The weather is not very encouraging on Tuesday July 6 in Clichy-sous-Bois, but the apprentice swimmers are volunteers. Equipped with swimming caps and regulatory goggles, they climb the stairs of the temporary swimming pool, some wrapped in a towel, in front of the media objectives. This is the kick-off of the operation “Knowing how to swim in Seine-Saint-Denis”, which should enable 2,000 children, aged 4 to 12, to benefit from free swimming lessons. In this department, one in two students cannot swim at the entrance of the college, underlines Stéphane Troussel, president of the department. And the Covid-19 crisis has not helped.
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In a pool set up for the occasion, the children enter the water one by one, shivering, despite its 28 degrees. Following the instructions of the lifeguard and trainer, Ana de Sousa Rosa, some seem quite comfortable. Others, like Rachid, 7, hang on with all their strength to stay out of the water as much as possible. “I stress a little when the water is deep”, he said leaving… before going back. 8-year-old Vinujal is frankly panicked and starts to cry. A small sharp complaint, which he cannot contain. “I’m afraid of swimming pools, he admits. It’s only the second time … “
For lack of swimming pools, schools give up
Seine-Saint Denis suffers from a shortage of aquatic structures. The department, where several events of the 2024 Olympic Games will be held, is the least well endowed in France with 36 basins for 1.6 million inhabitants. For lack of swimming pools or slots, schools sometimes give up this activity, which is however compulsory. A lack of practice for students which has been further accentuated with the health crisis and confinements.
While the “Knowing how to swim in Seine-Saint-Denis” operation does not aim to reduce inequalities overnight, it intends to raise awareness of a security and public health issue: “The upsurge in drowning dramas in recent years”, recalls Stéphane Troussel. With nearly 1,000 deaths per year, drowning is the leading cause of death by accident in everyday life among people under 25, according to Public Health France.
Building swimming pools would save lives
Until August 29, lessons will therefore be given by 20 lifeguards in four towns in the department: Clichy-sous-Bois, Villetaneuse, Sevran and Bagnolet. 45-minute sessions for two weeks intended for children but also for adults who wish. “We wanted to offer a system that is as inclusive as possible which is also aimed at children with disabilities”, explains Olivier Klein, the mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois, who has had a swimming pool for only four years and adds: “ Not knowing how to swim is a discriminating factor that prevents young people from going to a colony by the sea. “
Concrete projects for residents
If the town itself is not a “host territory” of the Olympic Games, it benefits from the fallout from the event which provides for the construction or renovation of five swimming pools and six gymnasiums in the department by 2024. Launched in partnership with the organizing committee of the Olympic Games, the National Sports Agency and the French Swimming Federation, the operation “Knowing how to swim in Seine-Saint-Denis” is “The illustration that the legacy of the Games begins now”, wants to believe Stéphane Troussel: ” It’s a big party, but first of all it must be useful for the inhabitants. “
Come to attend the inauguration with the swimming champion Malia Metella, godmother of the operation, the president of Paris 2024, Tony Estanguet, also insisted on the usefulness of the Olympics. ” It is very important to propose a new organizational model with concrete projects like this one, which will allow childrento do more sport. “Tested for the first time this year, the operation could be repeated if it appeals to young people. Vinujal has stopped crying. After a session, he is already less afraid of water.