A record-setting 900-plus athletes are slated to compete in this week’s FINA 25-meter World Swimming Championships in Doha, as Qatar plays host to one of the largest aquatic events in the world.
The championship, which runs from Dec. 3 to 7, is deemed the most global important short-course event and there are few swim meets – save for the Olympics – that rival its prestige.
A full schedule of events, as well as a link to a live feed, can be found on the home page of the championships.
All races will take place at the Hamad Aquatic Center in the Aspire Zone.
This is the third major FINA event Qatar has hosted in slightly more than a year, following Swimming World Cup races in October 2013 and this past August.
As Qatar continues to bolster its reputation as a global athletics hub, the next few days will shine a light on the country’s ability to separate political conflicts from its role as a host of international sporting events.
Politics in the pool
Organizers are likely worrying about more than a false start or faulty flip turn, as the upcoming championships haven’t escaped recent diplomatic tensions in the region.
Last month, Egypt announced its national team was withdrawing from the meet. Relations between Cairo and Doha are frosty, and Egypt’s FINA decision was widely interpreted to be part of an ongoing show of disapproval for Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Gulf state supported former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown in mid-2013, and is also home to Islamic scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi.
The Egyptian-born cleric, who holds Qatari citizenship, has criticized the military-backed government in Cairo.
Earlier this year, Egypt stated it had no intention of returning its recalled ambassador to Qatar in the near future.
While Saudi Arabia recently called on Egypt to mend rifts between Qatar and other Arab countries, the conciliatory language has so far failed to lead to the return of Egypt’s ambassador to Doha or the country’s participation in this week’s FINA championship.
For its part, a FINA spokesperson has been quoted as saying it “regrets the Egyptian Swimming Federation decision to not take part.”
According to Swimming World Magazine, it’s unusual for countries to withdraw from meets of this size due to political disputes.
Eyes on Israel
The tension between Qatar and Egypt isn’t the only political dispute casting a shadow on the upcoming FINA meet.
Controversy arose during last year’s championship in Qatar after an Israeli flag briefly flew outside the Aspire Zone before being taken down ahead of the FINA Swimming World Cup.
Meanwhile, inside the venue, broadcasters were accused of ignoring Israeli athletes in the pool and making efforts to avoid listing them on results tables.
FINA officials subsequently warned organizers in both Doha and Dubai to act in accordance with rules that ban discrimination on political grounds. This followed several television broadcasts in which Israeli swimmers were not recognized by local broadcasters.
As this year’s event gets set to begin, though, there’s yet to be any controversy as Israel prepares to send a delegation of several swimmers to Doha.
Swimmers to watch
Multiple Olympic medalists will swim this week in Doha, but American Ryan Lochte is one highlight.
He’ll be busy during his few days in Doha, as he’s slated to swim the 200-meter freestyle, 200-meter backstroke, 50-meter butterfly, 100-meter butterfly, 100-meter individual medley and 200-meter medley. He’ll also swim on various relays.
His packed schedule means fans might be able to catch him during a number of final events, which begin each evening at 6 pm.
Breeja Larson and Conor Dwyer will also compete for the United States, which will look to earn the most medals for the fourth consecutive FINA 25-meter World Swimming Championships. Former Olympian Natalie Coughlin also plans to swim in several events.
The Americans, however, won’t be the only top swimmers in Doha.
Katinka Hosszu, who broke three world records at the Doha leg of the FINA Swimming World Cup in August, and Daniel Gyurta, who finished second among the men in the same championships, will compete for Hungary.
World record holders Chad Le Clos and Cameron Van Der Burgh – both of South Africa – will also make the trip, as will teenager Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania.