Dear Swimming Canada family,
Many of us are hitting a pandemic wall right now. It has been just over a year since we postponed our flagship event, the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials, presented by Bell. Since then, it seems like more and more frustrating dominoes have fallen during this ongoing pandemic, as we have planned, un-planned, re-planned, rescheduled and – sadly – cancelled many events.
The most recent of these decisions was to cancel the national championships for Masters, senior and junior swimmers. This was a very difficult decision. We do not enjoy cancelling events. We WANT to see swim meets all over the country. Swim meets, and working towards competing at them, are what drive our sport forward. Furthermore, this decision is even more difficult while we watch other nations continue to compete as they have different laws or are at a different stages of their pandemic restrictions.
We are a herd species. We gather for concerts, events, school, restaurants and work. We enjoy and take comfort in the company of others. We gather to experience moments in life. It’s part of who we are as people.
Unfortunately, we have to weigh the value of hosting national events against the risks, rules, regulations, restrictions and pandemic protocols across Canada. They are different from province to province and even city to city. As the Olympic and Paralympic Games are going ahead in 2021 with heavily restricted rules, for now that means focusing on events that are essential to selecting the best possible teams to represent Canada. That means a drastically scaled back Trials, with minimal numbers of invited athletes and essential personnel moving in and out of the building in small groups under strict protocols that would be impossible to replicate at a larger national meet, such as the Canadian Masters Swimming Championships or the Canadian Junior and Senior Championships.
This does not mean we are only focused on high performance athletes. But I do want to share one key word that we share on our national teams, which I think applies to every single swimmer, down to the pre-competitive eight-year-old nervously awaiting their first ever practice.
When something goes wrong in training, unexpected things happen on a national team trip in a strange country, or a race doesn’t go as planned, we ask our national team swimmers to be adaptable. “It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react that matters”. Being adaptable is how Kylie Masse won a gold medal in backstroke at the Commonwealth Games despite torrential rain pouring down on her face. It’s how Katarina Roxon found herself on top of the podium in Rio after not winning medals at her first two Paralympic Games. There are hundreds of examples, big and small, of our national team swimmers being adaptable. I’m sure there are thousands more from our clubs and swimmers over this past year, whether it’s Zoom workouts, swimming in open water when the weather was nicer, or finding ways to implement health and safety protocols to keep pools running.
We have offered virtual challenges. We are already planning ways to offer national meets when it is safe to do so, even if they look different, or take place at a different time of year. Smaller meets at the provincial and local club level will become the focus and we will promote the efforts of our provincial partners and clubs. Our provincial partners know what their governmental jurisdictions will allow, and we hope to see programming, including competition, increase this summer and into the fall, subject to the way the pandemic evolves.
In the meantime, we are asking you to be adaptable. We encourage you to advocate for pools to be open whenever and wherever it is safe, and we will continue to educate decision makers and promote opening of pools across the country.
We know that we are facing a dramatic reduction in physical activity for children, which can lead to negative health outcomes, especially to identifiable/vulnerable communities such as persons with disabilities. Swimming Canada is seeing a significant decline (approximately half) in registered swimmers. Of most concern is data for the age groups of 8 to 12 years old, with just 29 per cent returning. Continued pool closures due to the pandemic could threaten the physical, social and mental health of youth, the health of the nation and future health care costs for decades. Ill health from long-term inactivity is blamed for some 5 million deaths around the world each year, from causes such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes or cancer.
But a physically active lifestyle improves cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, promotes cognitive development and enhances prosocial behaviour in children, with benefits that carry forward into adulthood. Even from a single period of moderate-to-vigorous activity, you can see a reduction in blood pressure, better insulin sensitivity, improved sleep, fewer anxiety symptoms, and improved cognitive function. Activity brings so many health benefits – it makes us happier, healthier, and increases overall wellbeing, self-confidence and self-efficacy. And teaching children to swim is one of the key drowning prevention interventions stated by The World Health Organization.
All this means pools are an essential service, and we all need to do our part to get that message out to anyone who needs to hear it, however we can.
The Swimming Canada Return to Swimming Framework document was originally created almost a year ago, through a national working group that included Swimming Canada staff, provincial staff, physicians, coaches, officials and swimmers, with the purpose of helping all clubs and university programs return. Subsequently, provincial sections created and continue to develop their own Return to Swimming resources specific to the current regulations and restrictions in their given province, which then help clubs create their plans to allow for a safe return to training and return to competition, where possible. Where and when it has happened, the return to swimming has been undertaken in an extremely safe and very controlled way, with risk assessments, distancing and proper disinfection. Working together with our provincial sections, sport and commercial partners and clubs, we can and need to continue with safe, risk-mitigated return to pools for clubs and universities. This requires cooperation with the sport facilities in municipalities and at universities, and the relevant health authorities.
Let’s get back to swimming where and when it is safe, follow the appropriate provincial and/or federal regulations, respect the guidelines, and be adaptable. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please reach out to us at [email protected]
Together, we will #SwimAgain, better and stronger than ever before.
Swimming Canada CEO