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No Place In Sport

Like many thousands of mums and dads across the country, my mum still voluntarily helps run local, grass roots sport. She's been President of Sussex County Swimming and now organises officials for their swim meets; no easy task, but that is all together another story.

Recently she told me about an incident at the County Championships involving a swimmer and it made me sad and so angry.

The swimmer has been given a scholarship to a sports school and started at the beginning of this term. The school is in a different county, so as per the rules, she planned to finish the year swimming for Sussex then switch. She felt that she wanted to compete for her 'home' county for as long as possible. She felt loyal to the county that gave her start. This swimmer is very talented and fast and therein lies the problem. Jealousy.

As it became known she would be competing, various clubs and parents became very vocal against her taking part. There was a tone of 'it's not fair, my swimmer/daughter would win if she wasn't here'.

At the actual competition it became nasty. Parents, coaches and other swimmers, jeered her, shouted abuse at her, and laughed when inevitably she didn't swim well. How could she when she walked out for her race in tears?

This swimmer is 10 years old.

A 10-year-old girl who wanted nothing more than to race faced abuse from grown men and women.  Did they stop to imagine what they would feel if it was their son or daughter on the other side? She took insults from coaches whose job it is to teach sporting and life skills to young people, and support them in their sporting journeys, no matter how long or short or what level they reach.

How can we blame the swimmers for their attitudes towards her when these are their role models?

I felt sick for this little girl.

She might regularly stand on top of the medal podium, she might put herself through some tough training sessions, but essentially she is just a little girl.

The incident is being dealt with by the county's welfare officer and I can only hope that the parents and coaches involved are banned from the poolside and that they at some point stop and realise what they did and feel suitably ashamed of themselves. They disgust me. Swimming is not alone in facing this problem. The sidelines of kid's games of football, cricket, rugby and more are renowned for being home to pushy parents hurling abuse.

There's no place for people like this in sport. There's no place for people like this to be around our children. Understandably this little girl wouldn't compete at the final championships. She will now swim at her new county, where I can only hope they see this bright young talent and are excited to watch her race and see how fast she can go.