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Athletics must clean up its act

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McGill Athletics’ decision to temporarily evict a swim program for children with special needs from the pool was an unreasonable and discriminatory response to a routine accident. The volunteer-run Making Waves program should be reinstated immediately.

McGill Athletics cancelled the Making Waves program after a child had diarrhea during a class, which required the pool to be drained; the heating system subsequently broke, and the facility was closed for ten days. The program, which has made use of the pool for two and a half years is to be reinstated in early April, when the time lost to paying groups is made up.

Punishing the Making Waves program for one member’s single instance of incontinence is based on inaccurate and harmful stereotypes about people with special needs. Accidents happen, and can happen to anyone. Indeed, pool workers admit that this sort of incident is not unusual.

Were it not for stigma, it is hard to imagine that McGill Athletics would react this way. Whether as a business or a public service, operating a pool means accepting certain risks and having policies in place to deal with them. In this case, the risk was contamination and the policy was to drain the pool.

Moreover, most of the time was lost due to negligence on the part of McGill facilities, not the Making Waves program. The pool could have been refilled immediately if the heater had not broken. Forcing Making Waves to forfeit its pool time due to an unrelated heater problem is wildly unfair.

Allowing Making Waves to return only after other, paying groups have made up for lost time is to treat the program as a second-class patron, especially because McGill Athletics is effectively backing out of an agreement. Hopefully, public pressure or a moment of quiet reflection will allow the authorities at McGill Athletics to see that harmful stereotypes are driving their response. They should apologize to the Making Waves program, reverse their decision, and ensure that, in the future, all patrons are treated fairly.