World Aquatics (formerly FINA) has announced that it will open a new Aquatics Center of Excellence and Regional Office in Bahrain.
The center will be based at the Box Park campus of the Bahrain University of Technology. In addition to world-class aquatics infrastructure, it will also serve as a new local training facility for the Bahrain Swimming Association.
The land of Bahrain consists of a series of islands in the Persian Gulf in the Middle East, including 50 natural islands and 33 man-made islands. The main island is the island of Bahrain, which includes most of the country’s 1.5 million population.
Bahrain is an oil-rich nation that declared independence from Iran in 1971. In addition to its natural resources, the country has also become a banking center for the region.
Bahrain has seen increasing international sporting success in recent years. After never winning an Olympic medal in the 2008 Games, they have won four in the last three Olympics, although all four were won by athletes born in Ethiopia or Kenya who were paid millions by the Bahraini government to immigrate and become citizens.
Bahraini athletes have competed in swimming at every Olympic Games since Sydney 2000. In Tokyo 2021, Abudla Ahmed was disqualified in the preliminaries of the women’s 100 breaststroke, while Noor Yusuf Abudla finished 60th in the 50 free in 28.87. Both swimmers were teenagers at the time.
“Bahrain is a nation of islands united by the water that surrounds us,” said HH Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Khalifa. “With an ever-growing variety of partnerships, Bahrain continues to be one of the world’s leading sporting hubs. We have a very clear understanding of the value of water sports. And we are excited to contribute to the future of world aquatics, not just for Bahrain, but for our region and the world. We look forward to hosting leading aquatics athletes from various nations and helping them achieve their sporting dreams, both as developmental athletes and as participants in world aquatics competitions.”
“Today we witnessed a historic agreement where the private sector will fully align with the government’s vision to promote sports tourism in the Kingdom of Bahrain.”
Al-Khalifa, head of the Bahrain Olympic Committee, is a keen open water swimmer who completed the 31.5km swim connecting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Bahrain across the Gulf of Bahrain.
The World Aquatics Center of Excellence could be an opportunity for Bahrain to develop local talent. The Bahrain center will include new pools that can train five of the world’s six aquatic disciplines: swimming, water polo, artistic swimming, diving and diving.
World Aquatics currently has operational Centers of Excellence in Thanyapura (Thailand), Dakar (Senegal), Cape Town (South Africa) and Davie (Florida, USA). The centers are usually located in areas where there is a need for the development of aquatic sports, or adjacent to such areas: two centers in Africa, one in Southeast Asia and another in Florida, but in close proximity to the Caribbean, represent regions where athletes aquatics have historically been underrepresented at the elite level.
The Middle East, although economically developed, is another area that has historically been underrepresented in the highest level of aquatics. Egypt is the only Middle Eastern nation to ever win an aquatics medal at the Olympics, but not since the 1928 diving events.
But the region will get more attention now with the new president of World Aquatics Hussein Al-Musalam a native of nearby Kuwait, another Gulf state. Kuwait also has a very limited history of Olympic swimming.
“I am extremely excited about this partnership with Bahrain. Our bold plans for a center of excellence here will serve as an example to the world,” said World Aquatics President Husain Al-Musallam. “Our high-performance athletes are at their best when they can benefit from the right combination of equipment, training and sports science. World Aquatics is determined to ensure that this mix is available to athletes from all our National Federations. And we are delighted to include an educational component with the help of Bahrain University of Technology.”
“Water sports are universally important. Over 180 nations were represented at both the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the Budapest 2022 Aquatic World Championships. We are grateful to Bahrain and the hosts of our other development centers for their help in ensuring that aquatic athletes everywhere have the chance to realize their true potential.”
As part of the Centers of Excellence program, athletes and coaches from around the world, especially from places where aquatic infrastructure is underdeveloped, can live and receive world-class coaching, often with scholarships from World Aquatics.
Among the success stories from this program, which started in 2013, is Marcelo Acosta of El Salvador, who became the first swimmer in his country to achieve an Olympic “A” cut.
The project is in partnership with GFH Financial Group and the Bahrain Swimming Association.
“GFH could not be more excited to partner in this initiative, which has such significance for the Kingdom of Bahrain and for global aquatics,” said GFH CEO and UTB Chairman, Hisham Alrayes. “The project is in line with GFH and UTB’s long-standing commitment and continued support to further develop and promote Bahrain as a leading regional center for education and sports tourism. We look forward to working with World Aquatics and the Bahrain Olympic Committee to create a unique platform to attract aquatic athletes from the region and around the world to gather, train and develop their skills in Bahrain and support the realization of their potential in sports together that of the Kingdom.’