An agreement to build a new state-of-the-art aquatics sports and education centre to help Bahraini swimmers become Olympic medal contenders has been signed at the Bahrain Financial Harbour in Manama.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was penned between the Bahrain Olympic Committee (BOC), World Aquatics and GFH Financial Group (GFH) yesterday at a ceremony held under the patronage of Supreme Council for Youth and Sport (SCYS) first deputy chairman, General Sports Authority chairman and BOC president Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
The new facility is set to be established at the University of Technology Bahrain (UTB) in Salmabad.
Details of the project cost or its planned completion date have not yet been specified.
“We look forward to working with World Aquatics and the Bahrain Olympic Committee to create a unique platform to attract aquatics athletes from the region and around the world to gather, train and develop their skills in Bahrain and to support the realisation of their potential in sport alongside that of the kingdom,” said GFH chief executive Hisham Alrayes.
The centre of excellence aims to be a regional hub for aquatics sports and comes as part of an initiative to help aspiring Bahraini athletes to achieve their sporting goals.
The plans announced include new pools capable of hosting events in five of the six World Aquatics sports: swimming, water polo, artistic swimming, diving, and high diving with open water swimming events already being well-served from Bahrain’s beaches.
Bahrain has competed in swimming events at every Olympic Games since Sydney 2000 and world-class training facilities would help the nation’s swimmers compete with the sport’s best and attract the leading coaching professionals.
The new World Aquatics Centre in Bahrain would also serve as the new training base for the Bahrain Swimming Association. In addition, World Aquatics will open a regional office in Bahrain.
“This is an historic agreement where the private sector will fully align with the government’s vision in promoting sports tourism in the country,” said a delighted BOC secretary general Faris Al Kooheji.
He went on to praise His Majesty’s representative for humanitarian work and youth affairs and SCYS chairman Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa as well as Shaikh Khalid for their contributions to sport in the kingdom.
The signing ceremony was attended by some of the biggest names in water sports, including American swimmer and three-time Olympic medallist Anthony Ervin.
“The new state-of-the-art facilities and coaching opportunities will help future athletes compete in several disciplines, including swimming, diving, artistic swimming and water polo,” said Ervin.
“It will draw in all the best talents, not just from the region, but also the rest of the world potentially.
“I honestly believe Olympic medallists will be developed here and inspire future generations.”
Two-time Olympic gold medallist and Zimbabwe Sports Minister Kirsty Coventry believes the centre could provide a platform for aspiring Bahraini athletes to one day compete for medals at the Olympics.
“I had a dream as a nine-year-old girl to one day compete at the Olympic Games and my dream came true,” she revealed. “This centre will allow many young girls and boys to have that same experience.
“We’re looking forward to seeing Bahraini athletes win medals at the Games in the next decade or so.”
Athletes will receive on-site coaching and educational support through World Aquatics’ development programmes, said Dr Shaikha Rana bint Isa Al Khalifa.
“Athletes will receive resources as well as academic assistance and career guidance,” she added.
“This centre will help develop educational tourism in Bahrain, and will provide opportunities for collaborations with World Aquatics in the future.
“It will attract not just Bahrainis, but also international students interested in pursuing athletics as a career.”
The signing ceremony was also attended by World Aquatics president Husain Al Musallem, who added: “Bahrain has come forward to make the dreams of athletes true, to develop aquatics sports in the country, and, most importantly, to open the door for other sports in the country to develop.”
World Aquatics currently has operating development centres in Thailand, Senegal, South Africa and the US.