Only one in five of Hong Kong’s people can swim reports CNN.
Alex Kwok, General Secretary of the Hong Kong Kowloon Lifeguards Union says: “Hong Kong is surrounded by water and it’s a big city.” This Chinese territory is made of more than 200 islands with 700 kilometres of coastline – more than the distance from London to Paris. Despite this “A lot of parents don’t want their children to do outdoor activity including hiking and swimming”. Yet the conservative attitude of parents is putting the lives of their children at risk rather than protecting them.
During a ferry collision on October 1st more than 100 people were thrown into the water, tragically 39 lives were lost. As most adults can’t swim parents have to turn to professional teachers to educate their young. The government offers discounted lessons but demand continually outstrips supply. Private lessons are also available but at a much higher cost (comparable to the cost of music lessons) and many parents are put off as they don’t see it as good value for money. Yet what price can you put on a child’s life?
In the UK a similarly disastrous collision brought the need for swimming instruction very much into focus. On September 3rd 1878 the steamboat Princess Alice collided with the coal ship Bywell Castle, at Galleon’s Reach on the River Thames. As she sank into the water 640 passengers lost their lives. Out of the three hundred and fifty female passengers on board only one survived, the only swimmer. Moral Concerns separated the sexes when swimming and British prudery objected to the display of female flesh, but these unnatural attitudes cost lives.
Following the disaster the British entered a golden age of swimming with swimming venues set up across the country. Swimming and life saving became highly valued skills, yet after this peak in swimming interest which set the standard for swimming excellence worldwide, the British today are returning to indifference and inactivity on the swimming frontier.
It should be obvious to everyone that children who are not taught to swim, either by their parents, friends or by professionals lack essential life saving education. Parents who play swimming roulette might get away with it for now, but in the end it’s their children or grandchildren that will pay the price.
The Swimming Times is running a competition this month and you have the chance to win one of five free copies of the history of British Swimming: Hung Out to Dry. To enter send an email to: email@example.com and include your name, address and the title Hung Out to Dry, the first five entries drawn will win (closing date: November 30th 2012).
You can also read Tom Edwards review of the book in November’s Swimming Times Open Water Supplement on page 39.