31 January 2019
I am writing with regard to your coverage of Alice Tai’s participation in the Middlesex Youth Championships.
Like hundreds of competitions up and down the country, the Middlesex Youth Championships are organised and delivered by committed volunteers who are passionate about giving swimmers the opportunity to compete. Without these volunteers, our sport, along with many others, could not continue.
The Championships included multi-classification events for Para-swimmers. Essentially this means that a Para-swimming champion can be established from across the range of different para-classifications. In order to do this, Para-swimmers swam in heats alongside able-bodied athletes. Alice did this and won in the Para-swimming backstroke events at 50m and 100m.
In doing this, Alice swam times that would have qualified her for the Open final. This is a separate event and on the day, the local event conditions were interpreted as meaning that Alice would not swim in the Open final as she had already competed in the Para-swimming category. We believe the officials were operating in good faith and there was no intent to offend the swimmer or to discriminate against her.
Swim England became aware of the situation on the first day of the event (Saturday) and on the same day we were in communication with both Alice and the event organisers. We advised the organisers that if the situation arose the next day in another event, any para-swimmer achieving a time to qualify for the able-bodied final should be included. We appreciated Alice acknowledging that we and Middlesex ASA wanted to address this issue in her tweet on Sunday.
This would appear to be an isolated incident as we know that Para-swimmers have swum in Open finals for a number of years. In order to ensure clarity however, we will be communicating with meet organisers to ensure that in future, it is clear that Para-swimmers can continue to swim in Open finals should they qualify.
We are continually seeking to improve and develop our sport and to ensure that it is inclusive and integrated. There are not a large number of other major sports in which able bodied and para-athletes compete side-by-side at the same time. Furthermore, we were proud to take a fully integrated Para-swimming and Swimming Team to the Commonwealth Games last year where we achieved multiple medals. We invest in a Para-swimming talent pathway and are proud to be one of the few national governing bodies to have achieved the advanced equality standard for sport.
I hope that this clarifies the situation and demonstrates our commitment to continuing to strive for an inclusive sport and a nation swimming.