year, including Leyton SC, Walthamstow Tritons SC, Swim4Tri and the Gators, more properly known as Borough of Waltham Forest SC. The Gators is a Swim21 Performance club, meaning it is serious about the sport, competition and coaching and adheres to the demanding development model of the Amateur Swimming Association.

To maintain this status it needs ten hours’ swim time each week and that is not possible at a council-run pool, which must serve a large community. Any swimmers with international ambitions will now leave the Borough of Waltham Forest team, or may be lost to the sport entirely. The nearest club of equivalent stature is in Ealing, West London, so it might as well be in Sheffield, where the only Olympic standard swimming pool in England resides.

To make the Olympic budget work, £2.2 billion has been taken from lottery funding. That is the reality of the London games. Big-ticket items constructed at the expense of grassroots sport. So, after the circus has left town, London will have one fantastic swimming pool based in Stratford, with a seating capacity of 2,500 – but not much else. The London Pools campaign identified nine facilities in the capital that closed last year and sixteen more that were under threat. In addition, 10 per cent of school pools had shut.

Waltham Forest College was also the only local educational establishment where people could gain water-based qualifications, such as life-guarding or swimming instruction That shortfall figure again: £74,833.

Last year, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and assorted officials spent £36,000 on one Olympics-related visit to Cuba. In 2001, the London Development Agency, instrumental in the Olympic building project, settled a bill for £140,000 on a lunch to announce plans to tackle (get this) urban poverty. The last Olympic budget, as discussed by Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, was £10.4 billion. And yet, between them, the mayor, the council, the Government, the lottery and all the other bureaucrats, politicians and self-promoters that are attached to our Olympic bid will stand idle as sport at its most beneficial level is bulldozed to make way for a three-week extravaganza.

From: Your brilliant Olympic legacy: the local pool’s closed, Martin Samuel The Times, June 12, 2007

More at: Draining the Pool

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