CAMPAIGNS: Lobbying - Sport keeps its head above water

Client: Amateur Swimming Association (ASA)

Client: Amateur Swimming Association (ASA)

PR Team: Michael Humphreys and Partners (MH&P), assisted by the Public

Policy Unit

Campaign: Swim for Life

Timescale: Jan-June 1998

Budget: Part of an on-going programme

In January this year the Government announced that it was proposing to

make swimming a non-core subject in the National Curriculum and that it

would be left to individual schools’ discretion whether to continue with

lessons. Since 93 per cent of schools use an off-site pool, often with

associated travel expenses involved, it was likely that many would take

the easy option and drop swimming completely.


To make the Government and the media aware of the implications for

children’s safety and health if this proposal went ahead.


The chief executive of the ASA, David Sparkes, was refused a meeting

with the Department of Education and Employment on this urgent subject,

and was asked to write again in the year 2000 when they would review the

new arrangements. It therefore became imperative to mobilise public

opinion swiftly and lobby MPs in order to put immediate pressure on the


Since the ability to swim can be a life saving skill, the Swim for Life

campaign emphasised that children could be at greater risk from drowning

if they were not taught to swim at school. A survey had been

commissioned in early 1997 by the ASA to assess the level of swimming in

schools and it was used as a key reference point to back up the ASA’s

claims, since swimming lessons were already proving financially

difficult for many schools.

MH&P launched a national and regional campaign using this information

targeting sport, education, news and political correspondents, broadcast

media and feature programmes on national and local radio stations.

Lobbying consultancy the Public Policy Unit wrote to MPs and ministers

highlighting the consequences of the proposals and requesting their



It was announced at the beginning of this month that the Government was

backing down on its ruling, and that swimming would remain a compulsory

part of the curriculum.

A ground-swell of criticism of the Government’s proposals was built up

in key areas of the media. BBC TV’s Breakfast News carried a five-minute

piece featuring Olympic swimming champion Duncan Goodhew in which he

conveyed the key message, ’If you are not educating children how to look

after their own health, you’re not educating them at all.’

National press coverage included the Daily Telegraph, the Independent,

the Express and Radio One’s breakfast show. Nearly 50 MPs confirmed

their support for the campaign in writing and some raised questions in


The campaign was viewed in crisis management terms. No planning and

evaluation budget was applied.


David Sparkes is in no doubt that it was the campaign that succeeded in

changing the Government’s proposals. He says: ’Initially the media was

lukewarm and thought it was too late to change anything but the BBC

coverage, with the support from Duncan Goodhew in particular, swung it.’

This was an urgent job, carried out quickly and efficaciously. If the

ASA had been forced to wait until 2000 for the situation to be reviewed,

reinstatement would have been a more difficult prospect.

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