FINA has decided to postpone the 2021 World Junior Swimming Championships until August 2022. The event was originally scheduled for August 24-29, 2021 in Kazan, Russia, but will instead be held during yet-announced dates in August of 2022.
The decision to pull out of the event amid the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic comes after some nations, including notably Australia, announced that they would not send a team to the 2021 meet because of coronavirus concerns. While Australia has escaped the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, that means that the country has very limited natural immunity to the virus.
While a late start to the vaccine program has begun to gain steam (as of publishing, Bloomberg reports that 4.5 million vaccine doses have been given in Australia – enough to vaccinate about 8.8% of the population), they still lag behind much of the developed world. Olympic athletes and coaches were jumped to the front of the vaccine line, but the country decided to bypass the World Junior Championships, along with the World University Games, rather than continue to press athletes to the forefront.
While FINA has not released the news to media yet, the host All-Russia Swimming Federation announced the postponement this week.
A translation of the letter, posted in Russian:
The health and safety of our athletes and all those participating in FINA events is our top priority. There is no doubt that Kazan is more than ready to host athletes in the safest possible conditions this summer. However, in fulfilling our duty and mission to hold competitions at the highest level, we must also ensure that athletes from different countries have equal opportunities to participate in such prestigious competitions.
We understand that, despite all the measures taken, the risks and consequences cannot be completely eliminated. In addition, international travel in the current situation remains one of the biggest problems for parents of underage athletes and is a major risk factor that is very difficult to control. In addition, travel restrictions imposed by various countries can be tightened again at short notice, depending on the epidemiological situation.>It is anticipated that the aforementioned factors could lead to difficulties that will affect the potential number of young talented competitors in the highly anticipated World Junior Swimming Championships in Russia.
After a thorough discussion of this issue, the FINA management came to the decision to consider the possibility of postponing the planned championship until the end of August 2022.
The 2021 World Aquatics Championships were postponed last year, early in the pandemic, to May 2022 in Fukuoka, Japan.
The World Junior Championships are held every 2 years and play host to the top junior-aged swimmers in the world. Female swimmers aged 14-17 and male swimmers aged 15-18, based on their age at the end of the year of competition, are eligible for the event.
While individuals in this age range are not exempt from the serious complications of COVID-19, including death, they are far less likely to show severe symptoms or any symptoms at all. Many vaccines are also now approved for individuals in these younger age ranges.
FINA has not responded to a question about whether they would extend age eligibility by one year to capture those athletes who would have been in their final year of age eligibility in 2021. Other postponed events, including the World University Games, have extended age eligibility.
At the most recent World Junior Swimming Championships in Budapest in 2019, the United States led all nations with 37 total medals, including 18 gold. Russia was 2nd with 7 gold in 22 total medals, followed by Australia (4 gold, 13 total), Italy (3 gold, 12 total), and Canada (2 gold, 12 total).