Sports unite to bring an end to ‘death-knell’ water pollution in UK

Men's Boat Race – Sports unite to bring an end to 'death-knell' water pollution in UK
High levels of E. coli were found in the River Thames where the Boat Race takes place - The Telegraph/Paul Grover

Water-based sports in the UK have united to campaign for major crackdown on sewage spills in the country’s rivers, lakes and coastal waters, warning such pollution spelt a “death knell” for their events.

The Clean Water Alliance has been formed by Swim England, British Rowing, the Royal Yachting Association, British Triathlon, Paddle UK, The Angling Trust and Outrigger, which represent nearly 450,000 elite athletes.

It wants tougher action to be taken against the likes of water companies over sewage spills, complaining that sports training sessions, activities and events were being cancelled or postponed across the country because the water quality was not meeting safety standards.

The group’s launch comes a month after the Boat Race, before which high levels of E.coli were found along a stretch of the River Thames.

Following the race, won by Cambridge, a rower on the Oxford team partly blamed sickness caused by the bacteria for their defeat.

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 due to creaking water infrastructure, intensive farming, a growing population and climate change.

The Clean Water 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.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.