Leading article: Turbulent waters

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The Independent Online

Cross-Channel swimmers have become very cross Channel swimmers. The French coastguard has proclaimed that the 140-year-old practice of swimming the narrowest 21-mile stretch dividing England from the Continent should stop on health and safety grounds.

For all their talk about liberté, the French are a pretty tightly-regulated bunch. They banned swims starting from their side 17 years ago. Now they want to stop our swimmers from landing sur leur plage. There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of people attempting the challenge since it was completed for Comic Relief in 2006 by the comedian David Walliams. Some 266 swimmers crossed between late June and early October – when the temperature is at what is laughingly called its warmest – a number which has remained fairly steady for the past five years.

It is true that the waters are perhaps the busiest shipping lane in the world; more than 500 vessels plough through each day. But events organised by the two British channel associations have been consistently safe, well supervised and have gone, well, swimmingly. There has never been a fatal collision in the entire history of the sport.

So when les killjoys protest that the challenge is "as dangerous as trying to cross the M25", most British swimmers respond by laughing up La Manche.

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