After weeks of being tagged ‘tbc’ on the FINA website, it has finally been confirmed that the controversial second-leg race of the 10km World Cup will take place in the United Arab Emirates on 13 March.
The race has drawn widespread condemnation ever since it was proposed. It is the first time a FINA open water race has been held in the UAE since the death of Fran Crippen in 2010. According to a number of swimming websites, the race will be run by the same federation charged with having inadequate safety procedures following Crippen’s death and the individual in charge of that race, Ayman Saad, will once again oversee the event.
However, FINA, along with the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and the UAE Swimming Federation, insist that the race will only go ahead if new safety guidelines are met.
“Our absolute priority is to ensure their safety and to put on a stunning competition for swimmers and participants alike,” says His Excellency Aref Al Awani, General Secretary, Abu Dhabi Sports Council.
Abdulla Al Weheibi, UAE Swimming Federation’s General Secretary, adds:
“When you are organising a long distance swimming event like this there can be no expense spared to ensure it is a safe environment for all swimmers. We will have a world-class team of water safety experts located throughout the course to ensure that every part of the race is monitored and managed, to ensure the FINA Hosa 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup Abu Dhabi is a great success.”
Martin Suzan of event water safety management and consultancy company Swim Safety Ltd (and frequent provider of water safety at swimming events in the UK) will oversee the water safety team in charge of the event.
“We have a water safety team of over 40 people and enjoy great support from the coastguard, lifeguards, the UAE Swimming Federation, FINA and the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club. It really is a stellar safety team.”
Despite this reassurance, in January of this year USA Swimming confirmed that it would not provide support to any athletes wishing to attend the event.
Alex Meyer, who helped search for his friend and teammate Crippen at the 2010 race, spoke to H2Open earlier this month about the forthcoming event: “I think holding this World Cup again in the UAE under the same leadership is in poor taste, especially given that many – including myself – feel that FINA still hasn’t taken full responsibility for Fran’s death. It seems they’ve just tried to wipe their hands clean and move on as quickly as possible.”
The Abu Dhabi race has prize money of US$60,000 – three times the usual money offered at a FINA World Cup race and seen by some as a cynical ploy to draw in swimmers that might otherwise have boycotted the event.
An alternative race to the FINA Abu Dhabi race is taking place in Florida two weeks later, on 28 March: the 10km Crippen Cup held in memory of Fran Crippen. The current prize total for the Cup stands at US$22,000 but a campaign is underway to raise funds to make the race a viable financial alternative for athletes to the FINA race.