The Ligue Européenne de Natation (LEN) was founded in Budapest in 1926 – it is the oldest continental federation governing and coordinating the aquatic disciplines. LEN is second only to FINA, to which it is historically linked and closely related.
During the twentieth century LEN has introduced and led many innovations across the different disciplines, and today it is the true engine of the aquatic culture.
The dedication and collective efforts of many people, free from cultural barriers and from the limitations dictated by geo-political boundaries, has empowered and enabled our Organisation to become an effervescent and heterogeneous collector of ideas and innovations, to the extent of becoming a relevant and always current model for the aquatic disciplines.
The beginnings of LEN can be placed in the ’20s and more precisely during the 1925 FINA Congress in Prague when it became clear the need of creating a Governing Body which would lead the organisation of the European Championships. The first edition of our continental showcase had only few less than 20 swimming events, 4 diving events and one water polo tournament.
Since this first simple step the change has been constant. With time other disciplines like synchronised swimming, open water swimming, and the masters gained a precise, fundamental identity, becoming key additional pillars of LEN. More than 90 years later we have 43 events in swimming, 13 in diving, 9 in artistic swimming, 7 in open water swimming, each discipline features mixed events while Europe’s water polo is so strong that it has a stand-alone European Water Polo Championships in every even year (men and women), a two-week tournament unique of its kind.
Of course, it was not just an increase in the number of disciplines and medal events. The facts confirm LEN has undergone a radical change and over the years it has been able to continuously adapt to the needs of sports and social life.
Swimming has been the sport most watched sport on TV during the last three editions of the Olympics, 90 million Europeans practice swimming several times a month, at least every two weeks. The registered competitors are 1.5 million equally divided between males and females and 65% of them are under 18.
LEN also runs annual age-group events in each discipline, another Europe-only feature in the aquatic world – and more than 40 national federations enter these junior meets.
The major events traditionally fills the stands on site wherever they are staged, either in normal swimming complexes or in temporary pools set up in multipurpose arenas – the latter solution lifted the season-ending short-course swimming Europeans in new dimensions in recent years. According to the data provided by the European Broadcast Union, the major European aquatic events enjoy a cumulative viewership excessing 1 billion.
LEN continuously addresses the issues related to the educational, medical and legal aspects of our disciplines. At the same time marketing, sponsorship, advertising and promotion are also part of our everyday life. Those early days, with apparently a limited scope, represent today a permanent icon that makes us even more proud of the journey undertaken by the LEN Family.
After nine decades LEN reached a level perhaps not even the founding fathers dreamed of. We are able to offer significant financial support to our National Federations to participate at the main events and prize money for the best athletes. Besides, we launched a programme called “Learn to swim, prevent drowning”, a project truly covering the whole continent with the aim of decreasing the number lives lost due to lack of swimming skills.
In the following pages you will be able to go over again the facts, the people and the decisions that led to the current structure of LEN. A beginning characterised by the passion of a few and by limited economic resources that have however developed into a network of multinational committees and National Federations. These meet regularly and help to guide the facts and thoughts about all aquatic matters in Europe.
Another key term to identify LEN is for sure “openness”. The continental calendar of events has seen the introduction of the widest range of youth competitions, programmes and events always up to date, giving the opportunity for participation to everybody, in all aquatic disciplines.
Beyond this, we cannot but remember that the number of countries affiliated is currently 52, and thanks to them the process of LEN development will continue to operate in the best way for the aquatic community.