FINA President visits Pacific Islands with Olympic swimming stars Ian Thorpe & Cate Campbell
Recently FINA President Captain Husain Al-Musallam from Kuwait along with FINA executives and Olympic multi-medalist swimmers Ian Thorpe and Cate Campbell from Australia visited Palau, Fiji, Tonga and the Cook Islands (Rarotonga & Aitutaki) for the first time.
The purpose of the visit was to raise the profile of swimming and look at ways they can help develop swimming as a sport throughout the Pacific region. Included in this are plans to launch the Swim For All Programme plus help with building facilities in the island nations for training in the sport. On their visit it was announced Tonga will be getting a new pool next year and the Cook Islands are currently in the development stages for theirs.
The FINA Bureau member for Oceania, Romani Katoa, who is the first and only Pacific Islander to hold this position and is also currently the Cook Islands Aquatic Federation President was on hand to receive the delegation to the Cook Islands along with the Kings Representative, Sir Tom & Lady Marsters, the Hon Prime Minister Mark Brown and the Minister of Sports, Hon Mac Mokoroa.
On Rarotonga the group visited the Nikao Social Centre site where the Cook Islands Swimming in School's Programme is run from Monday to Friday from ages 5//6 up to 11/12 years old. The schools included in this programme include Api'i Nikao, Rutaki School, Papa'aroa School, Te Uki Ou, Takitumu School, Akatemia and St Josephs schools.
On average the Cook Islands Swimming in Schools programme coaches Kieran and Leslie Chan teach over 1100 swimming lessons per week during Terms 1-4 each year.
"We really appreciated Ian and Cate’s assistance in the short time that they had with the kids. We had two groups of children swimming on the day, one group was the Learn to Swim programme (6 through to 11 years old) and the other group was from our local development squad (13 to 17 years old).
It was an amazing experience for the kids and for both Cate and Ian who were able to easily and comfortably fit right in and work with the kids at both levels. They are truly great ambassadors for the sport of swimming and for the Paciifc." Katoa said.
The secondary purpose of the visit to the Nikao Social Centre site was to show the location of the development of the salt-water swimming pool at Nikao Social Centre. Oire Nikao is the sporting hub of the Cook Islands, where all sports facilities are located, so the location of the pool was a natural addition to the beach side area. The reason the Cook Islands prefers a saltwater pool, is that it is cheaper to build as well as lower costs for operations and maintenance.
The CIAF president said "We would be utilizing a solar pump to reticulate the saltwater from the lagoon every week. This is better for the environment as opposed to using fresh water and chlorine. The design and size of the pool will also be built up along the foreshore area to withstand high seas during cyclones and built like a concrete bunker.
We’ve take this approach from what you see along the coastline of Australia and a couple in NZ, where coastal saltwater pools were very popular in the early 1900’s and still exist today."
The delegation also paid a visit to Aitutaki where they went to check out the Swimming in Schools programme in Ootu with children from Vaitau School who range in age from 6-11 years.
"Aitutaki is our first outreach to the outer islands as one of the main objectives of CIAF is to have every school in the Cook Islands teaching our children how to swim and water safety awareness. We have two dedicated coaches there who have been instrumental in getting this off the ground and we aim to have our trainer from NZ to train and certify more teachers and coaches in April 2023.
We don’t have funding for the outer island programme, so we do this when we have some leftover money." Katoa said
As part of the Aitutaki trip the group also looked at various locations within the lagoon to host international Open Water swimming events for athletes of various levels - Elite, Developing, Masters.
At the moment most of the FINA World Cup Open Water events are held in the Northern Hemisphere - Europe, the US and Asia. There are none held in Oceania so far but there are plans to change this as there is a huge demand for Oceania countries to host.
Katoa says that Oceania has the most pristine waters in the world so it makes sense that Pacific Island nations should host a FINA Oceania Swim Series.
"It would comprise of countries in the South Pacific (Australia, NZ, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomons, Tonga, Samoa, American Samoa and the Cooks) and a similar series in the North Pacific, Palau, Guam, Marshall Islands, FSM and Northern Mariannas for example." he added.
Katoa believes that Pacific Islanders have the DNA to become future Olympic, World and Commonwealth Swimming Champions and with the right resources and training support he believes they can turn the world of swimming around and would love to see any one of the Pacific Islands kids up there on the podium some day in our generation.
As a Pacific Islander in the position he's in, he says it's also very important to have this 'seat at the table' because islanders have a unique view and approach to swimming in the Pacific.
"Although we are surrounded by the ocean, one would assume that we know how to swim, unfortunately, this is not the case and over 90% of islanders do not know how to swim properly. Take a look at the number of Maori and Pacific Island drownings in NZ as an example. This needs to change and we all need to work together to get the majority of our populations learning to swim from a very young age." he says
"We are wanting to change this, so that the future children/generation will at least know how to swim properly and have good water safety awareness.
The majority of our island members do not have swimming pools to teach swimming or the resources and capacity to develop and promote swimming at a high level. Although it would be nice to have a pool, we do not let this get in the way of teaching the 'Swim For Life' and 'Swim For All' programmes under the FINA programme. We teach swimming in the safety of the lagoon and or rivers."
He believes that In the past, Pacific Island countries have been marginalized but now with new reforms and good governance practice guidelines introduced by the new President of FINA they've have been able to better resource and fund many of the grass roots development programmes. These include training more teachers and coaches to teach swimming and water safety as well as provide direct support to emerging development and elite athletes.
His aim is to have Pacific Islanders not only qualifying but competing in semi-finals and finals and hopefully produce an Olympic, Commonwealth and/or World Champion by Brisbane Olympics 2032.
"In the past, Pacific Islanders were natural swimmers, divers, surfers, fishermen, sailers and watermen and women when Europeans first entered the Pacific. Look at Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii who revolutionised swimming and surfing winning 5 Olympic Medals."
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