AND we are back! Sport is in business again, including swimming.
The announcement last week about the return of all sports was welcomed with anticipation, relief and excitement by clubs and athletes throughout the country.
It was tempered somewhat as a similar announcement has not yet been made north of the border, so our athletes there are disadvantaged. Continuous pressure is being maintained on Sport NI and the Northern Ireland Executive, in an effort to expedite a return.
The enforced global closure of swimming pools has had an unprecedented impact on the aquatic community.
But it has also brought our community closer together, by the continuous efforts of the Swim Ireland (SI) staff, to engage, support and advise clubs and members throughout the closure.
Prior to the publication of the Government's Framework, SI had already set up a ‘Return to the Water’ working group. The group examined all available documentation from around the world on the topic.
They also made several submissions to Sport Ireland and the Government and worked closely with Ireland Active (the representative body for the leisure industry in the South) and SI was, and remains, a proactive member of the Four Nations Facility Re-Opening Working Group (alongside England, Scotland and Wales).
The groundwork for a safe and timely Return to the Water was well established by the time the first indications of a return was announced by the Government. That enabled SI to ensure best guidance and recommendations for a return, in what will be a new norm, brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A series of four frameworks were produced for the Aquatic Industry supporting not only our clubs and membership, but also our stakeholders, facilities and operators, swimming pool users and swimming lesson providers. The overriding aim being the safety of all pool users on our return.
Club committees were encouraged to engage with facilities to ensure risk assessments were carried out and that all social distancing measures were installed prior to any pool reopening.
Arrangements for safe arrival/departure from pools, procedures for entry and exit to/from the water and changing/dressing options were all planned and catered for well in advance.
Throughout all the planning, clubs were assisted and advised by SI staff. A series of webinars were arranged covering all areas needing attention, including regular compliance officer training sessions.
Toolkits and template documents for the risk assessments were all provided to clubs, with specific information webinars arranged to assist with their completion.
Detailed logs of those present at training sessions must be recorded and maintained, in the event of potential contact tracing. There will be a lot more personal responsibility placed on all members, with everyone responsible for their own health, safety and decision making.
It will no longer be ‘OK’ to turn up for training if you have a cold. If members show any Covid-like symptoms, cough, fever, shortness of breath, they must remain at home and ensure they seek appropriate medical advices and support.
All members are asked to make themselves aware of, and keep up to date with, the Covid-19 restrictions that exist when returning to training and/or open sea.
Preparation for a return was complicated by an ever-changing landscape but clubs were updated at every stage by SI staff and should now be in a good position to return on Monday, or the nearest possible date thereafter. However, we must bear in mind that all pools may not reopen.
Like many businesses suffering the effects of restrictions, they will be operating on a 50% capacity while maintaining all of the costs, in order to comply with social distancing requirements.
Clubs are asked to be patient and supportive and to work with facilities in an effort to ensure a return.
The elite athletes from across the country enjoyed a return on June 8 at the NAC and are once again focused on international goals. While we now look forward to a return from next Monday, members are urged to remember that the health and safety of all our members is paramount.
SI, therefore, request that everyone remains vigilant. A conservative and controlled return to the sport, in line with all the recommended guidance and information is critical to minimising any risks associated with Covid-19.
SI will continue to support clubs throughout this long-awaited return.