Drew Barrand

The Para Swimming World Championships hosted at Manchester Aquatics Centre delivered exceptionally across all fronts, thanks to support from UK Sport and The National Lottery that makes hosting major events possible. 

From a British Swimming perspective, our team made us all proud taking 38 medals, 14 of which were gold. A big crowd cheering on the world's best, and welcoming over 500 inspirational athletes from 67 nations to Britain - the brilliance on display in the pool was matched by the social impact of the event as we collectively seek to inspire more people with disabilities, and deliver more inclusive opportunities to participate.

In many ways, I've been very lucky - as it's not often you get to come into these kinds of roles and immediately see how the sport operates in all these different environments and fantastic competitions. 

First being out in Japan for the World Aquatics Championships and the way that our swimming, diving and artistic swimming teams performed, and then straight from that into Manchester and the World Para Championships.

To see our high-performance team in action, but also our hosting team and seeing what it means to deliver a major sporting event in the Britain, I have been very lucky to be straight into the action, and with a lot of learnings over the last few months with things that we can improve even more on - but fundamentally the sport is in a really good place.

The great work that is being done across British Swimming's high-performance team has been reflected in the results that we're seeing, where not only we are winning medals across many disciplines which was fantastic to see on home soil in Manchester, but even more important is that the squad are in the right kind of space to do their best individually. 

Italy's Tokyo 2020 champion Simone Barlaam was among the many athletes who starred in Manchester ©Getty Images
Italy's Tokyo 2020 champion Simone Barlaam was among the many athletes who starred in Manchester ©Getty Images

That means we're hitting a lot of personal bests, we're hitting a lot of season bests, and in the case of Manchester and the Para Swimming World Championships, we broke a lot of British records.

When you're performing at that top end, in the moments of matter, it shows the system is working.

Para swimming more broadly has moved on significantly. It's stopping being an opportunity for people just to compete, and is now proper competition that continues to develop fast. That means the focus is very much on pushing the time barriers, hitting those records, hitting those personal bests - and pushing the art of what is possible in the pool. 

Internationally, the standard is high and there are remarkable athletes who continue to push those boundaries in terms of performance.

This was proven across the competition in Manchester, to be honest with you, and not just across the British athletes, but in the performance of all the world athletes. Everybody has moved on a step, and raised the bar for what it means to perform.

Of course, that creates a more challenging environment for us to win at competitions and see medals but equally it's the way that professional sports should go. From our perspective at British Swimming wanting to perform at our best, it’s really pleasing to see the Para movement in aquatics is really driving forward against any barriers and redefining the art of what is possible.

I think we're all looking forward to Paris next year - in many ways the climax of our sporting year, and of course the Paralympics is no different from the Olympics in that respect. We know the performance bar will be high, and as a team we're going to have to be on it to deliver our best.

It’s been really encouraging for the Paralympic movement that we have seen that kind of progression, but it needs to continue. The decision earlier this year to move the Para swimming's global headquarters to Britain is a clear indication of what we're doing to help drive forward that movement on a global basis, and the interest that hosting the Para Swimming World Championships in Manchester has created is testament to that decision.

We're really proud that we've been able to bring that headquarters to this country, as part of the next steps of its professionalism. There's lots of positive movement forward in terms of Para sport space, but it absolutely needs to continue, and in many ways, we need to look past Paris. 

Manchester is set to be the new global headquarters of Para swimming ©Getty Images
Manchester is set to be the new global headquarters of Para swimming ©Getty Images

We need to make sure that the momentum we have can start to build a proper Para swimming season year in, year out, which enables the very best from all across the world to perform.

Alongside the athletes, all of the coaches, the support stuff, our physiotherapists, the sports science, the data, all of these things are vital if you're going to create the best performances when it matters in the pool. 

Our Para program has this high level of detail and it’s what creates champions, that kind of wraparound support on every level. A total of £467 million has been invested by The National Lottery, transforming swimming in Britain with funding that allows our athletes to train full-time, go to training camps and have access to world-class support services like physio, psychology and performance lifestyle.

Based on what Manchester has shown us, I think it's clear in terms of performances that we're pushing and improving all the time. 

There’s still room for improvement obviously, but so much comes down to our setup and the culture that we are creating. Sometimes the sport is tough on the athletes, and resilience is needed to compete in multiple events, maybe back-to-back with lots of pressure. 

That only works if you create the right kind of culture and environment around them, and I'm happy to say that our team is exceptional and has really delivered that environment that then gives athletes the platform to perform.

Perhaps the most important outcome is the sustained social impact of hosting a major Para championship in Britain, delivering a lot of outreach through the community integrated care program which enabled a lot of access to pool time for disabled people in the Manchester area. 

It’s a really important part of when we host major events - we don't just look at what happens at the elite end, but we also use the platform the event creates to deliver a legacy and a longer-term impact.