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Swim free

One of the weirder things that our government has decided to do to celebrate the Beijing Olympics is to waive charges for public leisure facilities.  However, the SCMP reported on Wednesday that people didn't seem to be aware of this concession (Swimmers surprised they can use pools for free - subscription required)

Many swimmers got a pleasant surprise yesterday at the Victoria Park Swimming Pool - free admission.  The pool is in the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's free-admission scheme, announced on May 9, which allows the public to use government leisure facilities - such as swimming pools and squash, tennis and badminton courts - at no charge from yesterday to September 30.

The scheme aims to encourage the public to exercise more regularly and to promote next month's Beijing Olympic Games.  About 70 people lined up at the Victoria Park pool before the afternoon session opened at 1pm. The first in line were secondary-school students Jeff Poon and Dickson Pun, who had heard of the free admission. They arrived at about 12.30pm.

"I will visit the pool more often because of the free admission," Dickson said. "But I do not think it would make me more interested in the Olympic Games." Jeff said the two went to swim because no badminton courts were available - all Hong Kong Island courts were fully booked for the coming three weeks, he said.

But the two boys were in the minority who knew the swimming pool was free yesterday. Many swimmers were surprised when told there was no need to pay to use the pool - and some even asked the staff why.

Jack Holworthy said he did not know about the scheme although he went to a public pool three times a week. It was a good way to encourage people to participate in sport.  A Mrs Chan took her seven-year-old daughter, Sandy, to the pool yesterday and said she would visit it more often now that she knew the service was free.

A department spokesman said the effectiveness of free admission would be evaluated today after officials totalled up the number of people who used pools yesterday.

Today's SCMP has a different angle on the story (a short item in City Digest):

Free admission sees pool patronage jump

The public responded enthusiastically to the free admission scheme for public facilities managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, with the number of swimming pool admissions recorded on July 1this year up 40 per cent on the same day last year. More than 80 per cent of the facilities available under the scheme, which runs until September 30, had been booked in advance, a spokesman said.

Well, if swimming pool admissions were up by 40% that kinda suggests people knew about it, doesn't it?

Personally, I think it's a rather daft idea.  Anyone who has been to a public swimming pool in the summer months will know how overcrowded they can get, and allowing more people in free of charge is only going to make things worse during the busy times.  Why not reduce the charges or offer some other incentive (such as buy one, get one free). 

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