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About the Toxic Culture of Fear in Swimming

WUKA Swimwear

A recent report carried out by the Behavioural Architects, commissioned by Swim England, has highlighted evidence of a ‘toxic environment in swimming clubs in England’, according to a BBC article.

Given the number of girls who regularly drop out of sports  such as swimming, the results of this review has us asking questions. A lot of questions. Read on to find out more about the review, and what it could mean for the future of swimming for girls.

About the review

Swim England is the national governing body for swimming in England, working to facilitate the teaching of swimming and water safety, and overseeing competitive swimming across all age groups.  

The independent review, the Heart of Aquatics Listening Research, was carried out as part of Swim England’s pledge to ‘ensure there is a positive culture across all its sports and that the highest standards of welfare and safeguarding are in place.’ 

The review sought the views and experiences from the swimming community- including current and former club members, parents, coaches and teachers. 

85% of the views gathered by the Behavioural Architects were negative, and the report highlighted the following issues: 

  • excessive demands and pressures placed on swimmers and parents
  • unequal and unfair treatment (with women reporting not being treated as equals, alongside misogynistic behaviour from men)
  • poor communication
  • bullying and aggressive behaviour
  • repercussions of speaking up 

Culture of fear within the swimming community

The review revealed a ‘culture of fear’ within the swimming community, highlighting the pressures that young swimmers were facing, and how these pressures considerably affected their wellbeing. Members reported continually being pushed to break personal records, feeling belittled, body-shamed, being spoken to with bad language, and feeling like they didn’t have a voice.

Shockingly, the review also found that girls reported being humiliated for putting on weight, or for being on their period. 


Is now a good time to remind you that these are children and young people? These are girls who are already facing incredible hurdles within sport as it is, thanks to (well documented) intense feelings of inadequacy compared to boys. These are girls who are going through puberty, so experiencing physical changes and other symptoms that can hinder performance. These are girls who need support and encouragement! 

Did you know that 78% of girls say they avoid sport during their period? So to face humiliation for this completely natural event when they do take part is totally unacceptable. Especially when we know that: 

"Girls, on average, have less self-confidence than boys and rate their performance or ability more negatively than boys do. This is linked to issues about body image: girls who don’t feel good about their bodies can lack confidence in their physical abilities and may be over-negative about their performance." (Funding 4 Sport)

Failing to lift these children, failing to inspire them to enjoy swimming, failing to encourage, praise and engage will not help to close the gender gap in sport.

Fear of challenging this behaviour was also noted in the review, with those who did speak up reportedly receiving threats and abuse from other members of the community.

What does this mean for girls in swimming? 

Swim England’s culture of fear certainly doesn’t support girls in swimming. We know that by the age of 13, only 8% of girls meet the daily recommended 60 minutes of physical activity.  

And despite 72% of girls saying that they liked sports, this report by Youth Sport Trust found that many dropped out due to pressures placed on them to excel, because they felt they would fail, and because they felt they weren’t allowed to take part just for the fun of it. This, coupled with the physical and emotional changes taking place during puberty, means that girls consistently drop out of sport- including swimming- more than boys. And this, along with negative experiences within the swimming community, could signal the start of a life-long avoidance of swimming.

Here at WUKA, we’re passionate about helping girls manage their period safely so that they can stay in sport. We have lots of parents reaching out to tell us that our period proof swimwear has helped their daughters stay in swimming, both competitively and for fun- and that’s genuine music to our ears. 

swimwear for girls and teens

We want to continue supporting girls and women, to keep them active and engaged in sports, to know they can do anything that boys can do. But to also know that it’s ok to swim just for fun, and not always for medals. 

Enough girls are held back from swimming by their period. A report by Women in Sport says that more than 1 million teenage girls are ‘falling out of love with sport’ , and the charity warns that this can have serious implications on heath and wellbeing for the future. They want more organisations to work harder to prevent this from happening, and to reframe sport for girls- and we agree! 

In a world where girls are feeling inadequate, self-conscious and trapped in the belief that they’re destined to fail, we should be lifting them up, not bringing them down. We should be encouraging, inspiring, and championing girls. We should be giving them a voice and active role models to aspire to, and we should be easing the pressure to allow them to actually enjoy sport.  

Swim England’s response 

Since the review was commissioned by Swim England, and since they pledge to want to ensure a positive culture, it’s only fair we talk about their response since the findings were made public. Chairperson Richard Hookway has issued an apology on behalf of the organisation, and emphasises that Swim England are committed to making changes. 

But we’d love to know what your thoughts are on this. Have you had a negative experience within a swimming community, either as a swimmer or as a parent? What do you think can be done to ensure more girls are safe, protected and encouraged to stay in sport?

Related Posts

Teens, First Periods and Sport

Benefits of Swimming on Your Period

How Do Athletes Manage Their Period?

Swim England Announce Changes to Swimwear Rules

Guide to Swimming on Your Period



Puberty is a time where lots of changes take place, both physical and emotionally and this can have an affect on sports. For some young people, the physical changes can lead to a lack of confidence and low self esteem, which can make sports more difficult. Young people need support through this time, and education on the benefits of exercise in order to better understand why they should continue to stay active.

Girls need access to sufficient period protection and appropriate clothing that will allow them to continue to participate in sport.


Traditionally, competitive female swimmers have worn tampons during their period, but this is changing. Swim England recently announced changes to their rules surrounding period swimwear, which is great news. It is possible to have a safe and sustainable period and swim at the same time.


You definitely can go swimming on your period. If free bleeding is not an option, you can use period products such as a period swimsuit or period swim bikini briefs


Exercise, including swimming, can be a great way to alleviate period pain and cramps. Learn more about it here