Alice Dearing says she is looking to break down stereotypes and inspire a new generation of black swimmers when she becomes Britain’s first female swimmer to compete in the Olympics at Tokyo 2020.
The 24-year-old will make her Games debut in the open water marathon event, after finishing fourth in a qualifying event in Portugal last month.
Paul Marshall became the first black man to swim for Britain at a Games in 1980, and while Dearing admits part of the solution is to work on changing perceptions of swimming in the UK, she says it should not have taken so long for a black woman to match his achievement.
“I’m really happy that I’ve been the person to break this barrier, it’s a really exciting moment for myself and black history and black culture,” she told The Times.
At the same time it’s such a shame it took until 2021 to get to this point. To have a 40-year delay to get a [black] woman on the team is a bit of a shame, but I also feel that it’s now a barrier that has been broken and we can really start to take steps to move forward.
“I’ve had a very positive experience in swimming. I have been a victim of some instances of racism but it hasn’t stopped me from swimming.
"However, back in the 1960s I’ve seen those images of a black woman in a swimming pool and a white man pouring acid into the pool while she’s there, and there were instances where black people were just outright banned from swimming pools, so it’s not really a surprise that we get to 2020 and there’s a lag of black people in swimming.”
Dearing is the co-founder of the Black Swimming Association, a charity which was formed last year with the support of Swim England. She wants to change perceptions so that the black community want to try swimming - and says the sport needs to welcome everyone.
“I come from a very diverse area, I come from Birmingham. Suddenly you go to swimming pools and swimming clubs and that diversity just gets washed out,” she said.
If I can inspire one little black girl or one little black boy, anybody, to get into the water and give it a try, I’ve done myself proud, genuinely.
“That is the aim in it all. I really hope they can look at it and realise you don’t just have to go into athletics or basketball or the stereotypes around black people in sport. There’s so much more open to you, and swimming is just one example. I’m really hoping people look at me and think, ‘I’ll just go and learn to swim 25 metres.’
“You don’t have to be an Olympian or an Olympic champion or anything like that. I just think everybody has a right to learn.”
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