Sporting great Shane Gould wants a shake-up of Australian swimming.
Sporting great Shane Gould wants a shake-up of Australian swimming.

Swimming great calls for rethink on lessons

Sporting great Shane Gould has raised concerns about the swimming ability of Australians after conducting groundbreaking research into water safety.

The triple Olympic gold medallist has called for a shake-up of Australian swimming after finding one in five kids leaves primary school unable to swim a 50m lap of a pool.

Gould, 63, urged policy makers to move the focus away from competitive swimming after finding only 30 per cent of Aussies were competent swimmers.

And, having completed a PhD at Victoria University on Aussie swimming culture, she said more 25m pools should be built in place of 50m Olympic pools.

"It is shocking that we have this picture, this belief of the mythical Australian swimmer,'' she said.

"People in Australia don't swim as well as we believe the population can.''

Swimming legend Shane Gould. Picture: Jason Edwards
Swimming legend Shane Gould. Picture: Jason Edwards

Gould said swimming needed to be more inclusive.

"Things can be done better,'' she said.

She said swimming "needs to reflect the changing world'' with water safety lessons now potentially "pushed aside for a beach holiday or guitar lessons or to buy an iPad''.

As part of her research, Gould travelled from coast to coast, to country rivers and small-town pools to find out about swimming experiences.

Her research refuted the stereotype of Australia as "a nation of swimmers''.

"The notion of our culture being tied to swimming is wishful thinking, a tourism marketing tool, and a disconnect from the realities of poor swimming skills,'' she said.

She questioned why competition swimming had such prestige in Australia when just 750 people had represented the nation in the sport over the past 123 years.

"The competitive swimming lobby is very strong because there is so much national pride tied up with our swimming champions,'' she said.

"The dominant model of swimming in Australia is to get people to the Olympics but there are only 40 people at most that go to the Olympics every four years.





"What happens to the other millions of Australians?''

She said pool design was "ripe for reinvention'' and building them 25m instead of 50m would use less water, reduce construction costs and be cheaper to maintain.

"If communities are thinking 'we need to build an Olympic 50m pool', I say 'no you don't','' she said.

"You would be better off with five lane, 25m pools.''