Israel's flag flew for the first time at a pool in Dubai on Tuesday afternoon as the national swim team representing the Jewish State arrived for the opening of a worldwide competition.
Israel's five-member team is competing in the 10th FINA World Short Course Swimming Championship that begins today (Wednesday).
It is also the first time the world swimming competition is being held in an Arab city, according to the website of the Gulf emirate's Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex, where the pool is located. The sports complex -- named for the Crown Prince of Dubai -- was inaugurated on Sunday and opened just in time for the international swimming competition.
Gal Nevo, the first to walk onto the pool deck Wednesday morning, competed in the opening heat of the first event, the men's 200-meter freestyle. He finished 37th in the 78-man field.
Guy Marcos Barnea, another member of the team, competed in the 100-meter backstroke heat competition. Amit Ivri, Alon Mandel and Johnathan Koplev are also swimming in the competition.
Nevo told a reporter from the Associated Press after finishing his swim that the team had arrived late because “there was some problem with the security.” He added, however, that he feels “lucky as an athlete being here, because the average Israeli guy probably wouldn't visit here.”
The United States and Australia also both sent teams to compete in the Championships.
A crack undercover security unit greeted the team upon landing and escorted the swimmers to a hotel separate from the rest of the competitors, according to a report broadcast on Channel 5 Sports TV. Their equipment was also scrutinized at the airport by security personnel, who will guard the Israelis around the clock.
Initial reports said the Israeli swimmers were not provided with entry visas, nor did they receive entry stamps in any of their passports, although the Dubai government had allegedly guaranteed visas on arrival. Jordanian Air refused to take the delegation to Dubai without the visas, causing further delays.
Ultimately, the team did not arrive until the day before competitions began, giving the swimmers barely a day in which to prepare for the meet.
Israel's representative to the International Olympic Committee, Alex Giladi, also was prevented initially from obtaining a visa, according to a report published on the website of Swimming World Magazine.
The Israel Broadcasting Authority's television division, which has the broadcast rights to telecast the finals each night, also had difficulty acquiring visas for its crew until just before the competition began, according to the report.
According to a source in Dubai quoted by a swimmer, the Israelis were granted visas late in the evening, 24 hours prior to the start of the competition.
“There is nothing sinister about it,” the Dubai source claimed. “They were not the only ones to experience a slight delay in their visas, and there was never any intention to keep the Israeli team away. They were granted their visas a matter of hours later than had originally been expected. This is not about politics but sport, and the Israeli swimmers are welcome guests.” The source was not identified.