x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

A rare sight among 153 nations in Dubai

The national emblem of Israel represents just one of 153 countries — from Albania to Zimbabwe via Iraq and North Korea — that are competing in the Fina World Swimming Championships in Dubai.

DUBAI // Hanging from the roof of the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex, sandwiched inbetween the flags of Iceland and Italy, appears a sight virtually invisible in the UAE.

The national emblem of Israel represents just one of 153 countries - from Albania to Zimbabwe via Iraq and North Korea - that are competing in the Fina World Swimming Championships in Dubai.

The UAE does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, but the country's five-member team have been granted access to the Emirates and will compete in 20 events across the championship's five days.

Gal Nevo, who yesterday morning competed in the men's 200-metre freestyle, was their first swimmer to appear on the pool deck.

He said his team arrived a day late because "there was some problem with security" and added they are operating under heightened supervision, which includes seven or eight "visible" bodyguards.

"I feel kind of lucky as an athlete being here, because the average Israeli guy probably wouldn't visit," Nevo told The Associated Press. "We have a lot of security around us, so I'm not sure I'm going to see anything, but being able to compete is great."

Ayman Saad, the executive director of the UAE Swimming Association, said he met with Fina yesterday and that they were "very happy".

"This event will be fantastic because of the large numbers of competing nations; 153 is a new championship record," he said.

"It is important that we are open to everybody - this country is open to everybody and I hope it leads to many more records being broken this week."

According to the local organising committee, the previous record for countries registered to compete was at 116 set at the championship in Manchester, England, two years ago.