Officials from the Israeli swimming & water polo associations and World Aquatics held a call on Tuesday to discuss solutions to the country’s Olympic qualifying procedure if Israel is unable to compete at the 2024 World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar for security reasons.
The Israel Swimming Association confirmed the meeting, and for the first time publicly acknowledged conversations requesting alternative pathways allowing them to skip the World Championships among the ongoing political situation in the region. SwimSwam previously reported that Israel was planning to ask for the still-unscheduled 2024 European Aquatics Championships to be allowed as a qualifying event for their relays.
Per the ISA, ten representatives from World Aquatics received a “general overview of the security situation in Israel” at the start of the call. The ISA says that sirens began to sound during the call, requiring participants to enter protected spaces.
Here’s how their absence from Worlds will impact pool swimmers:
Paris is using a new relay qualification system where all selections are made based on the 2023 and 2024 World Championships. Relays that finished top 3 at the 2023 World Championships automatically qualify for Paris. The 13 next-fastest relays from the combined 2023 and 2024 World Championship results will also earn invites to make 16 per event.
In previous editions, there were wildcard slots available where countries could post relay qualifications from any Olympic qualifying meet within a given time period to occupy one of the final four invite slots.
Israel’s men’s 400 free relay was 7th at the 2023 World Championships and so are likely to earn an invite to the Olympics. The men’s 800 free relay and women’s 800 free relay each placed 10th, which gives them a strong position as well.
The men’s 400 medley relay (17th) and women’s 400 medley relay (19th) are on the outside looking in right now, pending scratches of nations ahead of them, while their mixed medley is 15th and precariously on the bubble for an invite.
Israel entered just two relays in Tokyo, a men’s 800 free relay (10th place) and a mixed 400 medley relay (8th place). Increasing depth from a roster of athletes who are trained mostly overseas and/or by foreign coaches, though, would give them hopes to build off that historic final in Tokyo for more relays in Paris.
While the European Aquatics championships would be a straightforward alternative qualifier for Israeli pool swimmers, the path wouldn’t be so simple for the other aquatic disciplines. That includes Matan Roditi, who placed 4th in the open water 10km race at the 2023 World Championships, missing the initial qualification opportunity by one spot.
In artistic (synchronized) swimming, where the country placed 5th in the team event and 4th in the duet, the country is not-yet qualified, but another 5th place finish at the 2024 World Aquatics Championships in the team event would qualify them for both.
The Israeli women’s water polo team finished 10th at the 2023 World Championships, which would have given them an outside-chance at one of the four qualifying spots at Worlds (though they still have another chance by being the top-placing non-qualified team at the European Championships in January).
In open water swimming and water polo, the nature of the sports require competition to determine results (versus pool swimming, where times are a pretty close simulation for competition). In Artistic Swimming, while recent rules changes have dramatically reduced the subjectivity, having judgement on different days and different times and possibly different judges could also impact results.
Israel’s exception with Qatar comes from the small nation of half-a-million citizens financially supporting the Hamas organization that attacked Israel on October 7, leading to the death of at least 1,200 Israelis and the taking of over 240 hostages by Hamas and other groups in the Gaza strip. Qatar has hosted an overseas political office of Hamas since 2012, and many top Hamas officials live in Qatar.
Qatar says that this allows the country to maintain some political influence with Hamas, which it has demonstrated in the last two months by negotiating the release of hostages.
Last month saw Qatari officials make their first public visit to Israel to help finalize the details of a then-shaky truce, resulting in Hamas releasing dozens of Israeli hostages and Israel releasing more than 100 Palestinian prisoners. While that truce ended earlier this week, Qatar has remained as host to negotiations between the two countries and is continuing to push leaders from around the region to find a “comprehensive ceasefire” and end the ongoing war.
Israel did say that if the Israeli Security Service (Shin Bet) allows them to travel to Doha from a security perspective, they would attend the World Championships there, implying that the aquatics associations wouldn’t impede participation if government officials deemed the trip to be safe. According to the ISA, World Aquatics “expressed sympathy with the tragedy that Israel is going through,” and will consider all possible solutions at another meeting to be held in about 10 days.