War to get tickets to the swimming pools in Madrid: “It is impossible to enter!  And on weekends, forget about it”

The scene is as follow. Cristina ―“the last name?!, no, no”―, 43 years old, heads up the slope of the public swimming pools in the Arganzuela district of Madrid, known as Peñuelas, along with five British friends, some of them minors . It’s Tuesday. She makes a perfect morning to not step on the street until next week. 38 degrees in the shade. And up. What better plan, they thought, than touring around the municipal swimming pools next to their house. Cristina grabbed her summer gear. Towels, books, nuts, sun cream. The basic kit to spend a few hours in the shade. Arriving at the box office to buy their tickets, they turned around. No. That there are no tickets.

―We came to spend the morning and we can’t.

Cristina, in the surroundings of the swimming pool of Peñuelas de Madrid.
Cristina, in the surroundings of the swimming pool of Peñuelas de Madrid.

Right now, freedom in Madrid consists of finding a public outdoor swimming pool where you can dive in with a good dip. It’s so hot in the streets that there are people who enter supermarkets and shops, take a walk, and walk out the door with nothing under their arms, like when you take a wrong parking spot. Going out in the fresh air in Madrid these days is a matter of attitude. It is not being easy to submerge in the waters of the capital. Numerous users have shown their complaints on social networks. An hour at the Peñuelas swimming pool lockers is the best example of this. Some people from Madrid come without having a clue about the ticket sales system. Confident in the old fashioned way. Others, like Carlos Cano and David Ferdek, 28 and 25 years old, have been trying for days, without success. “They are always exhausted,” they say. “We live next door. Tomorrow we are going to Las Rozas. It’s 20 minutes by car, although we have to add gasoline to the trip. It is impossible to enter here. And on weekends, forget about it”.

The Madrid City Council started the summer campaign on May 15, like every year, for Saint Isidro. The capital is one of the few cities in Spain that starts the summer season so early. Of the 22 municipal swimming pools, yes, five did not open. Three weeks later, a spokesperson for the Sports area confirms that finally three will remain closed all summer, with what that means for the affected districts. Even more so in the heat wave, like now. “Works are being undertaken,” explains the person in charge. Starting up some swimming pool works in the middle of summer could be the start of a Paco Martínez Soria film. But the reality has more to do with the approval of municipal budgets. “When approved in December”, explains the spokesman, “these processes last six or seven months; there’s no more”.

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Rarer is the case of the Luis Aragonés pool. Located in Hortaleza, one of the most populous neighborhoods in the capital, it has been closed since the storm Filomena, 15 months ago. The result for the summer of 2022 is 19 municipal swimming pools for three million people from Madrid. One for every 157,000 residents. The opposition considers that there has been an obvious lack of foresight. “Madrid is not prepared for climate change,” says the president of the Regional Federation of Neighbors, Enrique Villalobos. “There are districts like Tetuán, Retiro and Barajas that directly do not have swimming pools. They have not been designed since the 1990s and the city has grown twice as much”.

The Community of Madrid also manages four public swimming pools in the capital. However, it will keep them closed until the end of June. “The intention is to open them with the end of the school calendar. The delay also has to do with the contracts of the lifeguards, ”explains a spokesman.

“In the midst of a heat wave, President Ayuso leaves us without the only summer pool in the Retiro district,” says Félix Sánchez, secretary of the neighborhood association. The General Director of Sports, Fernando Benzo, answered the neighbors on social networks. He explained to them that the pool does not open on these dates because “it is always like that”. The newspaper library shows that the public swimming pools of the Community opened in 2019 on June 1 and not on the 26th, as now.

Added to this is the complexity of the ticket purchase system. Accessing the municipal portal for the first time is very unintuitive. The City Council itself has posted an infographic with up to 13 posters on the web. Most lockers also have four sheets of paper pasted on the doors, where many people from Madrid, surprised to see them for the first time, cannot believe it. “95% of the tickets are sold electronically through an application or the municipal sports page,” they explain. The remaining 5% is reserved for the elderly, at the box office. In short: if one wants to go to the pool right now without a mobile ticket, he will have to be very lucky.

The system is designed to purchase them 48 hours in advance. That is, if one chooses to go to the pool on Saturday, it is best to set an alarm on Thursday. There are two shifts, like during the pandemic. Morning and afternoon. The morning sale time starts on the municipal website at 9:00. The evening, at 3:00 p.m. Some users recognize that getting a ticket is like getting one for a Rolling Stones concert. “I wear two browsers,” says Elena Montes, 30 years old. “One with the pool in my neighborhood, which has 400 seats, and another with the Casa de Campo pool, which has a capacity of 1,500. It’s easier to get tickets that way.”

Sold out

Montes is in charge of taking the tickets for the whole gang. “Last Thursday, for example, the system crashed. Almost every day they sell out in seven minutes.” The City Council considers that with this sales system there are more people who have access to the pools, thus preventing a person from staying in them all day. Or he leaves in the morning. Or in the afternoon. “The police recommended this method to us because there were fewer incidents that way,” explains a spokesman. “We have barely noticed incidents. We’ll see if it holds up next year”. Despite everything, they do recognize a bug in the application last Thursday.

Other users say that last weekend there were long queues at the Casa de Campo, believing that, by having a larger capacity, they would get a ticket at the same box office. It was a trip in vain. “The problem is that it seems that you have to take a course to get in,” explains Montes. “People also panic because the receipt takes hours and it seems that you can’t get in, so they buy more.” Another problem, others add, is that they cannot be returned; If a user buys five tickets – the limit is nine – and then does not go, they cannot be reused. Nasei and Romane, two French women aged 20 and 21, have been in the capital for seven days. They have come to take a course. They have not managed to dive into the municipal swimming pools any day. “It has been impossible. we’re leaving tonight [por el martes] to France”, they lament.

Nasei and Romane, 20 and 21 years old, at the gates of the Peñuelas swimming pool.
Nasei and Romane, 20 and 21 years old, at the gates of the Peñuelas swimming pool.Manuel Viejo (handle)

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