FISA Conference Review

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:

  1. Retain a strong position in the Olympic movement
  2. Ensure the integrity of rowing
  3. 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:

  1. Remove the Lightweight men’s 4- and replace with an open weight women’s 4-
  2. Remove the Lightweight and heavyweight men’s 4- and replace with Lightweight men’s and women’s single sculls
  3. 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:

  1. Remove M2+, BM4+, JM4+ and replace with LW2-, BLW2-, LW4- and BLW4-
  2. Remove M2+ & BM4+ and replace with LW2-, BLW2-, LW4-, BLW4- and JW4+
  3. 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.


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  • Alastair Douglass

    If the overall aim of this Extraordinary Congress in 2017 is to bring Rowing in line with Agenda 2020 then the removal of the LM4- is non-sensical.

    Agenda 2020 clearly states that there should be equal numbers of Male and Female athletes (recommendation 11). This can easily be achieved without the removal of a whole discipline for lightweight athletes. Considering that heavyweight athletes have a total of 21 seats and lightweight athletes have 6 seats, the current system is not unfair. If the lightweight four was to be removed, heavyweight athletes would still have the cushy option of 21 seats but there would be just 2 seats in the Olympics.

    There are many nations whose population do not contain 6ft 4+ athletes but do have athletes that fit the lightweight category (eg Japan, Turkey, Gambia, India, China etc). These countries are more likely to enter the lightweight categories. Significantly, the South African LM4- at 2012 (clinching a historic gold) shows the possibility for these lesser funded nations to make a mark on the Olympic stage. Comparatively, the men’s heavyweight four has been shared between GB and Australia since 1992 and shows little sign of stopping. In order to create and Olympic programme that truly encourages equal opportunity then I propose the following:

    M8, W8, M4x, W4x, M2-, W2-, M1x, W1x, LM2x, LW2x, LM4-, LW4- (only event at Worlds currently that would be able to make the jump and isnt a single).

    This would make up 12 events, with the next 2 events to be voted upon to make up the 14 boat classes.

    This allows for both disciplines to be represented twice at Heavyweight level and once each at lightweight level. Thus this doesn’t alienate the thousands of lightweight sweep athletes that will likely quit the sport if the LM4- is removed from the Olympic program.

    Thoughts, anybody?

  • Dave

    The removal of the LM4- is a terrible idea and one which could longterm be the nail in the coffin for rowing being a olympic sport. The LM4- is widely accepted as being one of the most exciting events and one which those from a non rowing background enjoy watching. Rowing in itself is not the most entertaining of sports to watch on TV and removing a closely fought and exciting event is not going to be drawing the viewing figures or new people to the sport. Ultimately yes I agree gender equality in events is the right way to go but adding Lightweight sculls is an exceptionally boring path to go down. Rowing as many articles have stated is in danger of losing its Olympic status due to the number of places it takes up and if fisa make it dull to watch by removing the more marketable events then televised rowing will become a thing of the past

  • Pingback: The end of Lightweight sweep rowing? | Fatsculler's rowing blog()

  • Marco

    This is simply a stupid idea!

    The main reason why the performance are very similar (similar but not equal) is that the LW right now are just HW that drop weight for races.

    We need to have real year around LW. Only in this way we will be able to make this category more accessible to other country.
    I elaborate a proposal that was presented first from Thor Nielsen:

    1x HM
    2x HM
    + 1 spare and they do double up in the 4x HW
    2- HM
    4- HM
    any combination of the previous athlete will be able to double up and race the 8+

    1x HW
    2x HW
    + 1 spare and they do double up in the 4x HW
    2- HW
    4- HW
    any combination of the previous athlete will be able to double up and race the 8+

    2x LW
    2- LW
    double up in the 4-

    2x LM
    2- LM
    double up in the 4-

    In this case we would have a total of 28 (down from 46 of a full squad without reserves now) athletes maintain the most prestigious categories and promote equal right for everyone.
    The larger nations will still have the opportunity to present a full squad and the smaller nations might be able to get their medals in the shorter boats.

    • John Yeatman

      I do like this proposal. More events would mean a bigger prominence for rowing at the Olympics. Consider Rowing has 550 athletes in 14 events, Cycling 500/18. Swimming 631/34.

      • Marco

        Correct me if I am wrong you are for FISA proposal that will leave at most one man LW event. Right? With my suggestion, we can have the gender equality that the IOC and FISA were looking, we can have more events, and a smaller number of athletes, making it more interesting to watch, and give this sport the “universality” that is missing.

  • Nick

    How come remove the M4- and replace with LW4- isn’t an option?

  • Bert Hoefsloot

    Rowing shines best in the most difficult boats i.e.
    Singles, Pairs and Fours. My proposal would be to eliminate Eights,
    Quadruples and Doubles from the Olympic program. It is so much more
    difficult and beautiful to get a Four to row well than it is to make
    scullers copy each other’s movements in order to stay out of eachother’s
    way or to make sweep-rowers adapt to the common denominator in an
    Eight… Leave the easy Doubles, Quadruples and Eights to children and
    This leaves ample room for gender and weight-class equality to be achieved.