How coronavirus will impact outdoor swimming

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Not only is coronavirus frightening in itself, the changes it’s forced on society, and the speed with which those changes have been implemented, are a massive cause of anxiety too. For many of us, swimming helps us manage the stresses of daily life and is important to our sense of self and our physical and mental well-being. That could be cause for despair, but I’ve been heartened by how I’ve seen swimmers respond on social media – with humour, compassion and, mostly, good sense.

In addition to stopping people swimming, the corona virus will have a massive impact on the outdoor swimming industry, which consists mainly of small, privately run businesses and the self-employed. I’ve spent a good part of the week talking to a range of people involved in the world of swimming, both about the immediate impact and longer-term consequences. This is what I’ve found out.

Event organisers

This is an uncertain time for event organisers. Some have already cancelled or postponed. All are worried. Many don’t have event cancellation insurance. Hardly anyone is entering events at the moment. Meanwhile, there are still costs accruing. Office rents and staff need paying. Even those events that rely mostly on volunteers need to cover website hosting costs and bank charges. Swimmers that have already entered may soon start asking for refunds.

At this stage, there is little clarity on how long social distancing restrictions will stay in place. There is talk of them being cycled through tighter and more relaxed phases in response to the rate of infections. If this happens, then the uncertainties will make event planning a nightmare. I don’t rule out the possibility that 2020 will have no open water events, although I hope this is not the case.

The damage to some event organisers may be too much to recover from and some events will disappear. We don’t know yet how much, if any, support event organisers will receive from government.

Multinational event organisers such as Oceanman and Ötillö, whose events attract an international field, face a double whammy. Not only do they have to deal with local restrictions in each of the countries they operate, the collapse in international travel means nobody can get to their events even if they put them on.

If you want your favourite event to go ahead in 2021, please do what you can to support them this year.

Swim holiday companies

Given that international travel has practically ceased and we don’t know when restrictions will be lifted, swim holiday companies have had no choice but to cancel and postpone trips. Even the alternative of organising in-country swimming experiences is off the table at the moment due to social-distancing requirements. It's unlikely anyone will book anything in the near future. All operators in the swim holiday industry are small, privately owned business

If you’ve booked a swimming holiday, the best you can do for the operator is to accept a postponement and hope a future trip can be arranged, although we appreciate that might be difficult if your own financial situation has become precarious due to the pandemic.

Wetsuit brands

Most wetsuits are made in China and are shipped to the UK to arrive about now. Mostly, these will have been shipped before the crisis caused too much disruption, but there may be some delay in receiving stock. The problem is that stock is now paid for and ready to sell, but most people are putting off big purchases. We have heard there is some movement in neoprene accessories (socks, gloves, hats etc), presumably to enable people to swim outside now their pools are closed, but now that option has also been closed off.

The hope is that sales are postponed, rather than cancelled, but it’s uncertain times. And while sales are stagnant, companies still need to pay salaries and warehouse costs.

If you were thinking about buying a new wetsuit this year and are waiting for things to improve, why not go ahead and buy now (assuming you’ve got the funds). Any sales will be warmly welcomed.

Venue operators

This is the time of year when many open water swimming venue operators are preparing to open for the season. A week ago, the thinking was that swimming in lakes could be managed safely from a virus transmission perspective. However, sentiment shifted rapidly, and with almost total lockdown now in place, opening is impossible. When they finally are able to open, they will possibly find numbers are down if there are few events to train for. On the other hand, if pools are still closed, they could be busier than ever.

Swimming teachers and coaches

Coronavirus is a disaster for many swimming teachers and coaches – especially those for that are self-employed and for which coaching is their only source of income. If you know any self-employed swimming teachers, give them a call to see how they’re doing. Be generous when swimming lessons eventually resume.

Swim retailers and others

Anyone selling equipment that allows people to train at home has probably had a good few weeks. We know that sales of swim training benches are up. Sales of just about anything else have dried up. Nobody needs new goggles at the moment. Again, the hope is that purchases are postponed, not cancelled, but with so many people losing their jobs and facing financial difficulties, it will be a while before things return to normal.

Outdoor Swimmer magazine

Like much of the outdoor swimming industry, Outdoor Swimmer magazine is a small business staffed by outdoor swimming enthusiasts. We’re lucky to have a loyal subscriber base, for which we’re very grateful in these uncertain times. However, our advertising revenue has fallen precipitously, which means we rely on our subscribers more than ever to keep doing what we do. We’ve re-defined our mission during this crisis to doing everything we can to provide inspiring and motivating content as a diversion until we can all get out in the open water again. To make sure you don’t miss out on our best content, join our fabulous community of swimmers by subscribing to our print or digital editions.

01 Cover July

Issue 40 July 2020

  • Wild swimming in central England - our favourite spots
  • Mind the gap - socially distanced coaching
  • Racism in swimming
  • A history of other Olympic games disrupted by world events
  • Tried & tested - kit reviews of wetsuits, shoes and more!

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