Swimming medal haul defended by Sparkes

The most senior official in British swimming launched a staunch defence of his sport's performance in Athens yesterday, saying that it is "much easier" to win medals "paddling up and down in boats" in the rowing than it is in the pool.

The most senior official in British swimming launched a staunch defence of his sport's performance in Athens yesterday, saying that it is "much easier" to win medals "paddling up and down in boats" in the rowing than it is in the pool.

David Sparkes, the chief executive of British Swimming, was defending the methods employed by his Australian performance director, Bill Sweetenham.

As Sparkes spoke yesterday morning, Britain's swimming medal tally stood at one bronze, won by Stephen Parry in the 200m butterfly. Sparkes said the lack of medals was due to the sheer number of entrants in his sport.

"We've got 150 nations out here competing for medals," he said. "Medals have gone to South Africa, medals have gone out to Argentina. It's not like rowing where you've got about 30 nations in the world doing it."

Sparkes' provocative comments come as he and Sweetenham are under fire for perceived under-achievement.

"[The rowers] actually get twice as much funding as us as a matter of fact, but you have got to remember you're not competing against the world, you're competing against about a quarter of the world," he said.

Some 200 nations compete internationally in swimming, with 153 countries represented here at the Games.

"That's a heck of a difference to the number of nations [55 of them] that will be paddling up and down in boats," Sparkes said. "Is it easier to win a medal in rowing? Yes, it's much easier.

"Bill Sweetenham's got it right in the sense that we're going in the right direction," added Sparkes.

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