Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why are council swimming pools losing so much money?

Millions of euro are being spent by councils to prop up swimming pools around Ireland, with very few public pools showing a profit judging by figures put together by the Irish Examiner. 

This was a disturbing story to read. Yes, it's shocking councils invested so much to get so little back, and that tax-payers are now faced with huge bills. One council in Leitrim will pay  €6.1m in 2018 to buy back the pool from investors under the terms of the development plan according to journalist Conor Ryan.

But in the context of sport and this blog, the really shocking information is that people just don't swim. These pools were presumably built on business plans which predicted a certain level of usage. (Maybe I am presuming too much) And they are not getting that - Wicklow council for example is owned €20m by the people behind two new pools there.

Paralympian Ellen Keane in action PIC Dublin People

These figures go against the received wisdom which says swimming is one of the (few) popular sports here. When I say popular I mean popular to do - Irish people love watching sports, it's the sweat and action part we don't do so well. 

Just last year the ESRI (our State figures organisation) said: "Almost 7% of adults aged 16 and over swim each week, amounting to roughly 230,000 regular swimmers ...  the appeal of swimming to both genders and to people of all ages means that swimming is more popular overall than soccer, golf or Gaelic games."

They're certainly not swimming in the rivers and lakes, as last summer tragically showed us when an unusually hot summer resulted in multiple outdoor drownings. 

So are there too many pools for those 230,000 people? Or did they perhaps exaggerate their swimming prowess just a little ...

Another possibility is people are still going to the more expensive (and more luxurious) fitness centres instead of the public pools. This would go against the Recession Ireland narrative but if people are swimming, they must be doing it somewhere. 

These fitness centres can charge anything from €70 monthly for swimming and leisure classes. Although many of the cheaper public pools offer just as many classes so I'm not sure why you would pay more unless there is a stigma around going to the council pool. 

Lots of questions and very few answers in this post I'm afraid  - what do you think is going on?

(Disclaimer - I do use my local council pool, mainly because you can pay per swim. I prefer outdoors except when it's Baltic-like in the winter so I'm not there too often.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fast women - Jade Edwards steps up to the Aston Martin Challenge

Jade Edwards - PIC Facebook JadeEdwardsRacing

Car-racing has always been seen as a man’s game but you see a few women popping up here and there. British driver Jade Edwards is now lining up to trace in the Aston Martin GT4 Challenge.

This sport is not one of my fortes but from reading around the info sent over by her sponsor ‘Quote Me Today’ Edwards is a pretty formidable competitor.

She’s raced successfully in the Mazda MX-5 Championship – an interesting series of high-octane races in ‘low-performance’ cars. When you have racing bibles saying she ‘impressed’ you can read shockingly left male drivers in the dust.

And even bigger things are in store for the 24-year old now that she’s successfully test driven a GT4 Aston Martin at Portimao in Portugal.

At the time Edwards said: “I wasn’t too nervous in the run up to the drive, as I drove a GT4 spec car at Silverstone late last year, so I knew roughly what to expect. The car was awesome: good handling, excellent grip and a great amount of power! I felt at home in it straight away.”

So next on her list is this: “The Aston Martin GT4 Challenge is a head-to-head race in Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4s with 445 bhp engines, paddle-shift transmissions and the aero kit. The Aston Martin Vantage GT4 is the most popular GT4 car in the world with nearly 100 cars having been made and competing in race series across the globe.”

Her family bio will be familiar to anyone familiar with women competing in traditionally male sports. You can probably guess that her father used to race, and add in her grandfather as well.

Edwards started racing at just 15, and once again as with Ireland’s Katie Taylor in boxing, her main support came from her father before the officials saw what was in front of them. But unusually her older sister Chloe also races – some great photos on their website here.

I’ll keep an eye out on the races and let you know how they’re getting on


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Torn Cloth - fighting without gloves in Thailand

ThaiBoxing or MuayThai is a common thread on this post - a sport very close to my heart. I usually try and focus on the women fighters - yes, I know talk about a niche within a niche.

But you know when you go to Thailand you see MuayThai as a broader sport, so it makes sense at some level. That's by way of justifying landing a video of boys into this women's space!

'Torn Cloth' is a documentary made on the boys and men who fight bare-knuckle in the border region between Thailand, Laos and Burma. You may know this area better as the Golden Triangle. Refugees from the sporadic conflict in Burma live in camps here, some for decades. Many of them are from hill-tribes discriminated against in all three nations.

Poverty doesn't begin to describe the lives many people here lead, but for boys or men at least there is a chance to make money by fighting. It's tough, as one of the interviewees here says: 'Fighting is painful. Some people will have broken hands, broken jaws, broken ribs. Most of the fighters are quite old now, but this is their job.'

You can follow the filmmakers on Twitter: @TornCloth or find out more on Ronin Films.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Camille le Page and what her photos told us
Camille le Page RIP pic Twitter profile
So here we are again commemorating a brave, inspiring woman who took photographs which told us stories of women in far away places.

French photographer Camille le Page was killed this week while working in the Central African Republic. She was 26. I've followed her on Twitter and other online forums since she moved to Sudan in 2012. She always had a fresh eye, and her pictures haunted me for days and weeks after seeing them. 

This link to a project on her website titled: 'We call it fashion' is maybe off-topic to sports, but definitely on-message for women celebrating themselves.

Look at the joy and glee she's captured there on the faces of those Sudanese women. It could be anywhere in some ways, that universal thing which can bring women together no matter where we are. 

I never met le Page in person, but in that strange way of social media I feel as though I did. Her photographs, which appeared in the Guardian, the Washington Post, on BBC and so many more, stand testament now to her love of Sudan, and neighbouring countries.