Posted on December 29, 2006

Row Over Ethnic Minority-Only Swimming Sessions For Women And Children, Dec. 28, 2006

A council has been fiercely criticised for holding ethnic-minority only swimming sessions.

Wolverhampton City Council employs special lifeguards and instructors for the sessions, which are open to the city’s black and Asian residents only.

It claims the weekly periods are for women and children with “religious or cultural issues which would otherwise prevent them from taking part.”

But furious pool-users say they amount to racial segregation and claim they are being prevented from using the pool — simply because they may be white.

The hour-long, Thursday evening sessions at Wolverhampton’s Central Baths replace an aqua-aerobics session that was previously open to all.

They are financially supported by Kellogg’s Swim Active programme, which has funded the installation of special blinds around the pool, designed to protect swimmers’ privacy.

The special sessions started in November and run every Thursday evening. It is not known exactly how many people take part.

Yesterday, swimmer Leslie Waugh, from Walsall, said: “It’s wrong. The council bangs on about integration but then does something like this. The women even have their own instructor and lifeguard brought in for the sessions and the regular workers have to leave.”

Local councillor Malcolm Gwinnett said: “It’s one thing to have an all-women session, that’s fine. But it should be all women of whatever religion, not just one religion, which leaves everyone else out in the cold.”

Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell said: “This seems to be exactly the sort of thing that creates division and resentment rather than bringing people together.

“I’d like to know what the logic behind this is. It sounds like a pretty bad idea to me and just the sort of thing that councils should not be doing.”

A Wolverhampton City Council spokesman said complaints about the scheme had been received by reception staff at the baths.

She said: “It is one of the most ambitious schemes in the country and aims to tackle childhood obesity, engage the city’s ethnic minority communities and work with children who fear water.

“An initial trial of eight weeks is providing an opportunity for women and children from ethnic minorities, who may not otherwise participate for cultural and religious reasons.”

The Wolverhampton ethnic-minority swim sessions come after leisure centre in Croydon, South London, opened its pool to Muslims only for two hours every week.

Thornton Heath Leisure Centre insist that men wear shorts which hide the navel and extend below the knee. Women wear a swimming costume that covers their body from the neck down to the ankle. There are separate sessions for men and women.

In common with the Wolverhampton plan, the sessions were condemned by local people for encouraging segregation.