Sports come together for clean water 

British Rowing and six other national governing bodies of water-based sports have announced they’re coming together to form an alliance calling for clean open water across the UK


The Clean Water Sports Alliance of Angling Trust, British Rowing, British Triathlon, GB Outrigger, Paddle UK, Royal Yachting Association and Swim England has united over the issue of water pollution, setting the vision to achieve healthy and nature rich blue spaces across the UK for everyone to enjoy water sports.

Collectively, the organisations represent almost 450,000 members, elite athletes, participants and many more water users across the country who rely on UK waters for sport and recreation. We are now joining forces to call for change to protect those they represent and the natural world in which we participate.

Pollution from various sources contaminates UK inland and coastal waters, damaging ecosystems and causing illness within people who take part in sport and physical activity in, on or around these waters. Water that is unfit to host water-based sport has also caused events, training sessions and activities to be cancelled or postponed because it has not met the standards for safe participation.

By uniting, the Clean Water Sports Alliance will work together to influence decision makers and drive positive change, working collaboratively to highlight issues and create solutions to help return the UK’s blue spaces to be where nature can thrive and sport and recreation can be enjoyed.

The Alliance has set out three priorities that will inform its actions:

  1. Further and faster action on pollution. Improving the health of UK waters by 2030
  2. Enable people to make real-time informed choices about where and when to participate in water-based sports and activities
  3. Recognition of all recreational water users across decision making and policy.

Aligned to its own priorities, the Alliance is making three asks of regulators and decision makers:

  1. Regulators to be adequately funded to monitor, investigate and hold polluters to account, harnessing nature-based solutions
  2. Enable accurate access to real-time water quality information all year round including the compulsory monitoring of all sewage outlets; recognition of open source science relating to water quality and the creation of a centralised information hub for all water sports users
  3. Advocate a change from ‘bathing waters’ to ‘recreation waters’ within government policy to recognise the wide range of activities that depend on clean water.

The UK has continued to score near the bottom of the European bathing water quality index, with the limited action currently being taken not making significant improvements.

Biodiversity is also being put under immense pressure, threatened by pollution as well as by invasive species which alter our ecosystems, introducing new pathogens and costing the UK £4 billion a year according to a 2023 paper.

Advocating for the restoration of the UK’s blue spaces for the enjoyment of all, the Alliance want to see these environments free of pollution and havens for wildlife, as well as places for everyone to be active in sport and recreation.

Angling Trust Campaigns andAdvocacy Manager, Kris Kent, said: “Anglers have been at the forefront of the campaign against the scandalous pollution of our precious rivers by the water industry and we have been calling for a massive step change in capital investment to upgrade a creaking and leaking wastewater infrastructure that is demonstrably no longer fit for purpose.

“We need regulators to enforce the law and we need government to be more ambitious in their plans to end the discharge of raw sewage.”

British Rowing CEO, Alastair Marks, said: “Clean water is a topic which is increasingly receiving the attention it deserves on a national level. With this new partnership we hope to embody the dedication of our athletes and strive towards cleaning, protecting and preserving the blue spaces on which our sports rely.

This Alliance, along with our own Environmental Sustainability Strategy, is another step on the road towards tackling one of the biggest challenges facing the future of our sport.”

British Triathlon CEO, Ruth Daniels, said: “The issue of polluted water is well known and by uniting to form this alliance, we want to make our collective voice heard for our members, athletes, participants and wider community, as well as the natural environment, both now and for generations to come.

“For too long not enough has been done and we want to see real change to promote and protect clean open water here in the UK.

“Water quality is one of the central pillars of British Triathlon’s sustainability strategy, Endurance 2040+, through which we will act, collaborate and amplify the message that action needs to be taken to protect the world in which we swim, bike and run.”

Great Britain Outrigger CEO, Cameron Taylor, said: “Outrigger is an ancient sport that has been practised for millennia and water is not just something that is taken and used. Water is a way of life.

“Reverence for water is a central tenet of the Pacific Culture that underpins our sport and you can see the importance of water in all of our cultural activities from Haka to Hula to Va’a (the Pacific word for outrigger).

“As an alliance of governing bodies we are speaking out clearly, united as a group, that clean water is pivotal to our survival. Polluted water is a death knell for British sport. Clean water needs to move from being considered a “nice to have” to a literal “we can’t live without”. Without clean water we do not exist.”

Paddle UK Head of Access and Environment, Ben Seal, said: “Water quality and pollution is one the biggest concerns for all users of blue space right now.

“Paddle UK, like our colleagues who use and love blue space, are receiving ever more concerned enquiries about the impact poor water quality is posing to health and in some cases, to livelihoods.

“We know there has been progress in some areas, but not enough. The government and the sector needs to commit to going further, faster to protect human health. We will continue to do everything we can to be a strong voice in the watersport sector and for our members.”

Royal Yachting Association CEO, Sara Sutcliffe, said: “This Alliance represents the interests of millions of recreational water users whose experiences are impacted by substandard water quality and pollution every day. For the RYA, we believe a failure to act is not acceptable. Access to water is the foundation of our Together on Water strategy, we must protect our playground to inspire the next generation”

Swim England Chief Executive Officer, Andy Salmon, said: “We’ve come together with other sporting governing bodies as all our sports and activities are impacted by poor water quality.

“We are united over the need to promote and protect the UK’s blue spaces and will continue to push for quicker action to improve the health of our waterways for the benefit of swimmers, all water users, wildlife and the environment alike.”