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UK Sports Come Together for Clean Water

30th April 2024
The UK's Clean Water Sports Alliance represents the interests of millions of recreational water users whose experiences are impacted by substandard water quality and pollution every day
The UK's Clean Water Sports Alliance represents the interests of millions of recreational water users whose experiences are impacted by substandard water quality and pollution every day

Seven UK 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.

They are now joining forces to call for change to protect those they represent and the natural world in which they 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:

  • Further and faster action on pollution. Improving the health of UK waters by 2030
  • Enable people to make real-time informed choices about where and when to participate in water-based sports and activities 
  • 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:

Regulators to be adequately funded to monitor, investigate and hold polluters to account, harnessing nature-based solutions 
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 
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 & Advocacy 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.”

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.”

Royal Yachting Association Environmental & Sustainability Manager, Phil Horton, said: "We go boating because we love being out there in the natural environment. We know people participating in sailing and boating at a grassroots level, including our club members and the parents of young people, are concerned about the health of their local water.

"If measures to improve water quality for all recreational waters, not just bathing waters, are not acted on soon then participation in our sport will be impacted negatively, with a knock-on effect on health and wellbeing.”

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.”

The UK's Clean Water - Sports AllianceThe UK's Clean Water - Sports Alliance Team

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About the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Northern Ireland 

  • The RYA is the national body for dinghy, yacht and motor cruising, all forms of sail racing, RIBs and sports boats, windsurfing and personal watercraft and a leading representative for inland waterways cruising.
  • The RYA is recognised by Government, the media and opinion formers as the representative body and voice for the activities that it represents. It continually fights for the rights and freedoms of its 112,000 personal members.
  • The RYA has more than 1,500 affiliated clubs and classes, which represent some 350,000 boaters throughout the UK. It is estimated that 4 million people in the UK take part in boating activity annually.
  • The RYA also sets and maintains recognised standards for training for both leisure and commercial boating through a network of more than 2,400 RYA Recognised Training Centres across 58 countries. More than 250,000 people per year complete RYA training courses.
  • The RYA is responsible for one of the UK’s most successful Olympic medal-winning sports. Our coaching and development schemes actively support 800 of our country’s top sailors, from talented juniors to Olympic and World champions.
  • The RYA is committed to promoting all forms of boating and making them accessible to everyone. For more information please visit
  • The Royal Yachting Association Northern Ireland (RYA NI) acts for the RYA in Northern Ireland (NI) and the Chairman of RYA NI is invited to join the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) Policy Review Committee.
  • You can find the RYA Northern Ireland at Sketrick House, GE8, Jubilee Road, Newtownards, BT23 4YH.
  • RYA NI is a company limited by guarantee – Registration number NI 51945
  • Contact RYA NI: Tel: 02891 827154 email: [email protected]



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