Sparkes set to ignite British revolution

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The Independent Online
David Sparkes, who has been given a five-year contract as the chief executive of the Amateur Swimming Association, has come up with several proposals to improve British performances, including telling leading competitors that they must appear in major events if they want to continue receiving financial support.

"You can't change British swimming without breaking a few eggshells," Sparkes said. The administrator wants to appoint a national performance director, see 19 new 50-metre pools in England and establish a national training and research centre with regional satellites.

Using National Lottery money to fund the restructuring, Sparkes wants Britain to work towards a top-five world ranking and hosting the 2002 world championships.

But much, he says, depends on the attitudes of the swimmers. "We will tell them that if they want our support they have got to be there on the day, where the British public can see them," Sparkes said. "More of our swimmers should have gone to the World Short Course Championships in Rio. It was a wonderful opportunity that was missed and we should have been much tougher with the athletes.

"The national performance director will be judged on gold medals and success, and will be saying: 'You've got to go.' After the Olympics, swimmers will be under contract if they want funding and it will be a discussion point about which events they must attend.

"At the moment we are rated 12th in the world - that's not bad if you look at our results - but we should be top five," he said. "To put it bluntly, in Sydney we should be challenging the Germans as top European nation. We are relatively small in geographical area, have a lot of clubs and tradition, a very strong infrastructure - and we ought to be a damn sight better than we are.

"In the past we have had all the ideas in the world, all the will in the world, but we haven't had the money. The difference now is the Lottery.

"I passionately believe we need to bring major international events to the UK. I think we can bring the European Short Course to Sheffield in 1998, but the real important prize is the World Championships. We are serious about bringing it to this country in 2002 after the Commonwealth Games."