x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Emirates hub for splash and dash

The UAE's reputation among top-class swimmers of being the world's best hosts will be further enhanced within the next few weeks when the country will hold three world-class competitions in three separate emirates.

The prospect of hosting major events in Dubai spurred the authorities to improve facilities.
The prospect of hosting major events in Dubai spurred the authorities to improve facilities.

The UAE's reputation among top-class swimmers of being the world's best hosts will be further enhanced within the next few weeks when the country will hold three world-class competitions in three separate emirates. On Saturday, 82 competitors will take part in the Dubai 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup at Mumzar Beach.

Sharjah will host the final of the 10km World Cup series on October 21 while Ajman will host the 15km Open Water Grand Prix final on October 25. It will be the first time the country has hosted three events, including two finals. The UAE has held World Cup events since 2002 and, according to executive director of the UAE Swimming Federation Ayman Saad, has gained a reputation among swimmers as being the best hosts in the world.

"We have set the benchmark. I helped change some of the rules in open water swimming when we started to organise it in the UAE. We wanted to make the swimmers happy so we changed the rules and [world governing body] Fina implemented them," he said. "Open water swimmers love to come to the UAE because they know they will be part of a great event. The open water World Cups made us famous in the world, with Fina and all the other federations. The World Cup for open water gave us a really good chance of winning the bid to host the short course championships. Fina trusts us."

Saad has worked hard to change the image of swimming here. The Fina World Short Course Swimming Championships next November will be the first major international swimming event in the country. It has had other benefits for the country, with Dubai set to get its first public swimming pool as a result. "Many years ago when we started, we didn't have public swimming pools to organise professional events," said Saad.

"People would ask me why I bid for these big events if we didn't have the pools. We had to do it to get the facilities." Not long after being granted the hosting rights, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of UAE, announced plans to build a 25metre pool at the Al Wasl, Al Nasr and Al Shabab clubs besides an Aquatic Centre at Dubailand which will be the venue for both major championships. The centre will include two Olympic size - 50m - pools and a diving pool. They will also be the first public swimming pools in Dubai.

Open water swimming has long been regarded as a poorer relation, but Saad has devoted much of his career to changing this perception. His motivation stems from his first visit to Canada to compete in an open water event. As a national champion in Egypt he was expecting to be greeted by Canadian officials. Instead he was left standing alone as he collected his luggage and headed towards the taxi rank to make a 12-hour journey to the venue Lac St Jean in Roberval.

"I remember Canada because it was such a long trip and when I finally got to the venue there was no one to help us find hotels or get ready for the event." A year earlier Saad had made his professional debut and after his experience in Canada, he vowed to change the way open water swimmers were treated and raise the profile of the sport. "When I first started organising world cups in Egypt 15 years ago I had one goal in mind - I really wanted to make the swimmer happy and to make them feel special," he said.

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