There are now 207 member nations of the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA) after the addition of three new nations was approved this week in meetings in Doha.
Gabon (GAB), St-Maarten (MAA), and Belize (BIL) were all approved for membership, adding one African, one Caribbean, and one Central American federation, respectively.
Gabon is an equatorial nation on the west coast of Africa with a population of 1.4 million people. Earlier this year, the Gabonese Swimming Federation held its first ever National Championship meet, and their star swimmers is Mael Ambonguilat, a 16-year old who represented the country at the Youth African Games earlier this year with a 29.64 in the 50 free.
Gabon, lifted by an increasing petroleum industry, has continued to improve its national sports program. That includes entering its first-ever team-sport entry into the 2012 Olympics when they sent their men’s soccer team to participate in the Games, which for soccer is a strictly under-23 competition. They also earned their first Olympic medal that year with a silver in Taekwondo.
The 37,000 populated St-Maarten already has some swimming infrastructure thanks to the Carib Swim Team. The team is 21-years old, despite no national participation in FINA until now, and at over 80 swimmers is the largest in the country.
The country is one of many that has emerged from the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010. The national federation represents the southern third of the island of St. Martin, and it is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
St-Maarten holds similar status to Curacao, Aruba, and the Netherlands as part of the four countries that make up the Netherlands – similarly, though not as famously, as the United Kingdom. The other two-thirds of the island is a part of France.
Athletes from St-Maarten are likely to compete at the Olympics under the flags of the Netherlands from 2016-onward, making a tough uphill battle for their athletes, as the IOC no longer allows non-sovereign nations to form their own Olympic committees.
FINA, however, is more lenient on the matter of sovereignty, and frequently allows nations without National Olympic Committees to participate.
In the future, this is another step for St-Maarten to participate in the Central American and Caribbean Games – the biggest regional event for that area. They were one of 6 nations approved to participate in that event henceforth, despite not having a NOC: Martinique, Guadeloupe, Curacao, Saint Maarten, Turks & Caicos, Anguilla and Montserrat.
Belize is located on the eastern coast of Central America, has a population of about 341,000, and whose official language is English.
While Belize is fairly underdeveloped in its competitive swimming, there is a very strong triathlon culture in the nation, which has given rise to many open water races in the nation.
This summer, they hosted three open water races organized by one Denise Diaz. 15-year old Kian Ancona has been the dominant face in those races. The swims caught significant national attention and could be a leaping-off point for the nation’s swim program.