TAGS Beijing visit & 10km swim in ‘Water Cube’ Olympic pool
20 June 2018
China has a proud and highly successful sporting tradition. It invests heavily in its sportsmen and women and has produced numerous swimming champions. However, paradoxically, China also suffers disproportionately from the horrors of drowning deaths. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2014 global report on drowning, more than 160 people drown each day in China, and drowning is the leading cause of death among children aged 5-14 years.
China accounts for more than 80% of all drowning deaths in the WHO’s Western Pacific Region. As national drowning figures do not include drowning deaths related to suicide, homicide, natural disasters such as typhoons, or flooding or water transport disasters, the WHO notes that actual figures, were these drowning deaths also to be included, could rise by a further 50% in China.
In order to bring these figures home, learn about local action and spark dialogue, Malini visited Beijing in June 2018 as part of the TAGS global campaign.
The highlight of her trip was swimming 10km in Beijing’s world-famous Water Cube swimming pool on 20 June 2018. Officially known as the National Aquatics Centre, the Water Cube was home to the swimming competitions of the 2008 Olympics hosted by China and saw 25 new swim world records set.
The Water Cube is now a well-loved and well-used public swim facility with a large water park play area (complete with music stage!), in addition to two 50m pools. Malini was delighted to find the pool in extensive use during her visit, including by families with babies and infants, and school children being taught to swim. The large and lively mixed groups of schoolboys and girls were taught by enthusiastic swim teachers with the latest equipment and excellent facilities.
Malini’s 10km swim in the Water Cube was filmed by veteran Beijing-based environmental film-maker, John Liu, and covered in Chinese media. The news channel, Gongyi.ifeng.com, one of the most influential media in China to cover public interest topics, covered it on their news site and also produced a 9-minute interview with Malini on the swim, its relevance to China and the TAG campaign’s objectives.
During her visit, Malini also had a chance to visit Prof Jiang Yunzhong, head of the Global Water Partnership in China, leading health academic, Prof Jia Ping, senior colleagues at Tsinghua University’s Sustainable Development Goals Institute, and Dr John Liu and his remarkable other, Eleanor Liu. Now 99, Eleanor was a pioneering swimmer and swim instructor in her native USA and continues to swim in Beijing.
The visit underscored the vast opportunity for China to reduce its drowning mortality rate through extensive use of the national school system for swim and water safety training. The country boasts some of the world’s best swimming facilities and manufacturers inflatable swimming pools. The latter, if deployed (with swim instructors) across the country’s peri-urban and rural areas, could contribute to a significant reduction in swim fatalities amongst the population and build a necessary skill for life for China’s children.
A follow-up TAGS visit and interaction with government officials and other stakeholders is planned for 2019.
Special thanks to Helen Shen and Harry Han for their assistance with media outreach and China Dialogue for translation services.
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