Joe Litchfield issues stark warning over British Swimming’s Olympic prospects if 2,000 pools are closed

Yorkshire Olympian Joe Litchfield has warned that mass pool closures will inhibit young swimmers looking to chase their dreams in the pool.

Joe Litchfield of Team Great Britain competes in heat five of the Men's 200m Individual Medley on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Picture: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The 23-year-old from Pontefract, who competed in the 200m individual medley and men’s 4x100m freestyle relay in Tokyo, believes potential pool closures could lead to the death of British swimming.

SwimEngland, the governing body which dedicates its vision to getting more people swimming, recently warned that almost 2,000 pools in England could be lost indefinitely before the end of the decade.

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This is due to a lack of financial aid to re-furnish a large number of pools around the country which are heading to the end of their lifespan.

Joe Litchfield, a member of the Great Britain Olympic Swimming team (Picture: Karl Bridgeman/Getty Images for British Olympic Association)

SwimEngland’s report, A Decade of Decline: The Future of Swimming Pools in England, states that available pools in England will fall by 40 per cent before 2030 and calls for the government to commit to investing £1b into public leisure centres.

Without the correct facilities to learn vital life skills, the organisation and elite athletes have come forward to acknowledge their worries about the impact this decline will have on millions of people’s mental and physical health, as they are left without access to a pool.

Local pools proved vital in the swimming journey of Olympian and international medallist Litchfield, who began swimming competitively for Doncaster Dartes at age nine and later moved to swim for City of Sheffield.

“Everyone starts out in a local pool, no one goes straight into the big teams, and if we don’t have those extra pools then it’s going to be a massive hit on the swimming community and it’s going to be a massive hit on the future of swimming,” said Litchfield.

Swim England National Winter Championships (25m) 2018 - Ponds Forge International Sports Centre, Sheffield, England - Max Litchfield with brother Joe Litchfield after racing to gold in the 200m IM final. (Picture: SWpix.com)

“It was the British swimming team’s best Olympics yet and with the team we have now I think we can go even faster in the future, but obviously we need younger athletes coming through and if we don’t have the pools then we won’t have that.”

Swimming pools are also an essential component in teaching important skills which may one day save someone’s life.

“If you’re closing 2,000 pools, fewer kids are going to get into swimming and fewer kids are going to know how to swim which, for me, is a life-skill that everyone needs to know,” added Litchfield, a triple European Championship medallist earlier this year.

“You don’t know when you could fall into the water and you need to know how to swim for that. It’s a life skill worth having, it’s good to not be afraid of the water and it’s really sad that, if these pools are to close, people will not be able to learn how to swim, especially at an earlier age.”

Litchfield is just one of many calling for the government to address the issue and work with Swim England to ensure that pools across the country will be available in every community as a necessary facility.

“There needs to be a conscious effort by a governing body to try and get swimming back on track as it’s of paramount importance to the future of Swim England, both competitively and as a life-skill,” added Litchfield, who now trains at the National Centre in Loughborough.

The younger brother of two-time Olympian Max, both Litchfields were part of the most successful ever British Swimming team to compete at an Olympics in Tokyo.

Led by Adam Peaty, Great Britain won eight medals, including four gold.

Joe Litchfield was competing in his first Olympics out in the Far East. He missed out on progressing to the semi-finals of his individual 200m IM and was part of the team that narrowly missed the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay final by just four one hundredths of a second, losing out to the Russian Olympic Committee.

“The actual experience was brilliant, if it was 2020 I wouldn’t have gone but this extra year has helped me develop as a swimmer and allowed me to qualify,” said Litchfield.

“Some things just didn’t quite go to plan but those are things I can learn from.

“I wasn’t expecting two years ago to be on the Olympic team, so it was a great experience and definitely one that I want to do again.”

Recently back from representing the New York Breakers in the International Swimming League, Litchfield will look to build on his Olympic experience by dedicating himself to a hard block of training in preparation for a busy 2022, packed with World and European Championships and the Commonwealth Games.