Swimming event may lack water

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Swimming event may lack water

Concerns are mounting that there could be a shortage of water at the world’s biggest swimming tournament.

The 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships, set to kick off next month in Gwangju, may end up opening without enough drinking water to go around as sponsorship agreements with the international tournaments governing body mean that only Chinese bottled water can currently be used at the event.

FINA (Federation Internationale de Natation), or the International Swimming Federation, has said Chinese beverage company Nongfu Spring, a sponsor of the event, will provide 400,000 bottles of water, according to the Organizing Committee of the 18th FINA World Championships Gwangju on Sunday.

But 400,000 500-milliliter (16.9-fluid-ounce) water bottles are not going to be anywhere near enough for the international water sports event, which lasts longer than a month. The organizing committee estimates they will need at least three times that amount.

Gwangju will host the FINA World Aquatics Championships, set to run from July 12 to 28, followed by the World Masters Championships, for amateurs, which will run from Aug. 5 to 18. Local organizers anticipate needing 1.27 million bottles of water for both events, with 870,000 being used for the World Aquatics Championships alone.

FINA, headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, signed a contract with Nongfu Spring, the bottled water company based in Hangzhou, China, in March, and has maintained that Nongfu Spring will exclusively supply water for its competitions.

According to local organizers, FINA has now requested that Nongfu provide more water, but at this stage it may be too late to get it through customs and into the country in time for the competition.

To ensure that the swimming contest doesn’t run out of water, local organizers are now scrambling to find ways to supplement the water supply with Korean brands.

The Gwangju organizing committee in a press statement Monday said that the Nongfu bottled water will be provided for the World Championships within the competition venue, while it will separately “procure water outside the venue for volunteers and operating personnel.”

Local organizers have determined that despite Nongfu being an official sponsor of the World Aquatics Championships, domestic water could still be provided outside the venue and also for the World Masters Championships.

The organizing committee added in the statement, “We will provide bottled water without failure during the competitions.”

The Gwangju city government and organizing committee have also been put in a difficult position as the Nongfu Spring water provided in plastic bottles goes against the environment-friendly image it has been aiming for at the championship.

The Gwangju city government had been planning to not use disposable plastic bottles at all during the competition. Thus, the organizing committee had been looking into ways to set up vehicles to provide water at the sporting venue and plaza, instead of plastic bottles. They also plan to provide free resuable tumblers.

Yet there is criticism that the organizers have not concluded negotiations over how they were going to pull off the vehicle-based water supply with the championship only a little over a month away.

Heat wave warnings were issued in the city of Gwangju last month, on May 15 and 16. This was the earliest heat wave warning since 2008 and could signal an especially hot summer, heightening concerns over the lack of drinking water during the competition period.

A Gwangju city government official said, “We plan to supply water without a hitch, operate 1,500 resting areas and install cooling mists during the competition period to combat the heat wave.”

This marks the first time the FINA World Championships will be hosted in Korea, in the cities of Gwangju and Yeosu, and organizers expect some 15,000 participants from 200 countries to attend.

BY CHOI KYEONG-HO [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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