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SOWSA withdraws Scottish Open Water Swimming Association proposal

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UPDATE 2pm, 7 February: In a Facebook post this afternoon, SOWSA have withdrawn their proposal to create the Scottish Open Water Swimming Association. The full text of the post reads:

You win some fights and you lose some fights. We lost this one on the proposed SOWSA hands down and hereby admit defeat. Many of those who commented asked what will happen if the proposal to create SOWSA is widely rejected by the Scottish open water swimming community. Well, this post is it: we resign ourselves to the wishes of the majority and hereby formally withdraw the proposal to create the Scottish Open Water Swimming Association.

We wish we could state that it was the quality of the arguments against creating SOWSA that persuaded us to to take this route. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Actual proper engagement with the proposal was limited to less than a handful of posts and e-mails. The vast majority of comments simply amounted to vicious personal attacks against one of the proposers. This is cyber bullying and slander at its best (some of which the Police informs us constitute cybercrime) from what is supposed to be a friendly, open community of swimmers.

On our part we acknowledge that we could and should have planned the process better, and that we should have consulted much wider in the Scottish open water swimming community than we did BEFORE launching the consultative document. And we apologise for this serious oversight.

Fundamentally we do believe that there is room and the need for a Scotland-specific open water swimming society of some sort. With thousands of lochs (ten of which are longer than the longest lake in England), some famous (and infamous) sea passages/channels, lots of bodies of water associated with key events in Scotland’s past, and an ever growing open water swimming community, there are so much growth potential in Scottish open water swimming. There are tens of new routes to be charted with the help of local open water swimmers; local skippers that we need to convince/encourage to become pilots on these routes so that they can safely accompany open water swimmers; free ‘give-it-a-go’ sessions to be hosted around the whole country for those who want to try out open water swimming in safe environments for the first time; safe open water swimming practices to promote as part of Water Safety Scotland’s aim to reduce accidental drowning deaths by 50% by 2026……

We challenge those existing swimming organisations that many commentators proclaimed are already doing stellar jobs, to make their organisations relevant to the wider open water swimming community in Scotland as well, and to get actively involved in the promotion and growth of safe open water swimming in Scotland.

Robert Hamilton and Phia Steyn



As we reported in November 2017, the Scottish Open Water Swimming Association (SOWSA) is a proposed new charity that aims to promote and grow safe open water swimming in Scotland. The intention is to launch SOWSA following a three-month consultation period, ending 13 February. The full SOWSA proposal document can be read here.

The charity will be launched by event organiser Robert Hamilton (Vigour Events), commercial pilot Stewart Griffiths (Water Safety Crew) and swimmer Phia Steyn. 

The proposed charity has been opposed by the British Long Distance Swimming Society (BLDSA), the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS), a group of open water swimmers from Scotland and an online petition.

In a draft response to SOWSA, the OSS states that although it shares the aims of SOWSA, it opposes its creation. According to the OSS, “multiple thriving channels that swimmers have created to support and further open water swimming” already exist and they do not believe that “SOWSA’s methods will increase event safety”. Further, the OSS state: “The establishment of a self appointed regulatory body with power over all swimming events, venues and pilots in Scotland would create a commercial monopoly that would stifle, restrict and standardise the market, and restrict rather than improve swimming in Scotland.” The full draft response from the OSS can be read here.

A group of 28 open water swimmers from all across Scotland have also opposed the plan. They cite concerns around accountability, governance, transparency and commercial conflicts of interest. Their response was signed by 12 swimmers representing the geographical range of concerned individuals – from the Scottish Borders to Shetland and the Hebrides. The full response from the Scottish open water swimmers can be read here.

The BLDSA, which has a long history of running events in Scotland, has opposed the SOWSA proposal, citing conflict of interests, transparency and duplication of services and information already offered by the BLDSA and OSS. The BLDSA’s full response to the SOWSA proposal can be read here.

Over 1,600 signatures have been collected in a change.org petition opposing the SOWSA proposal.

We asked Robert Hamilton, one of the founders of SOWSA, to respond to the concerns raised by the BLDSA, OSS and the Scottish open water swimmers.

"The proposal for SOWSA is just that, a proposal. The idea at this stage is to run a consultation on the ideas until 13 February 2018. SOWSA is intended to respond to the issues and concerns raised and to provide collective feedback to the comments shortly after this date." 

Although Robert Hamilton has commercial interests in swimming in Scotland through Vigour Events, he insists that SOWSA will be a non-commercial charitable programme with no commercial ties to Vigour Events.

Responding to comments that he has harassed people through social media, Robert says he has messaged a few people directly with specific requests for information to enable him to understand the context of other swims, but none of his communications were intended to cause anyone to feel harassed. 

Robert states that he is very willing to discuss the SOWSA proposals with representatives of the OSS, BLDSA and other concerned groups. "SOWSA, as we have proposed it, will not affect or interfere with the activities of any wild swimming or other non-commercial swimming groups and in no way intends to limit or restrict access to free swimming. Instead, by bringing swimmers and other interested groups together, SOWSA would create more opportunities for swimming and potentially help boost tourism and hospitality in Scotland."

Cover Feb18

Issue 11 February 2018

  • Wild swimming challenge: 14 lochs in a day!
  • An introduction to swimming the English Channel
  • 150 summer swims to enter now!
  • 5 key ways to enhance your sense of wellbeing
  • Winter challenge: world's coldest swimrun!
  • On test: neoprene accessories

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