Steve Parry fears a pessimistic public would find pool closures acceptable

Swimming pool closures could happen “largely unnoticed” because of the general pessimism created by the coronavirus pandemic, an Olympic medallist fears.

Figures from Swim England show that more than 200 pools did not reopen when lockdown restrictions were eased last summer and the same organisation predicts a fifth of pools will stay shut.

Steve Parry, who won bronze for Team GB in the 200 metres butterfly at the 2004 Games in Athens, is concerned pool closures will just be seen as another unavoidable consequence of the pandemic.

Parry, the founder of the Sporting House organisation, told the PA news agency: “The news is so dire, whether it be retail, hospitality, you could quite easily close these cherished community assets and – get away with is the wrong phrase – but it would largely go unnoticed, it would largely be acceptable.

“You’re not going to get the social pushback you would usually get. Any time that you closed a swimming pool in the past, there were little pickets of people saying, ‘Don’t close our pool’.

“Given the pessimistic news at the moment you could get away with closing a swimming pool, but I think that’s something we have got to be really careful about.”

Parry believes the hospitality sector was prioritised ahead of sport and leisure as industries were reopened after the first lockdown in spring 2020, and fears nothing will change this time.

“We know that if you are healthy you are more likely to survive Covid and yet as a nation we made a decision to open up leisure a lot later than other sectors. I just question whether that was the right choice,” he added.

“I would like to see, when we get out of a national lockdown, that leisure and enabling our kids to do physical activity is one of the first things to go back, but I’m actually not sure based on track record that that will be the case. I fear it will be one of the last things to go, because financially it’s not considered a huge contributor to the economy.”

Parry fears the children who will suffer most will be those from the poorest backgrounds.

“What we know from school swimming figures is that it’s kids from deprived areas who don’t have access to swimming pools and also maybe their parents don’t have disposable income to (pay) to teach them,” he said.

“Over 150,000 kids left primary school in 2019 unable to swim. That’s only going to get worse with pools closing and with school swimming not taking place for the best part of 18 months.”