Alice Dearing hopes her selection as the first black female swimmer to represent Great Britain at the Olympics can go some way to erasing “decades of cultural and institutional racism” within the sport.
The 24-year-old has won her own battles against racism on her journey towards her Games debut, and is keen to use her resulting profile to help shatter the stereotypes that have hampered ethic minority progress in the water.
Dearing, who will compete in the open-water event, said: “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. At the same time it’s such a shame it took until 2021 to get to this point.
“It is decades of cultural and institutional racism which has sadly seeped into the swimming community and swimming in general for quite some time.
“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 the 21st century and we see these issues occurring, and there’s a lag of black people in swimming, because it’s just been decades and decades of historical and cultural racism.
“I hope things can start to move forward and people can look at swimming and think it’s not just a sport meant for people of a certain race. It’s not exclusive for anybody, it’s inclusive, and black people can swim.”
Dearing is at pains to point out that her own experience in the sport has been largely positive, and she has received the full backing of the sport’s existing domestic bodies in her helping to establish the Black Swimming Association to tackle inequality in the sport.
However she described incidents of racism she has experienced in her career, including one involving a rival coach during a junior gala.
“The main one was a coach using a racially derogatory word about me, and I went to tell my coach. They had said this word about me and I didn’t really know how to handle it. I was only 17 at the time, but I’m happy to say it was handled very well by the Amateur Swimming Association and Swim England, and I just moved on.”
Dearing cited previous black swimming stars like Alia Atkinson, Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace and Simone Manuel, who won two gold medals in Rio as inspirations on her journey to the Games.
Dearing added: “I would always see them on TV and whenever I was watching I’d always say, ‘mum, mum, there’s a black woman!’
“For the younger generation it is so important to see women like that stand on the top stage and swim the house down, and do some incredible things.
“Regardless of their race, being Olympic champion is incredible, but breaking a barrier on top of that just helps add to the history.
“You don’t just have to go into athletics or basketball or the other stereotypes around black people in sport – there is so much more open to you, and swimming is just one example.
“There are other sports where there are barriers still to be broken. So I’m really hoping people look at me and think, I’ll go and learn to swim 25 metres. You don’t have to be an Olympian or anything like that. I just think everybody has a right to learn.”