The 2023 FINA World Championships, hosted by Doha, Qatar, are slated to be held in November 2023, the latest they’ve ever been held, according to the Olympic Council of Asia.
The FINA World Championships, which are held every other year, typically take place in the summer. The meet’s traditional timing has been disrupted in recent years, however, as the 2021 championships were postponed a year due to COVID-19. Now, the championships, hosted in Fukoka, Japan, will be held earlier than usual in the year, from May 13-29. The only earlier championships have occurred in 1998 and 2007, years in which the meet was held in Australia, which experiences its summer during the United States’ traditional winter months.
In contrast, the latest the meet has ever gone into the year is mid-September, when in 1994 the meet lasted from September 1 to 11 in Italy. The 2023 change allows the meet to be held during a season in Qatar when temperatures in and out of the water are optimal, at 24-25 degrees Celsius, or 75.2 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Olympic Council of Asia. The change, however, poses particular challenges to the swimming community.
Crowded Fall Schedules, Shortened Gap to Paris
September through December are some of the busiest months for swimmers. International swimmers can expect to compete in the International Swimming League, FINA World Cup, and FINA Short Course World Championships on the international level, all within the span of a few months. Competitions like the ISL and FINA World Cup involve multiple weeks of competition, and many swimmers already have to choose the competitions they want to compete at.
Not only do swimmers have those meets, but they also have national meets occurring at that time and more regional international meets, like the LEN European Short Course Championships, Asian Swimming Championships, and the African Swimming Championships.
Swimmers have recently come forward about the toll this has taken on them. Arno Kamminga told SwimSwam that he raced virtually every weekend since August, through the SC World Championships in December. Kliment Kolesnikov said the 2021 ISL season has been “tough” because it was longer than last year.
The later 2023 championships also shortens the gap to the Paris 2024 Olympics. The Olympics will begin on July 26, 2024, giving swimmers about eight or nine months between the two major meets. In contrast, swimmers had about a year between the 2015 World Championships and the 2016 Olympics, and a similar timeline between the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Olympics.
Tough Timing for College Athletes
The November change also provides unique scheduling challenges for NCAA athletes, as the meet falls right in the middle of the collegiate season in the United States. This is a problem for the United States, but also many other countries, as NCAA athletes represent many countries in international competition.
During November, particularly the weekend before Thanksgiving break, swimmers have their big fall invitationals. The FINA World Championship is raced in long course meters, so college athletes who choose to attend the meet cannot use their times to qualify for NCAA Championships based on current rules.
So far, the meet organizers have just said it will take place in November, without releasing a specific period within that month. The Masters World Championships are expected to follow, which has become the tradition in the last few years.
The change doesn’t just affect swimming. The FINA World Championships include six different sports, including water polo. Male water polo athletes have their NCAA Championship at the beginning of December, so it will become a juggling act for those athletes who are trying to do both.
World Championships in the Middle East
This is not the first instance a major world sports championship has been shifted because of the weather. The 2022 FIFA World Cup, also to be hosted in Doha, has been shifted from its May-July schedule to December, due to Qatar’s intense summer weather and heat. The 2022 World Cup is the first to be held in the Middle East, and part of the shift also resulted in a shortening of the event to just 28 days.
It is unclear whether the FINA World Championships will be shorter due to the scheduling change, since the specific dates haven’t been released.
- The later meet timing will likely benefit open water swimmers. In November, which is a transitional month to cooler temperatures in Qatar, water temperatures are between 75 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. In contrast, water temperatures in the summer months can get up to 91 degrees Fahrenheit.
Doha has already announced major plans for the meet. In 2016, as part of their bid to host, organizers said the events will take place in two main hubs, the Aspire Zone and the Museum of Islamic Art. In 2022, organizers said all competition and non-competition venues will be located within 15 kilometers, or about 9 miles, from each other.
The Aspire Dome, which will host swimming, synchronized swimming, and diving, will be transformed into an aquatics arena, with temporary seating for 10,000 spectators, organizers said. The venue previously hosted the 2010 World Championship in athletics, and the 2018 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
Hosting in temporary pools in multi-sport stadiums has become the norm for World Championships in swimming, though at the 2019 World Championships, it was a permanent pool with capacity for 4,000 that was expanded to 15,000 seats for the event.
Recent hosting capacities, swimming:
- 2019 Gwangju – Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center – 15,000 seats (expanded pool)
- 2017 Budapest – Danube Arena – 8,000 seats (expanded pool)
- 2015 Kazan – Kazan Arena – 15,000 seats (soccer stadium at reduced capacity)
- 2013 Barcelona – Palau Sant Jordi – 17,000 seats (multi-sport arena with temporary pool)
- 2011 Shanghai – Shanghai Oriental Sports Center – 5,000 seats (permanent pool)
The Director General of the Doha Organizing Committee, Khaleel Al Jabir, said that sports in general have been at the center of Doha’s growth in recent years.
“Doha is a modern city, an established international destination; it is a city passionate about sport,” he said in a news release.
2023 will be the first time the multi-discipline FINA World Aquatics Championships have taken place in the Middle East.
The Middle East in general, though, has been particularly appealing to international swim meet organizers in the past 15 years, with the 2021 SC Worlds taking place in Abu Dhabi and the 2014 SC Worlds taking place in Doha. Dubai has also been a popular venue for years, with the 2004 Open Water Championships, 2010 SC World Championships, and 2013 World Junior Swimming Championships all being hosted there.
Both Doha and Dubai have been semi-regular venue cities for the FINA World Cup circuit.
The 2025 and 2027 FINA World Championships will take place in Kazan and Budapest, respectively, two cities that enjoy similar hosting popularity to Doha.