Swimmers Youssef Al Matrooshi and Layla Al Khatib with Brent Nowicki of Fina and Abu Dhabi Sports Council's Aref Hamad Al Awani and Dana the Hawksbill Turtle,  to launch the Fina Abu Dhabi World Swimming Championships.
Swimmers Youssef Al Matrooshi and Layla Al Khatib with Brent Nowicki of Fina, Abu Dhabi Sports Council's Aref Hamad Al Awani and Dana the Hawksbill Turtle, to launch the Fina Abu Dhabi World Swimming Championships. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi Sports Council has revealed the latest developments and preparations for hosting the Fina World Swimming Championships (25m) at Yas Island’s Etihad Arena from December 16-21, along with the Fina World Aquatics Convention, highlighting Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a global destination for major sporting events.

In an announcement at Emirates Palace on Tuesday, two wildcard entrants who will represent the UAE at the championships were revealed — Youssef Al Matrooshi, 18, and Layla Al Khatib, 14 will become the first Emirati athletes to challenge elite international swimmers at such an event.

The duo, who were chosen by the UAE Swimming Federation, are two of the UAE’s most promising talents, having already achieved considerable success. As well as being selected to compete in the Championships, Al Matrooshi will also represent the UAE in the 100m freestyle at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which begin in July.

ADSC also revealed the official event mascot for the competition — Dana the Hawksbill Turtle.

The community programmes set to be implemented ahead of the event were also announced, including a Swim Safety Ambassador Programme, in which graduates can become a certified swim safety ambassador, and a Schools and Club Roadshow, which will feature appearances from Dana, along with a virtual swimming activation providing an insight into the challenges faced by elite-level swimmers during championship races. There will also be activities at Yas Mall, Open Swim sessions and Olympic Watch Parties, while anybody wishing to get involved in the event can sign up to become a volunteer.

The Etihad Arena on Yas Island
The Etihad Arena on Yas Island Image Credit: Fina

Originally scheduled for 2020, the Fina World Swimming Championships will feature men’s and women’s events in all four strokes — freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly — along with the individual medley and relays.

The Fina World Aquatics Convention will also be hosted on Yas Island this December.

Hussain Al Musallam, the newly elected Fina President, said: “We have great faith and trust in Abu Dhabi’s plans for hosting the Fina World Swimming Championships later this year, and the announcement of the operational readiness, Emirati wildcard athletes and the official event mascot only adds to the sense of anticipation ahead of the event.

“Abu Dhabi has proved its long-term support and success in hosting major international events, and it will surely organise the Championships with success. As Fina President, I’m very much looking forward to bringing the Championships to Abu Dhabi for the first time, particularly during a year in which the country celebrates its 50th anniversary. We have very fond memories from the 2010 edition, brilliantly held in Dubai.

“I am sure both Youssef and Layla will undoubtedly make the UAE proud. They are a source of inspiration for all aquatic athletes in the country and in the region. Having represented my own country as a swimmer, I know the sacrifices which need to be made in order to compete at the highest level.”

Aref Hamad Al Awani, Secretary General of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, conveyed the regards of His Highness Sheikh Nahyan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of ADSC, welcoming Al Musallam to Abu Dhabi. He noted that hosting the event is a result of the support of great leadership and a mission to develop the sports sector which is reflected in economic, tourist, and community development.

“Hosting an international event of this stature reflects the UAE’s and Abu Dhabi’s position and pioneering role in the return of normal life to society after the challenge witnessed by the world,” he said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic. “We thank our front-line heroes for their exceptional efforts across all sectors, including the emergency and crisis committees, doctors, nurses, and medical workers who contributed to protecting society, indicating that the government’s efforts culminated in large vaccination campaigns and its distinctive plans in combating the outbreak of COVID-19, setting Abu Dhabi to become the world’s leading safe destination.

“We are excited to host the Fina World Swimming Championships at one of the leading venues on Yas Island, Etihad Arena, and we look forward to welcoming almost 1,000 elite short-distance swimmers from all over the world, especially as it comes after the conclusion of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which adds more excitement to the competition in Abu Dhabi.

“The announcement, which combines the UAE’s wildcards, the Championship’s mascot, and the accompanying community activities, represents a significant step in the preparations for this important event.

Sultan Al Samahi, President of UAE Swimming Federation, added: “I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the impact of the Championships on swimming in the UAE, and the country’s reputation for staging world-class sporting events.

“Hosting the Championships is a great honour for both Abu Dhabi and the UAE. Not only does it provide fantastic entertainment for the watching public, but it also presents a huge opportunity to enhance the growth of swimming and sporting excellence in the country.

“Over the years, Abu Dhabi has successfully hosted several swimming events, including the Fina High Diving World Cup and Fina Open Water Swim World Cup. Every event we successfully stage further enhances the UAE’s reputation as the region’s hub for international sports.

“The standard of coaching has also improved to the extent that we now have Emirati swimmers competing in major events on the world stage, and we look forward to cheering on our own swimmers this December at Etihad Arena.