Taiwanese officials have announced that they are launching a national swimming initiative that aims to move national swimming proficiency in the small, water-locked nation above 80%. The number of drownings, and lack of swimming abilities, in this island nation that is full of lakes, rivers, and streams, are absolutely staggering.
In a press conference, Taiwan’s minister of the Sports Affair Council Tai Hsia-ling compared what water safety in Taiwan looks like when compared to Japan, their Asian island neighbors. In Japan, there are an amazing 188 pools per 100,000 school-aged children. In Taiwan, there are a mere 9.6. Because of (or perphaps despite) such low access to pools, Taiwanese people drown at an alarming late, nearly three times as often as those in Japan.
But the government is looking to improve those rates by implementing a massively ambitious 12-year program where they hope to have 80%+ of their population able to swim at least 50 yards, which is considered a basic standard that can drastically reduce drownings.
So why does this matter to the competitive swimming community? Chinese Tapai Olympic Committee president Thomas Tsai chimed in to note that with an increased number of swimmers, the level of the nation’s competitive programs will surely increase. Imagine 80% of the population being swimming proficient and actively participating in the sport. That’s a huge number. In the United States, only around 60% of people can swim 50 meters, and many of those are probably nowhere near proper form as they have never taken a lesson ever. If Taiwan achieves it’s goal of 80% swimming proficiency, despite its small population it could develop into a strong swimming nation.
This initative, in addition to offering swimming lessons as a part of a standard education, will include building more public pools and training instructors.
I’d love to see more American schools provide swimming-related opportunities as a part of their standard cirriculum. Where I went to high school in West Houston, in a fairly large school district, every high school had a multi-million dollar, indoor pool. Some of the surrounding suburbs had even more pools, with one at each Junior High. Yet, these pools sat empty throughout the day. And this is a part of the country where every other house has a backyard pool in addition to the thousands of neighborhood and health club pools. Furthermore, there is a huge bayou system that runs throughout the city, making it probably, with all due respect to Minnesota, one of the most water-logged places in the country.
Yet, these marvelous high school pools sat empty for 7 hours a day while students were in class. To me, this is a missed opportunity for the schools to attack what is one of the leading causes of death in children under the age of 14. In addition, this would teach students skills that would allow them to maintain their health and fight the growing obescity problem in the United States, which is one of the leading causes of death in people over the age of 14. While I understand the value of gym classes with team sports, “running-the-mile,” etc, students rarely get opportunities to square dance or play basketball once they have graduated college. Those who do probably did not learn those skills from their junior high P.E. class. Offering a swimming program in lieu of a standard physical education would attack a two-headed problem in this country.
On top of that, it would help bolster community and college swimming programs that are struggling to make ends meet. Even if none of these students ended up in a swim team, it would improve the economics of running a quality swimming facility, and make swimming a more accessible sport, like it is in places like Australia. Swimming used to be one of the cheapest sports around, but it has ballooned out of control to the point where it is prohibitively expensive for many demographics. It would also surely improve the layman popularity of the sport, as people would be more familiar with it.
Obviously, Americans as a rule prefer not to have things made mandatory by the government, but it seems as though it could at least be an economical option, given that the facilities are already payed for and maintained during the school day, despite not being used.
But I digress. This is a great move by the Taiwanese government, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out on the competitive stage over the next several years. If it is successful in both improving drowning statistics and improving the level of competitive swimming, the United States should look into expanding government-sponsored swimming education. as part of the basic cirriculum.