By Craig Lord
LONDON, June 14. IN what organizers aim to make the biggest charity splash in history, a virile campaign is on its way to amassing one million swimmers to raise millions to fight malaria, the single biggest cause of child deaths in the world.
Since the word-of-mouth message went out in December, 150,000 swimmers – from schools, clubs, groups of friends and companies to Olympic champions around the world, from Shane Gould in Australia to Adrian Moorhouse in Britain — have already signed up for the World Swim For Malaria on December 3.
Though that date has been set aside as the official day for the big swim, organizers have torn up the rule book in an effort to make this the biggest sports participation fund-raiser ever.
"If you want to swim on a different day that's fine too," said Rob Mather, who is running the global swim from his living room in London, England.
"There are no rules to stop you participating. You organize your swim the way it works for you. We just ask that people register on the website so everyone can see who's swimming where in the world."
Mather's rationale for the big swim is simple. "The number of children who die from malaria each day would fill seven jumbo jets. Seventy per cent of malaria deaths are children under five. That makes malaria the world's single largest killer of children. Yet malaria is preventable, and the single most effective way of achieving that is to have people sleep under a mosquito net. It's simple: if we swim, we save lives. If we don't swim, we don't save lives, so let's swim. Malaria is born in water – let's kill it in water."
The idea for World Swim For Malaria came off the back of a similar smaller campaign last year, when Mather and two friends agreed to swim and raise money for Terri Calvesbert, a two-year-old burns victim.
Seven weeks later, Mather was surprised to find a three-man swim had snowballed into 150 swims in 70 countries around the world involving 10,000 people. "We were all swimming for a little girl who lived 40 miles north of London." When the swim ended, one of those who took part called Mather to ask 'What are we doing next year?' His throw away line was
'Let's get a million people to swim' and World Swim For Malaria was born.
Mather has gone beyond the obvious swimming havens in search of his million and persuaded companies such as Accenture and PricewaterhouseCoopers to support him, each with 5,000 staff, family and friends swimming. Organizations such as FINA, the international swimming federation, is also being harnessed.
"For most of us, water is about cleanliness, fun, swimming, leisure, health," said Mather. "For many in the world it is about disease and death. But we can do something hugely significant just by buying nets."
Every last cent raised will be spent on nets, he pledges. "Install 20 £3 (US$5.40) nets and statistics show that over the four-year life of those nets one child doesn't die. That's £60 ($108) a life. A small price," said Mather.
For any swimmers out there who wish to show that swimmers can make a difference on a world stage, here's where you can find more information and register your swim: