(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the club)
Recently I was looking through the results of a fairly typical, local two-day meet when I happened to notice that the son of an acquaintance of mine had competed in 11 events over the weekend, and he was not alone. Co-incidently a day or two later, I then learned that the entry fee for that particular meet had been £6 per event. £66... for one gala... and my acquaintance has two sons and a daughter... who all swim..? When simply competing at a local meet threatens to become prohibitively expensive, there has to be something wrong!
It is safe to say that all amateur clubs are involved in fund raising, and in many cases it provides them with a financial lifeline without which they simply would not survive. Relative costs in swimming tend to be high, mainly because of the charges made for hiring pool-space and the sheer amount of water time clubs are led to believe they need (see Opinion Matters: 10,000 hours). Monthly fees make a significant contribution towards these, but set them too high and you run the risk of jeopardising the recruitment of new members. So to cover any shortfall plus all the other out-goings, clubs actively raise money and although grants and sponsorship can certainly help, it is their own fund-raising efforts that probably matter most.
However, to effectively enrich a club, and in turn our sport, we are faced with a rather uncomfortable question: why should other people pay to subsidise our swimming activities which we undertake wholly out of choice? It is easy to side step this one by fundraising within the swimming community itself, whether on a micro level (ie from within the club or from closely connected family and friends) or on a more macro level (ie from the wider swimming world). But it is not the answer: increasingly, in fact, all we are doing is moving money around without any real financial benefit accruing to our sport at all. And probably the most obvious example here is the cash cow that is the swimming meet organised and run by the club itself. Many meets provide clubs with a significant income on paper and, as they strive to ensure that all the hard work involved is financially worthwhile, entry fees keep steadily being put up. What tends to happen, though, is that a large part of the money raised finds its way back into members' pockets via various means of support for the swimmers themselves. These same members then in turn pay to have their youngsters swim at another meet where they face the same inflated entry fees, the money paid out simply ending up in the pockets of some other swimming families. And so it goes on. The outcome is an inflationary spiral as far as entry fees are concerned, out of which very little actual financial benefit is ultimately derived.
So what is the solution? We need to grasp the nettle and answer that awkward question. It is one thing to raise money for cancer research which may possibly directly benefit any one of us, or for an international charity raising money for a third world cause where the need is obvious and the solution out of reach of the people concerned; but to simply give money to you, dear reader, so that your kids can swim - well it is just not on. Unless, of course, we are prepared to raise money from outwith the swimming community, by always offering some benefit in exchange. May I clean your car, sir? Would you like a draw ticket for a weekend break for two, madam? Yes, with a little imagination there are literally thousands of things we can do without resorting to shooting ourselves in the foot by continually putting up entry fees!