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Biting Back: How swimming can help bridge our divide

By David Kelly

It would be easy to despair about this country when you look at the example of cross community relations from those apparently 'leading' the way at Stormont but in stark contrast there are certain sports which transcend the divide in a major way.

While boxing has always been to the fore when it comes to bringing together both sides of a community that seems as divided as ever in many quarters, one which is largely overlooked is swimming.

This week the Ulster championships will be held at Laganvalley Leisureplex and hundreds of competitors will do battle with great passion and intensity but not a hint of sectarianism. Not only is this seen among the competitors but officials as well and has been for over a century here - and that is something that cannot be said of amateur boxing or many other sports.

Furthermore, unlike the likes of hockey, tennis, golf and rugby which are largely the preserve of middle class grammar school kids, swimming nurtures thousands of kids from every aspect of society.

While ridiculous financial demands can deny many kids the chance to compete at a high level in tennis or golf, the same cannot be said for swimming - and the passion of the coaches is second to none.

Virtually all of the top clubs are headed by coaches who are volunteers, many giving up countless hours - for early morning and evening training - for the sheer desire to see their athletes reach their full potential. That can be contrasted with some in other sports who are really just teachers of sport, picking up a wage with little real investment in the sports person.

Swimming stands tall in this community - and deserves a lot more financial support than it currently receives from Sport NI.

Belfast Telegraph

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