Written by Vanuatu Aquatics

In the middle of the South Pacific ocean, a story of steady growth is taking place in the aquatic arena. In a country where five years ago swimming did not exist as a sport on the archipelago of Vanuatu and no 25 or 50 metre pool in sight, now nine swimming clubs have sprouted as a result of the grassroots development campaign that their aquatic federation has run over the last few years.

Five years ago when Frank Vira, the Senior Development Officer for Vanuatu Aquatics, began teaching swimming with a group of 11 children he knew it was just the beginning. “I knew it was going to be the start of something good,” he says, “although back then I didn’t know there would be so many opportunities through swimming”. Swimming has provided a athletes and staff with career pathways. Several budding athletes have been able to travel internationally for the first time for training camps, and staff have gone as far as Asia to learn more about the sport.

Open water swimming has been taking place for decades in the most pristine water conditions. Vanuatu has a famous 3.2km race around the island of Iririki each year followed by an OWS race between the northern islands of  Santo to Aore, attracting people from across the globe. Pool swimming, however, was almost non-existent until recently.

While the Vanuatu Aquatics Federation (VAF) has yet to participate on an international stage, things are quite active on the ground. “The Federation is currently doing an excellent job with the input of a development officer, we have noticed a progress of Ni-Vanuatu taking part in swimming and that would have never been the case without all the work [VAF] is doing in communities” says Antoine Boudier, VASANOC President. VAF’s philosophy is to build up a strong foundation for the new sport to gather athlete interest, parent participation and corporate sponsor involvement so that high performance programs will be more sustainable in the future.

Vanuatu Aquatics is preparing for their international debut next year at Oceania Championships in PNG through a series of invitationals in makeshift ocean pools, the first of which was held in the Blue Lagoon on the island of Efate (a tourist dream spot). VAF successfully held their second invitational, Seafront Sprints, on the 5th October in the lead up to Age Group Nationals in November. It was first time a “pool” swimming event was held at the newly refurbished foreshore in Port Vila harbour using a series of floating noodle lane ropes and an army of anchors. 

As swimming is a new sport to the small island nation, it was the first time for many ni-Vanuatu to see a swim meet. The competition drew large crowds of spectators packing out the seafront and stadium seating. 

VAF’s grassroots approach has helped moved the sport outside of the capital city and into the rural areas. Out of the nine clubs, four were from outer communities bringing the meet to an astounding 130 swimmers on an island with the population of 66,000.

The lack of a 50m pool in Port Vila Vanuatu is not enough to stop the Federation from achieving goals and breaking down barriers. VAF uses a team of creative minds to make the best possible environment for their swimmers in an incredibly low resourced country.

Meets in these makeshift pools have increased interest from local organisations, to whom VAF aims to showcase the success of swimming to eventually have a sustainable sea pool for elite athletes to train in. “If we can have a swimming pool that will help a lot ,we could start with a salt water pool as we have a very big natural pools in town, but looking at more and more individual swimmers taking parts in activity that is a sign and a clear indication that in a near future we will have Ni-Vanuatu taking parts in regional and international competition” says Boudier. “The sport is as good as they coach and administrate and looking at what as been done lately, I’m positive that swimming will be one of the sports that Vanuatu will be taking part in a near future internationally”. 


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