Friday, 25 July 2008

TES: "Swimming hopefuls left high and dry"

Times Education Supplement: Swimming hopefuls left high and dry

Emma Seith

Published: 25 July 2008

Funding plug is pulled on Commonwealth medallists’ club that balanced training and school demands

Many of scotland’s most promising young swimmers will never fulfil their potential, following the closure of the Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh, predicts a British Olympic team swimming coach.

Frederic Vergnoux launched a scathing attack this week on the sport’s governing body in Scotland after his club, which is based at the pool, was forced to close because its funding was withdrawn.

World-class swimming in the capital is dead, he said, because Scottish Swimming has axed funding for City of Edinburgh Swimming, whose members include Commonwealth medallists Kirsty Balfour and Gregor Tait.

Mr Vergnoux, who has been head coach since January 2005 and seen his swimmers break 110 national, Commonwealth and European records, is leaving after the Beijing Olympics to take up a job at the Racing Club of France in Paris, but says he would rather have stayed in Scotland.

The club will close next month, with nothing lined up locally to replace it, said Mr Vergnoux.

The consequences will be particularly dire for younger swimmers as the club played a vital role in helping them balance their sport with their school work, he claimed.

Scottish Swimming withdrew its financial support earlier this year because the Royal Commonwealth Pool is closing next year to be refurbished for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

“If you support performance swimming at the highest level, the facility is one of the biggest parts of it,” said Scottish Swimming’s performance director, Ally Whike.

Instead of investing in Edinburgh, Scottish Swimming was investing in facilities in other parts of the country, he said.

“We have engaged sports consultants KKP (Knight, Kavanagh and Page) to work with the local clubs on putting together another performance organisation,” he said, but such an organisation would not come into being until 2011 at the earliest, when the new pool is scheduled to reopen.

Edinburgh City Council’s funding support of £150,000 over three years was earmarked for developing swimmers for the Olympics, and that, too, has ceased.

A spokesman for the council said it was working with its leisure trust company and schools to offer alternative facilities while the Commonwealth Pool is closed.

Mr Vergnoux, who was named coach of the year for Scotland and Great Britain for the past two years, told The TESS: “When you swim in my programme, you do 10 sessions in and 10 sessions out of the water: weights and running. It’s a full-time job, but on top of that you have to go to school. If you don’t work with the school and have a weekly plan, they won’t help you.

“We can say, ‘This kid is a good swimmer at their level and they need to train and compete. Help us get them an education too’. There will be no programme providing what we provide at the moment.”

Megan Gilchrist is one of the young swimmers who has benefited from Mr Vergnoux’s programme.

She left Whitburn Academy in West Lothian this year and Mr Vergnoux expects her to make it to the 2012 British Olympic team.

She will “certainly” represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, he predicts. “Megan’s school was so supportive. We had a system where she did the full programme with us and the school provided tutoring. Sometimes a teacher would be at the pool side when she finished training.”

Lucy Ellis, currently a member of Dunedin club and a pupil at Inver­keithing High, could miss out from that kind of support, he said.

Lindsay Roy, former headteacher of Inverkeithing High, who has followed Lucy’s progress, commended programmes such as that created by Mr Vergnoux.

“It is a sound approach because it makes sure sporting youngsters are balanced with an appropriate input into their education, both in terms of time in school and time devoted to homework,” he said.

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