Why we need 50m pools to be world class

Las Vegas' 50m university pool, the Buchanan Natatorium, was completed ahead of schedule and under budget

Las Vegas' 50m university pool, the Buchanan Natatorium, was completed ahead of schedule and under budget

Today I read two stories about new swimming pools. One is in Las Vegas, the other here in Oxfordshire. As you might expect the stories couldn’t be more different.

The story in The Las Vegas Sun is about how the University (UNLV) has renovated its Buchanan Natatorium Facility for a little under the budgeted $5.5 million and ahead of schedule. Needless to say it is a 50m Olympic sized pool.

Meanwhile over in Oxfordshire a row has broken out over plans to build a new pool adjacent to the Blackbird Lees Leisure Centre by shutting down two pools, the Temple Cowley Pool and the existing Blackbird Leys Pool, both of which are showing signs of ageing after 25 years and will cost around £2.6 million simply to maintain.

The new project, which is described as ‘world class’ by Oxford City Council’s Head of Leisure will cost apparently between £5m and £8 million. But the pool will only be 25m long. To me and many others visitors to the Oxford Mail’s website this seems like a complete missed opportunity.

Says one commentator from Abingdon:

“An 8 lane 25m pool is not world class. Please let us get this straight, Olympic pools are 10 lanes wide and 50m long. We have a successful swimming club in Oxford who have been waiting for a half decent facility since Temple Cowley was refurbished in the mid 80s…Please do not build another half-hearted pool, the people of Oxford/shire want to keep fit and have fun big time!”

Adds Mr Beavis, Sunningwell:

“If you travel to other major cities in this country and look at the facilites they have it makes Oxford look a very second rate city for its residents. Sheffied, Manchester and Portsmouth all have 50 metre pools, during competitons the extra money that comes into the city is a large boost to the economy. This will be a missed opportunity to give the county what it needs and wants.”

The sad fact is that there are only around 20 pools in the UK which are Olympic length and only five that meet Olympic standards (ie. have the necessary ten lanes): Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield and Sunderland.

Shockingly, the London Aquatics Centre which is due to be built for the London Olympics of 2012, will be the capital’s first indoor Olympic pool (the only others in Ealing and Crystal Palace don’t meet the Olympic criteria.) By contrast both New York and even Paris have seven each and Madrid has four.

So it seems no wonder to me that the UK will struggle to compete in the pool at the 2012 Olympics. As anyone who witnessed the recent Duel in the Pool thrashing there currently seems to be a vast difference between the UK and US teams.

Hardly any surprise when you consider that Las Vegas, a relatively small city with a population of around half a million (slightly more than Liverpool, slightly less than Leeds) has a brand new 50m pool just for its students! And Oxfordshire with a larger population (around 650,000) is having to make do with a handful of 25m pools for all of its residents, some of which are badly in need of repair.