As new normal sets in, Philippine swimming tries to stay afloat in middle of pandemic

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Jun 01 2020 09:41 AM

As new normal sets in, Philippine swimming tries to stay afloat in middle of pandemic 1
The aquatics center at New Clark City in Capas town, Tarlac. Swimming activities in the Philippines were put on hold for a while at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

During the Philippine summertime, pools and clubs all over the country would be abuzz with activity, teeming with children and adults alike wading, swimming and splashing away to cool down and escape the scorching heat.

Under the persuasion of health and sports-conscious parents, most of these kids are likely often to take part in learn-to-swim classes conducted by coaches and instructors, who draw a huge part of their income from entry fees. 

But this revenue well dried up for them since the virtually nationwide lockdown over two months ago to curb the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus disease, while prompting the Philippine Swimming Inc., the sport’s national governing body, to scrap at least 10 meets that it had lined up for the year beginning in March. 

The 2019 Asian Swimming Championships that were supposed to be organized by the Asian Swimming Federation and hosted by the PSI at New Clark City Aquatic Center in Capas, Tarlac was likewise postponed to November 2021 because of the virus crisis. 

PSI president Lani Velasco acknowledged that a big challenge the sport is facing for its resumption is that “often those involved in swimming classes are 20 years old and under,” an age group whose movement has been restricted by government during the pandemic.

To help the PSI coaches coaches and instructors tide over the virus crisis, the local swimming body in early April threw a lifesaver, extending financial aid to those left jobless by the lockdown. 

For the first 70 clubs and teams that paid their 2020 team fees, the PSI returned P3,500 to each of them for distribution to their coaches and instructors. 

“There is no denying that COVID-19 has considerably altered all our lives, and given a fresh perspective on what these priorities should be,” Velasco noted. “The PSI believes that among those priorities is to extend a helping hand to our coaches.”

RETURN TO SWIM

Recently, the PSI president, who now doubles as a seamstress of facemasks that she donates for free to the country’s frontliners, raised P180,000 from private donors and gave the proceeds to the PSI coaches needing additional aid. 

With the National Capital Region under general community quarantine starting Monday, June 1, allowing swimming activities to resume, the PSI issued “Return to Swim” guidelines on Saturday that would allow clubs and pools to open within certain conditions.

“Our policy at PSI is that we have to comply with government directives set by the Inter-Agency Task Force, Department of Health, Philippine Sports Commission and local government units,” said Velasco, who drafted the protocols in consultation with PSI member coaches.

“These guidelines were also drawn up with inputs from other swimming federations overseas furnished by the International Swimming Federation. There are no overall FINA rules for the ‘new normal’ under CoVid-19,” she explained. “It was done on a case-to-case depending on the conditions of each country.

“These are all basically reminders to all our PSI clubs teams, coaches and swimmers once they are allowed to return to the pool.”

The same rules were also drawn up in consultation with the sports association’s lawyers, “because under GCQ mass gatherings are still not allowed,” Velasco said.

Among the reminders that the PSI laid down in GCQ areas were that individual swimmers would only be allowed at the pool “without the physical guidance of their coaches.”

She stressed that clubs, pools and coaches would have to secure permits from their respective city and municipal officials should they want swimming to resume in their areas.

Known as a stickler for detail, Velasco laid down a nine-page list of guidelines in conducting swimming activities under the GCQ and the less restrictive modified general community quarantine.

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Once swimming has resumed, the PSI urged that each registered club and team should have a “COVID-19 liaison,” who is aware of and knowledgeable with national and local government guidelines on the virus containment. They will act as monitors of the participants in each swimming/training session.

The duties of these swimming liaison officers will also include: staying up-to-date on the contagion, as well as community, recommendations and any related changes; enforcing the guidelines of the facility (pool/club) and coaching staff; constantly communicating with the coaching staff, swimmers, parents on their health status; and coordinating with facility owners/managers regarding the cleanliness and sanitation of their facilities, among others.

They are also to complete a “daily sanitation” checklist detailing the needs that must be met for training sessions and a team liaison form, whose templates the PSI provided.

Parents of child swimmers will be barred from entering the pool premises and will have to await for their kids’ return while swimmers must wear face masks before and after their sessions.

Swimmers at the pool area must also maintain social distancing of at least six feet or two meters apart and not swim in one lane, exiting immediately once their sessions were over.

For the sake of swimmers and coaches alike, Velasco was hopeful that once the quarantine restrictions are eased, swimmers could resume training “and after two to three months we might begin competitions in the latter part of the year.”

Otherwise, if conditions don’t improve and 2020 goes down the drain, a lot of swimming coaches and instructors will be joining the swelling ranks of the unemployed. 

(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).