FISA, the world governing body for rowing, held a National Federations Conference in London on March 6th and out of that conference has come some very radical proposals about the future of international rowing, especially at the Olympics.
Entitled “Driving Rowing’s Future” the conference had three aims:
- Retain a strong position in the Olympic movement
- Ensure the integrity of rowing
- Consolidate rowing’s position as a global citizen.
The key recommendation is to make all FISA events gender equal – in other words the same number of men’s and women’s events at all FISA events (which includes the Olympics).
The most dramatic element are the three proposals for changes to the Olympic programme:
- Remove the Lightweight men’s 4- and replace with an open weight women’s 4-
- Remove the Lightweight and heavyweight men’s 4- and replace with Lightweight men’s and women’s single sculls
- Remove the Lightweight men’s 4-, men’s and women’s double sculls and replace with men’s and women’s lightweight single sculls and open weight women’s 4-
What is clear is that whichever proposal (if any) gets adopted at the FISA Extraordinary Congress next year, 2016 will mark the last appearance in the Olympics of the Lightweight men’s 4-. On the face of it this will be a great loss. The lightweight fours produce some of the best racing of the whole Olympic rowing programme. But, there is a feeling within FISA that the smaller rowing nations do not have the strength in depth to be able to compete in the lightweight sweep events. The issue of the LM4- is that it’s a victim of its own success. The top lightweight men’s coxless fours are fast enough to compete with the heavyweights. There isn’t enough differentiation between the heavy and light fours to warrant a different event in the eyes of the general public. Therefore it looks likely that the LM4- will be sacrificed for the sake of gender equality and universality.
The ramifications of this move would be quite severe, as relegating the lightweight sweep events to the “International” rather than “Olympic” class events could well kill the discipline entirely. The LM2- is a popular event as it’s used as a feeder boat for the Olympic class LM4-. If that is removed then there is no drive for lightweight sweep rowing. For nations like GB and New Zealand, who are all about Olympic medals, it’s unlikely they would field lightweight sweep boats at the World Championships and World Cups.
My preference is for option one – a straight swap between the LM4- and W4-. But, those who champion the cause of universality will say that the medals in the W4- will still be won by the “usual” suspects (USA, NZ, GB etc). I think it’s more likely that lightweight singles will be introduced (option two or three) as this offers greater opportunity for single athletes in smaller rowing nations to make a mark.
The changes are not limited to the Olympic programme. There are also three proposals affecting the World Championship events:
- Remove M2+, BM4+, JM4+ and replace with LW2-, BLW2-, LW4- and BLW4-
- Remove M2+ & BM4+ and replace with LW2-, BLW2-, LW4-, BLW4- and JW4+
- Remove M2+, BM4+, JM4+ and replace with just the LW2- and BLW2-
Other proposals that have been put forward are that coxes should be gender neutral; in other words men can cox the women’s events and vice versa and that the weight limit of 55kg would apply regardless of gender.
Also of note, and something I touched on in a previous article, is a recommendation that a limit be set on the number of boats each nation can qualify for the Olympics; the suggestion is either 10 or 12. This would particularly hit nations like GB and New Zealand whose stated aim was to qualify in all 14 Olympic events.
Para-rowing hasn’t escaped the review, with a proposal that the distance be increased to the full 2000m. I would imagine for the AS singles that would be a formidable challenge to race double the distance, but for the LTAmix4+ it definitely makes sense.
Another interesting point is the suggestion to allow Olympic hosts to allow a racing distance of less than the international standard of 2000m. Could this mean that at some point in the future we could see an Olympic sprint regatta held in the heart of a host city?
All in all it’s been quite a momentous weekend for the sport of rowing. It remains to be seen which, if any, of these proposals are ratified at next February’s Extraordinary Congress.