Idlib: First swimming federation promises to build cadres, organize sport
Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim
With happiness and optimism, swimmer Mustafa Shamma received the news of the recent formation of a swimming federation in Idlib and eagerly anticipates the organization of the sector for participation in local championships, amidst hopes of achieving the dream of participating in international tournaments.
A joy in the hope that it will be completed with the emergence of a sports body that organizes swimming, after years of personal efforts by coaches and swimmers to hold championships, in the absence of teams and clubs, and laws that determine the competitions, and infrastructure like other sports.
Shamma (21 years old) told Enab Baladi, that swimming is one of the enjoyable sports, but swimmers in northern Syria suffer from the absence of infrastructure and organization of this sport, considering that the formation of the federation helps to make up for the deficit.
The young man aspires to participate in international championships, but achieving this initially requires organizing local championships that demonstrate the existing capabilities and attract the attention of external bodies to invite swimmers and clubs to participate.
Shamma sees that championships ignite the spirit of competition among swimmers and coaches and create the motivation to stimulate and bring out the best of their abilities and skills.
Developing cadres and infrastructure
On January 11, the Directorate of Sports and Youth affiliated with the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) in Idlib announced the establishment of a swimming federation composed of a chairman, a secretary, and five members.
The swimming federation mainly supervises building available human capabilities, including coaches, lifeguards, and referees, and granting the necessary certificates.
Majd Khalifa, a swimming coach and the secretary of the federation, told Enab Baladi that the federation is primarily responsible for organizing and developing the sport, not only through organizing and preparing championships but also by working to create the necessary infrastructure including swimming pools and more to develop the sport and increase interest in it.
Khalifa added that the federation develops the sport by improving the available human resources that oversee it, training new cadres of coaches, referees, and lifeguards, and examining their capabilities on an annual basis.
Preparing for the summer season
The announcement of the federation comes at a time when swimming is less practiced, especially in the winter due to cold weather and the absence of indoor pools.
The head of the swimming federation, Abdul-Qader Jalabi, said that coaches and cadres worked before the formation of the federation to develop swimming, in cooperation with several pools to train swimmers of different ages, and they succeeded at the end of summer 2023 with support from the Directorate of Sports in organizing the first swimming championship in northern Syria.
After several meetings between experienced coaches and skilled personnel, and with efforts from coach Sami Badleh, the head of athletics, and with support from the General Directorate of Sports and Youth, these human resources managed to form the swimming federation, according to Jalabi.
Jalabi explained that the federation primarily aims to create a generation of swimmers for all free, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly movements, organizing them into a dedicated register at the Directorate of Sports and Youth, and supporting them from all sides, noting that there are currently six clubs, each containing at least five swimmers.
He mentioned that the federation works on preparing for the summer season, organizing championships, setting plans for education and training, preparing referees and lifeguards, and preparing a study for necessary infrastructure according to the available capabilities at the Directorate of Sports, indicating that this will include a special study of indoor pools.
One of the federation’s goals is to establish training centers for children, adolescents, and youth, to solve the problem of drowning in pools and rivers, and to polish the skills of the young swimmers and open doors for them to participate in international and regional championships.
Swimming in Idlib lacks infrastructure, with the absence of an official body organizing championships before the formation of the federation, despite timid attempts to organize races and championships, including a free swimming race for children in 2021.
On September 3, 2023, the first “Qalamoun” swimming championship was held for one day in Idlib, with eight teams participating as well as individual registration from swimmers who wished to participate, and the number of participants in the championship reached 70 swimmers from different age groups.
The championship, a first of its kind, took place at the Municipal Pool in Idlib, and Khaled al-Khatib, one of the organizers of the championship, said that it was sponsored by Damascus Qalamoun Club and supervised by the Directorate of Sports and Youth in the Salvation Government, and organized by the Roqi for Culture and Development team.
The championship included races of 50 meters and 100 meters freestyle for men only, 50 meters breaststroke, 50 meters backstroke, and a special relay race for participating teams and pools.
The championship was organized without prior training of referees and coaches and without informing the competitors about the rules and regulations of the races; hence, the organizing bodies had to not count errors due to the swimmers’ ignorance of the rules.
Despite not being well-prepared, the atmosphere was competitive, and swimmers were trained in rivers and water bodies not equipped for swimming.
Pools as a summer relief
In the past years, there has been a problem of lack of interest in swimming in Idlib compared to other sports, and with the deterioration of the living and economic situation, pools on the outskirts of villages and cities were more of an outlet than a place for regular practice of the sport under the supervision of coaches.
Pools become active in the summer welcoming families to relax and spend time for an entrance fee.
However, the demand declined in the summer of 2023, and private pool owners sought solutions by offering reduced rates, while some preferred to open the pool to everyone like public pools, and set low fees for youth entry.
The rent for a private pool usually costs $50 per day and $25 at night, while pool rent for parties and events reached $125 due to the rental of necessary chairs and tables for the occasion.
Residents see these fees as high and exorbitant, as $50 roughly equates to 1500 Turkish lira (the currency in circulation), while the best wages for a worker do not exceed 70 to 100 Turkish lira (about three dollars), and they prefer to spend this amount on priorities such as food and medicine.
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Idlib, Anas al-Khouli, contributed to this report.
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