DUBAI // The UAE Swimming Federation says it is ready to train local athletes for competition and is looking to get more youngsters involved over the next four years.
There are four national race meetings exclusively for Emiratis and another six for all UAE residents.
Those in the sport say competition is vital for increasing swimmers’ performance and motivation, and more of it is needed.
Ayman Saad, executive director of the federation, said he expected the number of meetings to grow as the organisation attracted more participants.
“We have 300 swimmers from all age groups,” said Ayman Saad, executive director of the federation.
“We are now starting to get good numbers but to get more swimmers for all ages we need to work with the Minister of Education and schools to bring in more swimmers to the pools.
“In the next four years, we plan to get 3,000 swimmers.”
But some involved in the sport say young competitors in the UAE lack a proper system to carry them into international competition.
Coaches in Dubai say there is ample local talent and world-class facilities, but children are quitting sport in favour of studies and other pursuits.
“The UAE Swimming Federation has a system in place and are trying to change it to get the right training,” said Chris Tidey, managing director of Hamilton Aquatics.
“We are willing to help because children seem to be lost from the sport in their teenage years and prioritise their studies.
“It is about structure to get from 10 or 11 years old through to when they are 18 or 19. We need to ensure that there are long-term athlete development pathways that all nationalities can follow.”
Mr Tidey said development programmes were short-term, for locals and expatriates.
But Mr Saad insisted there was a plan in place.
“Of course we have a plan,” he said. “You have to understand our situation – we don’t have a lot of swimmers. That’s why we involve all the locals and foreigners in competitions and make it competitive.”
Obaid Al Jasmi, 31, who swam for the UAE in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, said the federation needed a short and a long-term plan.
“They should start on kids from the schools and work up from there,” Mr Al Jasmi said. “The School Olympics was just launched and we will see that swimming is the best sport in the games.
“The whole swimming community should be one family – the swimmers, coaches and media – and we will find the right champion.”
Velimir Stjepanovic, the UAE-born swimmer who came sixth for Serbia in the men’s 200-metre butterfly at this year’s London Olympics, said there was no excuse not to have world-class swimmers in the UAE.
“Obviously we could do with a few more 50-metre pools but at the end of the day we have what we need,” said Stjepanovic, 19.
“There are several training programmes in place with top coaches using world-class methods, but the desire to swim is a must.
“The child must want to do it. You can’t do something and not enjoy it and find the training is hard. It needs desire and determination.”
Mr Tidey said the right training and good technique at a young age would produce a greater pool of swimmers with international potential.
“With that as a foundation you’ll get more chance of children making it,” he said.
Alia Al Shamsi, 12, from Dubai, has been swimming for two years with Hamilton Aquatics but there is no national championships for women.
Her brother Abdullah, 10, is the UAE national champion in the 50-metre butterfly for his age group.
Alia, 12, said they both swim about seven and a half hours a week.
“We want to compete,” she said.
But Alia said having Stjepanovic poolside, occasionally giving tips, was an inspiration to her.