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Dear Editor: T&T needs ‘learn to swim’ drive; it can be a matter of life or death for island nation

“[…] Successive governments have collectively spent close to a billion dollars in aquatics over the last decade, however, no focus has been placed on getting our citizens to swim—even though we live in a country that is surrounded by water.

“Swimming is definitely a handy life-saving skill…”

The following Letter to the Editor on the importance of teaching nationals to swim was submitted to Wired868 by Jason Wickham, former ASATT PRO:

Photo: Young adults swim at a community pool.

The reform of aquatic sports is a matter of life or death. The Trinidad Express editorial of 24 August 2021 was insightful and on the money when it urged to ‘make swimming a national priority’. The article highlighted a mother’s tragic loss of her fisherman son who she declared could not swim.

It is refreshing that a newspaper editorial was not only able to highlight the painful loss in the Erin community, but also was able to skilfully highlight an anomaly in our culture, which underestimates the need to learn to swim and the need for the authorities to protect the health and well-being of our citizenry by encouraging water safety and swimming.

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Swimming is essential!

Not only are there fishermen who cannot swim. We have many persons in our protective services, inclusive of the Coast Guard, that are unable to swim. In professions like these, a swimming certificate needs to be their seatbelt and they should not be able to work without it. 

The editorial suggested including swimming in our school curriculum. Successive governments have collectively spent close to a billion dollars in aquatics over the last decade, however, no focus has been placed on getting our citizens to swim—even though we live in a country that is surrounded by water. Swimming is definitely a handy life-saving skill.

Photo: Then US president Barack Obama and his daughter Sasha swim at Alligator Point in Panama City Beach, Florida on 14 August 2010.
(via US White House)

There is no known national vision for aquatics therefore we cannot expect swimming to be a national priority. The Amateur Swimming Association of Trinidad and Tobago (ASATT) is the national governing body (NGB) responsible for swimming, open water swimming, diving, high diving, water polo, artistic swimming and masters programme / activity, but its main function continues to be to select teams and run events. 

There is no drive to encourage persons to learn to swim and in fact ASATT has turned away ‘learn to swim providers’ in the past, when they wanted to join the organisation. Even if their target is competitive swimming, swimmers do not fall from the sky.

There is a National Sports Policy laid out by the Ministry of Sport for 2017 -2027 that documents a pathway and policies for national sport development. However, total participation and incorporating sport in the school curriculum continues to be a dream.

ASATT needs a ‘learn to swim’ drive with a cohesive, systematic approach to athlete development, so that not only we have more people swimming, but more people swimming well. 

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago junior swimmers prepare to compete at an international meet.
(Courtesy USportt)

Monies received for development are placed towards competitive age-group swim teams but not towards the development of the sport. The Association has to do its part to push for more activities at the community pools to develop our talent pool for competitive sport and also to develop a national cadre of competent swimmers. The Ministry has to do more to hold its NGB accountable for this.

There are community pools in Diego Martin, Laventille, La Horquetta, Siparia, Couva, Cocoyea and Sangre Grande which are owned by the government. We also know of other community pools with government involvement such as the Point Fortin Community Pool as well as facilities in Tobago. 

The government has a major investment in these facilities, so why not invest in having people use these facilities so that we can save and improve lives?

With a new Maloney pool on the horizon, we risk creating another addition to our sporting zoo of white elephant facilities. Like a shoemaker with no shoes, we are a country with a pitch lake and road maintenance problems, swimming pools and miles of coastline with few swimmers. 

Photo: A child learns to swim.

We need leaders to push this swimming agenda which will not only create a safer nation by reducing drownings, but, in a time of Covid-19, swimming creates lung capacity and a healthier nation, which should be an ideal complement to the vaccine. 

In a time of job losses, a swimming agenda will create more sustainable employment for coaches and sporting professionals, not only in swimming but in water polo. And of course, we will widen the talent pool for possible Olympic success.

The positive news is that in Trinidad and Tobago we do have the technical know-how within the Association, which can partner with the experienced and qualified learn to swim practitioners. Together with the leaders, frameworks to achieve national swimming competence can be developed.  

However, the leaders have to want this to happen and know how to make it happen, or unfortunately we will continue to hear ‘he could not swim’.

About Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor
Want to share your thoughts with Wired868? Email us at editor@wired868.com. Please keep your letter between 300 to 600 words and be sure to read it over first for typos and punctuation. We don't publish anonymously unless there is a good reason, such as an obvious threat of harassment or job loss.

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