Team GB’S record-breaking Olympic swimming team may have finally finished scooping medals in the Tokyo pool – but now Alice Dearing has created her very own slice of history at the Odaiba Marine Park early this morning.
Dearing became the first black female swimmer to represent Team GB at the Olympics and it is hoped the 24-year-old can be the shining example to encourage more kids and adults from diverse backgrounds to take up the sport.
Her place in the history books is secure but the 24-year-old was left frustrated in the 10km event, as she came home 19thin a time of 2:05:03.2 – more than five-and-a-half minutes behind gold medallist Ana Marcela Cunha of Brazil.
Recent figures released by Sport England revealed 95 per cent of black adults and 80 per cent of black children do not swim – something Dearing is working to combat having co-founded a charity called the Black Swimming Association in 2020.
“The first time my daughter met Alice Dearing two years ago, she was so excited she was like ‘Wow, there’s somebody that looks like me who swims’,” said rapper and film producer Ed Accura, who learnt to swim two years ago aged 53 and is one of four co-founders alongside Dearing.
“The excitement alone is amazing and inspirational. What Alice has achieved right now is going to create wonders.
“Role models are such an important thing. You know what they say, you can’t be what you can’t see.
“The more people that you see doing it, the more you believe that you can do it as well so it’s massive.”
The BSA are supported by the sport’s governing body Swim England and together they have teamed up to boost the numbers of people from different communities in the pool.
“What we plan on doing is getting the message out there, getting into the communities. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” explained Accura, who produced the film Blacks Can’t Swim and its sequel.
“The programmes and policies exist. All we need to do is tweak them and tailor them to work within the black communities. That’s what we aim to achieve by working with these national governing bodies.”
But Swim England are not going to rely solely on Dearing as plenty of work and research is going on behind the scenes in a bid to uncover the key barriers preventing more people from all walks of life from getting involved.
“It’s always great to have role models, people to aspire to and be inspirational but we’ve got lots of work we can do with Alice, not just the fact she’s a role model and inspiration but also working with her and the Black Swimming Association,” explained Jane Nickerson, chief executive of Swim England.
“We are trying to find out why we don’t have many participants from diverse communities and what we need to do to make a difference.
“It’s really important that everybody learns to swim and can enjoy swimming.”
The National Lottery helps support community swimming initiatives all over the UK as well as elite athletes like Birmingham local Dearing who swam at nearby Oldbury Swimming Club when she was younger. Dearing is also supported by British Swimming with their CEO Jack Buckner commenting: “The support from the National Lottery and those people who play it week in week out has been vital to those athletes like Alice who have been competing in Tokyo.”
Oldbury’s head coach Raj Singh believes progress has been made but plenty is still to be done to entice more black people to give the sport a go.
“When I first started coaching probably less than 10 per cent of our swimmers were from those diverse backgrounds but five years on, we are almost up to just over 30 per cent,” said the 29-year-old, who swam a few lanes across from a young Dearing in training almost 15 years ago.
“Alice doing what she’s done and getting to where she has just shows stereotypes don’t have any basis.
“I think we are on the right track with everything but there’s probably still a lot of work to be done.”
FINA’s ruling that the Soul Cap, a larger swimming hat Dearing often wears to help protect her afro hair, would not be permitted at the Olympics over concerns it may offer an advantage and something of its size had not previously been needed reflects how many agree more must be done.
Former Olympian turned TV pundit Mark Foster is hoping Dearing can spark a new generation of black swimmers following the success of Americans Cullen Jones and Simone Manuel, both gold medallists in recent Games.
“It’s awesome and it’s ground-breaking [for Alice]. I get amazed that a lot more black people don’t swim but it comes down to access to pools first but also role models,” said Foster.
“And she’s going to become a massive role model. There have historically been world and Olympic champions from Simone Manuel to Cullen Jones - that are black.
“I’m very hopeful that she’ll inspire another generation of black swimmers.”
Alice Dearing is an important role model to get more people swimming and to show people from communities with ethnically diverse backgrounds that swimming can be for you. By playing The National Lottery, the general public helps to raise £36m every week for good causes, including community swimming initiatives throughout the UK and elite level swimming activity. To find your nearest club, visit discover.swimming.org