Aquatics Learn to Swim: Europe’s Ambitious Path


The European Aquatics Learn to Swim Conference, a groundbreaking two-day event held in Jurmala, Latvia, brought together nearly 200 delegates from 28 nations, uniting Olympians, academics, and aquatic experts. This historic gathering marked a pivotal moment for European Aquatics, concluding with ambitious plans for a two-year pilot project as the next phase of its Learn to Swim strategy.

The conference served as a platform for wide-ranging presentations and discussions, providing a comprehensive overview of the challenges and opportunities in promoting swimming skills across Europe. European Aquatics President, Antonio Silva, underscored the project’s significance in fostering the exchange of best practices and addressing challenges in learn-to-swim programs. The ultimate aim is to communicate the framework and results to stakeholders and the public, leading to the creation of a comprehensive Learn to Swim Manual and certification system.

Recognizing the diversity within Europe, Silva acknowledged that this conference marks just the beginning of a long journey. With approximately 15 percent of Europe’s population under the age of 14 and many countries lacking established learn-to-swim systems, there exists a unique opportunity to build a sustainable framework that ensures more individuals learn to swim and feel secure in the water.

The conference showcased the wealth of knowledge and experience present in national federations, emphasizing the importance of collaborative efforts. The focus was not only on technical aspects of teaching swimming but also on breaking down cultural and social barriers. This aspect was highlighted by BBC TV and radio presenter Summaya Mughal, who shared her personal journey of overcoming cultural barriers to learn to swim at the age of 28 in 2022. Mughal, known for her award-winning podcast “Brown Gal Can’t Swim,” stressed the need to encourage adults, especially those from communities where swimming is uncommon, to embrace the opportunity to learn.

The conference also featured athlete guests who passionately spoke about the invaluable life skills gained through mastering the art of swimming. Five-time Olympian and World Aquatics Champion Peter Mankoc from Slovenia emphasized how swimming equips individuals with essential life skills such as self-confidence, resilience, discipline, time management, and teamwork. Mankoc highlighted that swimming provides the skills to navigate life’s challenges, fostering resilience and a sense of responsibility.

Former World Aquatics Refugee Team member Yusra Mardini shared her inspirational journey from fleeing war-torn Syria to competing in the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Mardini emphasized how swimming served as a constant in her life, providing strength, hope, and a sense of home during challenging times.

The conference concluded with a panel discussion featuring representatives from the federations of England, Wales, and Scotland (UK development), Hungary, Sweden, Estonia, and Slovenia. Despite differences in resources, history, and culture, the panel highlighted shared basic principles. It became evident that a unified approach to Learn-to-Swim initiatives in Europe is the correct strategy, emphasizing collaboration to overcome common challenges.

In summary, the European Aquatics Learn to Swim Conference was a landmark event that brought together a diverse and knowledgeable community committed to advancing swimming skills across the continent. The ambitious pilot project announced at the conference signifies a strategic step forward, setting the stage for a more comprehensive and collaborative approach to Learn-to-Swim programs in Europe.

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By- Sahiba Suri

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