UAE wild cards unveiled for Fina World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi

Yousuf Al Matrooshi and Layla Al Khatib will appear on Yas Island in December

Emirati swimmers, Yousuf Al Matrooshi and Layla Al Khati. Victor Besa / The National
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Yousuf Al Matrooshi and Layla Al Khatib have been unveiled as wild cards for the UAE in the 15th Fina World Swimming (short course) Championships in Abu Dhabi in December.

Al Matrooshi, a multiple national record holder, will also be the UAE’s sole flag bearer in the pool at the Tokyo Olympic Games in July.

The duo, who were nominated by the UAE Swimming Federation, are two of the most promising young swimming talents in the country and will get their opportunity at the Etihad Arena on Yas Island from December 16-21.

“I’m really excited to be competing in the Fina World Swimming Championships, especially because the event is taking place in my home country and with my family and friends watching on and supporting me,” Al Matrooshi said at the launch ceremony at the Emirates Palace on Tuesday.

“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 good results.”

Al Matrooshi, 18, will compete in the 100m and 200m freestyle at the Worlds and in the 100m freestyle in Tokyo.

Al Khatib, who moved to the UK to join Plymouth College last year to continue her education, was part of the UAE team at the Arab Championships in Morocco in 2019. She produced a string of brilliant performances, securing three gold medals and a silver to be selected for the Worlds.

“I’m very grateful to the UAE for this opportunity and I’m really looking forward to competing at the event, it’s so exciting,” Al Khatib, who turns 15 on August 14, said.

“I’ve lived in the UAE, and trained here my whole life, and to now represent the country at a global event, in its capital city, is really special.”

Fina president Husain Al Musallam said that everybody was hugely excited about Abu Dhabi hosting the Fina Worlds.

Aref Hamad Al Awani. Photo: Abu Dhabi Sports Council

“The announcement of the Emirati wildcards only adds to the sense of anticipation ahead of this prestigious event,” the Kuwaiti said.

“I am sure both Yousuf 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.

“As recently appointed Fina president, I’m very much looking forward to bringing the World Swimming Championships to Abu Dhabi for the first time, particularly during a year in which the country celebrates its 50th anniversary.”

Originally scheduled for 2020, the Fina World Swimming Championships will feature men’s and women’s events in the freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly along with the individual medley and relays.

Aref Al Awani, general secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said the announcement, combining the Emirati wildcard athletes, and unveiling of the event mascot, “Dana – hawksbill turtle,” is an important milestone building towards the event.

“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 pandemic challenge witnessed by the world,” he added.

“We are excited to host the championships and we look forward to welcoming almost 1,000 elite short-distance swimmers from all over the world, especially as it comes after the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which adds more excitement to the competition in Abu Dhabi.”

Updated: June 29, 2021, 4:53 PM