The Israeli Swimming Association (ISA) is floating the idea of allowing their relays to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games via the as-yet unscheduled 2024 European Aquatics Championships among ongoing political tension with Qatar.
Israel has said it is unlikely to send a team to February’s World Championships in Qatar, though World Aquatics denied earlier this year that any organization had asked them to move the World Championships from Qatar in spite of an Israeli journalist writing that they had.
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 week 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. The truce is so far holding through Tuesday.
While these negotiations are far-removed from any conversations about what the swimming program will do, Israel’s absence from the World Championships in Qatar would impact their ability to qualify relays for the Olympic Games.
World Aquatics Executive Director Brent Nowicki says that Israel has not petitioned the organization to allow the European Championships to count for Olympic qualifying yet.
“We confirm have not received any such petition, or specific inquiry, concerning the use of the European Championships as a qualifying event for Paris,” Nowicki told SwimSwam. “We are, obviously, aware of the qualification complexities that may arise if Israel chose not to compete in Doha. It also must be reiterated that the safety of all our athletes always remains a priority and this event is no different in that respect. For this reason, we do have an open dialogue with the federation concerning the ongoing conflict in their region, but no separate or unique qualification pathways have been discussed at this time.”
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.
All of this is moot if the European Championships don’t happen. That meet is trying to thread a needle between February’s World Championships, national Olympic qualifying meets in March and April, and the Olympic qualifying deadline in June. With so many meets on the schedule, interest in another championship is questionable. European officials have expressed confidence that they can still pull the event off, though.