CAIRO – Hundreds of Muslim girls have flocked to swimming pools in Tingbjerg district in Copenhagen after the city’s swimming club introduced girls only swimming sessions.
“We have gone from zero to several hundred girls in three years, and have successfully established a swimming option for a specific group, which would otherwise find swimming difficult to access because of religion,” Lars Sørensen, the director of Hovedstadens Svømmeklub (Capital City Swimming Club), told Berlingske, The Local.dk reported.
Issued three years ago, the decision to introduce segregated swimming sessions was hailed as a “recipe for integration.”
The girl-only sessions, which also take place with windows and doors to the swimming hall blacked out, were set up in response to religious and cultural requirements put forward by parents.
Since the sessions were introduced, 246 girls of non-Danish ethnic origin between the ages of five and 12 have begun attending swimming lessons at the hall.
It came after a 2011 report by the Danish Sports Association showed that 28 percent of ethnic Danes were members of sports clubs, compared to 18 percent of non-ethnic Danes.
“Many of these girls come here and meet role models from their own neighborhoods standing on the poolside in the coach’s jersey,” said Sørensen.
“At the same time, they learn to swim, which gives safety, fitness and well being.”
Sørensen said the decision came to encourage young Muslim girls to take part in sport, adding that the club did not consider the introduction of segregated lessons an extraordinary measure.
“It is just a condition [for taking part], just as some people swimming in 50 meter lanes and others swimming in 25 meter lanes,” the pool trainer told Berlingske.
“We are the second biggest sporting association in the country, so we think it’s our responsibility to offer a considered range of swimming lessons,” he added.
Though widely praised by Muslims and club officials, the new segregated sessions were criticized by the City of Copenhagen’s deputy mayor for culture and leisure, Carl Christian Ebbesen of the Danish People’s Party (DF).
“It is completely crazy to meet these demands. There is a desperately short supply of swimming pools, so we shouldn’t be closing them down by putting curtains in front of the windows and signs saying ‘just for girls’ just to meet the demands of religious fanatics,” Ebbesen said.
The DF politician said that Muslim girls were welcome to take part in sports clubs, but that this must be done on the same basis as everybody else.
“We must go to the parents via our integration policies and explain to them that we cannot meet their special requirements,” Ebbesen told Berlingske.
“They must send their girls to sport and other activities like everyone else. Every time we meet these demands, we are destroying the society we’ve worked so hard for,” he continued.
Rikke Lauritzen of the left-wing Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten), who is responsible for municipality financial support for community projects in Copenhagen, rejected opposition to the new session and called the swimming initiative “super cool”.
“The most important thing for me is to get children from all backgrounds involved in clubs and associations of all kinds, so that they can be part of the democratic development process that this entails,” Lauritzen told Berlingske.
“It’s super cool, that so many children have begun swimming in Tingbjerg, because it shows that it works when we provide funds for development. I would therefore like to congratulate HSK on its success,” she continued.