Sports bodies call for end to ‘death-knell’ pollution for British water sports

National sports governing bodies have joined forces to call for an end to “death-knell” pollution and sewage discharges threatening water sports across the UK.

The seven organisations, which represent nearly 450,000 elite athletes and British water users taking part in sports like sailing, rowing and swimming, have set up an alliance to campaign for clean open water.

The Angling Trust, British Rowing, British Triathlon, GB Outrigger, Paddle UK, Royal Yachting Association and Swim England set out several priorities for tackling the crisis in an announcement on Tuesday.

Cameron Taylor, chief executive of GB Outrigger, said: “As an alliance of governing bodies we are speaking out clearly, united as a group, that clean water is pivotal to our survival.

“Polluted water is a death knell for British sport. Clean water needs to move from being considered a ‘nice to have’ to a literal ‘we can’t live without’. Without clean water, we do not exist.”

Many coastal waters, rivers and lakes across Britain are being contaminated by pollution and sewage spills due to creaking water infrastructure, intensive farming, a growing population and climate change.

The Clean Water Sports Alliance said training sessions, activities and events are being cancelled or postponed across the country because the water quality is not meeting safety standards.

As part of its announcement on Tuesday, the alliance said it will campaign for further and faster action on pollution to improve UK waters by 2030.

The governing bodies said they will work to ensure that people can make informed choices about where and when to participate in water-based sports and that the voices of all recreational water users are heard.

More specifically, the alliance is calling for regulators to be adequately funded so they can monitor, investigate and hold polluters to account.

It is also calling for accurate access to real-time water quality information all year round, including the compulsory monitoring of all sewage outlets.

Elsewhere, “bathing waters” should be changed to “recreation waters” within Government policy in order to recognise the wide range of activities that depend on clean water, the alliance said.

Alastair Marks, chief executive of British Rowing, said: “With this new partnership we hope to embody the dedication of our athletes and strive towards cleaning, protecting and preserving the blue spaces on which our sports rely.”

Andy Salmon, Swim England chief executive, said: “We’ve come together with other sporting governing bodies as all our sports and activities are impacted by poor water quality.

“We are united over the need to promote and protect the UK’s blue spaces, and will continue to push for quicker action to improve the health of our waterways for the benefit of swimmers, all water users, wildlife and the environment alike.”

Ben Seal, Paddle UK head of access and environment, said: “We know there has been progress in some areas, but not enough.

“The Government and the sector needs to commit to going further, faster to protect human health.”

A Government spokesperson said: “Sewage pollution in our waters is unacceptable, which is why we have taken action to ban water bosses’ bonuses when criminal breaches have occurred, quadrupled company inspections next year, provided more funding to our water regulators and fast-tracked investment to cut spills.

“100% of overflows are now being monitored and if water companies are found to breach their permits action will be taken – up to and including criminal prosecution.

“We also need to be tackling every source of pollution – not just from storm overflows, but also agriculture, plastics, road run-off and chemicals.”

A Water UK spokesperson said: “We agree everyone should be able to enjoy our rivers and seas. The quality of our bathing waters has transformed with seven times as many beaches classed as ‘excellent’ since the 1990s.

“All storm overflows in England are now monitored and water companies are publishing interactive maps so anyone can see exactly what’s happening, as it’s happening.

“However, sewage spill levels remain unacceptable, so water companies in England have proposed £10 billion to reduce spills by nearly 40% by 2030.”

An Ofwat spokesperson said: “Over the last few years, we have imposed penalties of over £250 million in fines and we are running our biggest ever investigation into six companies on sewage spills.

“Last year, we oversaw £2.2 billion of accelerated investment and believe there is need for substantial improvements in infrastructure during the next five years and beyond.

“We will continue to use all the powers we have to hold companies to account on this important issue.”

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