(P127) COMMENT -An affront to our young swimmers

Croydon Advertiser - 19 September 2003

BRITISH sport often lays itself open to being branded a laughing stock both at home and abroad.

It is hard to shake off that picture particularly when those governing sport and those handing out the money to run it seem bent on shooting themselves in the foot.

That certainly seems to be the case with the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace, now facing the real prospect of closure because nobody wants to pick up the bid to restore the rundown venue to its former international glory.

This week we have highlighted the plight swimmers feel they will face if the pool has to close. It is probably easy for athletes to put up similar arguments for modernising the athletics stadium.

According to the Amateur Swimming Association, the Crystal Palace pool, despite its inadequacies when compared with modern pools springing up all over the north of the country, is the only 50m pool of competitive standard south of an area stretching from Hertfordshire through London and on to Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

That in itself is outrageous and an affront to those hundreds of swimmers in London and the Home Counties who need top class facilities to achieve their ambition and hopefully increase the often meagre medal haul in the Olympics.

But to even contemplate throwing the baby out with the pool water by closing the pool is bordering on madness.

Are we really suggesting to our stars of the future that to reach their potential they have to be shunted off to Sheffield, Newcastle or Manchester to train?

And vague arguments that something might be built in Stratford or thereabouts if the London bid for the 2012 Olympics takes off in earnest is of no comfort at all to today's young swimmers.

Of course, threats of closure are not new. This may just be another round of posturing by Sport England and Bromley Council to persuade others to throw their hats into the funding ring.

Posturing or not, money to keep the pool open and refurbished to modern standards must be found. The Government and the Greater London Authority must not hold back from coming forward with much of the cash.

A few million pounds is not much to ask to ensure swimmers in the south can play their part in wiping out Britain's reputation as a sporting joke.

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