The Abu Dhabi Sports Council revealed the latest developments and preparations for hosting the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) scheduled to take place at Yas Island’s hugely impressive Etihad Arena from 16-21 December, along with the FINA World Aquatics Convention, highlighting Abu Dhabi as a global destination for major sporting events and competitions.
The announcement came during a press conference held at Emirates Palace, on Tuesday 29th June, which was attended by Captain Husain Al-Musallam, President of FINA, HE Aref Hamad Al Awani, Secretary General of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, HE Sultan Al Samahi, President of the UAE Swimming Federation, and HE Mohamed Al Zaabi, Chief Executive Officer of Miral Asset Management, along with Abdulla Alwheibi, Tournament Director, and Brent Nowicki, FINA Executive Director.
The conference also witnessed the presence of His Excellency Issa Hilal Al-Hazami, Chairman of the Sharjah Sports Council, His Excellency Osama Al Shafar, Member of the Federal National Council and President of the Asian Cycling Federation, His Excellency Saeed Abdul Ghaffar, Secretary-General of the General Authority for Sports, His Excellency Dirar Belhoul Al Falasi, Member of the Federal National Council, Vice President of the Emirates Sports Arbitration Center, His Excellency Abdulmohsen Al-Dosari, Deputy Secretary-General of the General Sports Authority, Fahad Ali Al Shamsi, Chief Executive Officer of the Emirates Jiu-Jitsu Federation, His Excellency Mohammed Al Zaabi, CEO of Miral Company, and Taha Al Kishry, FINA Bureau member, as well as members of the Higher Organizing Committee of the championship.
The event saw the announcement of the two Emirati wildcard entrants who will represent the UAE at this year’s FINA World Swimming Championships (25m), Youssef Al Matrooshi, 18, and Layla Al Khatib, 14, as the first Emirati athletes to be selected raising the challenge to face elite international swimmers.
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 World Championships (25m), Al Matrooshi has also been selected to represent the UAE in the 100m freestyle at the Tokyo Olympic Games, which begins in July.
Coinciding with this announcement, Abu Dhabi Sports Council also exclusively revealed the official event mascot for the competition – Dana the Hawksbill Turtle.
As strong swimmers displaying grace and power while underwater, the endangered Hawksbill Turtle, which is native to Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, is the perfect mascot for the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m).
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 the Hawksbill Turtle, along with a virtual swimming activation providing an insight into the challenges faced by elite-level swimmers during championship races. There will also be activations 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.
Originally scheduled for 2020, the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) 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 in parallel, promising a swimming extravaganza in Abu Dhabi this December.
Husain Al-Musallam, newly elected FINA President, and a GCC national, said: “We have great faith and trust in Abu Dhabi’s plans for hosting the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) 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 FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) with success.
“As recently elected FINA President, I’m very much looking forward to bringing the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) 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.”
HE 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 the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, welcoming HE Hussain Al Musallam, President of FINA in 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.
“We thank our frontline 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 the new Corona virus (Covid 19), setting Abu Dhabi to become the world’s leading safe destination.
"We are excited to host the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) 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.
“The reveal of Dana the Hawksbill Turtle, the event’s official mascot, celebrates the UAE’s rich heritage in aquatics, and represents an important step in the overall event narrative. We are confident this will be a fantastic way of engaging a young audience across the country in the lead-up to the event.
“We welcome all sporting delegations to take part in the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m), and the sessions during the FINA World Aquatics Convention. With its successful track record in hosting and organizing large events safely, Abu Dhabi is fully ready to welcome both events this December.”
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 FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) 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.
“The accomplishments of our swimmers are proof of the evolution of UAE swimming. We now have an opportunity to build on the momentum started 10 years ago and bring the sport to the next level. We have a duty and responsibility to build a legacy of international sporting entertainment and swimming excellence for decades to come.
“We are delighted to announce that Youssef and Layla will compete for the UAE at the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m).
“As two of the UAE’s brightest swimming talents, we have full confidence in their ability to perform to the highest possible level against some of the best short-course swimmers in the world.
“We look forward to watching them compete on home soil when the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) comes to Abu Dhabi in December.”
Mohamed Adullah Al Zaabi, CEO, Miral Asset Management, added: “We are excited to host this global event for the first time in the capital at the iconic Etihad Arena, which will be transformed into a world-class aquatics center. We also look forward to welcoming the world’s leading athletes and their teams, including Layla and Yousef, to Yas Island this coming December.
“We anticipate the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) and the associated FINA World Aquatics Convention creating over 12,000 hotel room night bookings across Yas Island, which is integral to achieving our vision of positioning it as top global destination for entertainment, leisure and business.”
Dubai-based Al Matrooshi, part of the Al Wasl Swimming Team, is the current holder of multiple national and regional records including the GCC 100-metre freestyle in the 15-17 age category, which he set in Egypt back in April, breaking the record by almost one second. In addition, he smashed the 200-metre freestyle record by five seconds. Al Matrooshi was also voted Best Swimmer in the UAE for the 2020/21 season by the UAE Swimming Federation.
On being selected as a wildcard entrant for the Championships (25m), he said: “I’m super excited to be involved in the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m), especially because the event is taking place in my home country, with my friends and family watching on and supporting me.
“This is an amazing opportunity for Abu Dhabi to host the event for the first time, 10 years on from when it was held in Dubai.
“The Etihad Arena is a very impressive venue which has already hosted some major sporting events, such as UFC. I’m really looking forward to representing the UAE and hopefully coming away with some medals.”
Al Khatib, who is studying in Great Britain and represents Plymouth’s Fourth Lane Swimming Academy, was part of the UAE team at the Arab Championships in 2019, where she produced a string of brilliant performances, securing three gold medals and one silver.
After being chosen to compete at the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m), she said: “I’m very grateful to the UAE for this opportunity and I’m really looking forward to competing at the event and representing the country at a global competition , in its capital city. It is really special.”