At the start of this month, World Rowing met in London for the bi-annual National Federations Conference. Since the conclusion of this meeting, proposed changes to the Olympic programme have come to light. The nature of these changes are as follows:
- Remove the Lightweight Men’s Four and replace it with the Women’s Four
- Remove the Lightweight Men’s Four and Heavyweight Men’s Four and replace with Lightweight Men’s Single and Lightweight Women’s Single.
- Remove the Lightweight Men’s Four and the Men’s and Women’s Double and replace with the Lightweight Men’s Single, Lightweight Women’s Single and the Women’s Four
Before we get started, I must state that I am 100% behind the Gender Equality movement and for there to be equal numbers of male and female athletes racing at the Olympic Regatta.
As can be seen from these three proposals, the National Federations seem pretty keen to rid the Olympic programme of one of the best events at the regatta. Consistently close racing has become a hallmark of the Lightweight Men’s Four and the London 2012 Olympic Final was arguably one of the most exciting races of the Olympic regatta. So the question must be asked, why remove this event?
The Agenda 2020 Olympic Movement has been the catalyst for these proposed changes. Of the 40 recommendations put forward by the IOC, the ones in question here are:
Recommendation 10: Move from a sport-based to an event-based programme.
Recommendation 11: Foster Gender-Equality.
These recommendations first came to light when FISA President Jean Christophe-Rolland warned of their ramifications back in 2015. The current Olympic Programme consists of 14 events, 8 Men’s and 6 Women’s events. With the number of events and athletes at the Olympic Games capped to 550, the only way to achieve gender equal numbers is to remove a Men’s event and add a Women’s one.
The key areas of consideration when evaluating each event (as taken from the World Rowing presentation entitled ‘Events principles and rules review’) are as follows:
- Gender Equality
- Health of Athletes
- Event Principles and Programme.
The most important of these considerations are one, two and three. The addition of a Women’s event will achieve gender equality in the Olympic programme, but the current proposals would undermine considerations two and three. Universality and Inclusion were the main reason why lightweight rowing came about and even World Rowing themselves have stated the same,
‘Lightweight rowing was introduced to the Olympic programme in 1996 and its primary purpose was to make rowing more accessible around the world’ (World Rowing Article -‘Going Heavy, Going Light, Changing Weight Classes’)
Looking at entries in the Lightweight Men’s Four as opposed to the Heavyweight Men’s Four over the 2014 and 2015 racing seasons show 122 entries for the Lightweight Men’s Four and 108 in the Men’s Four. The argument that developing countries are unable to enter a crew in the Lightweight Men’s Four simply doesn’t stand. Brazil were able to enter a Lightweight Men’s Four for two of the World Cups in 2014 and South Africa won their first ever Olympic Gold in rowing in this boat class. Furthermore, the Men’s Heavyweight Four has been won by two countries at the past six Olympics – hardly an advert for Universality and Inclusion!
The removal of the Lightweight Men’s Four will have massive ramifications across the sport. The size of national lightweight squads will likely be halved or more, less people will attempt to pursue the sport to the highest level and future stars will be lost when their chances of making it to the Olympics are so drastically reduced. As a lightweight rower myself with Olympic aspirations, the news of these proposals hit home hard. Although I am able to scull to a respectable level, my strength as an athlete has always been in a sweep-oared event. The removal of the sweep discipline from lightweight rowing will alienate hundreds of rowers in the UK and even more worldwide.
As a rowing community, it falls upon us to promote alternatives that don’t eliminate a whole section of the sport. There have been many alternative proposals brought forward on social media and I believe there is one which would provide the fairest, most equal and most inclusive regatta.
Men’s 8+ Women’s 8+
Men’s 4x Women’s 4x
Men’s 2- Women’s 2-
Men’s 1x Women’s 1x
Lightweight Men’s 2x Lightweight Women’s 2x
Lightweight Men’s 4- Lightweight Women’s 4x
This programme would allow two events in each discipline for Heavyweight rowing, one big boat and one small boat, and an event in each discipline for lightweight rowing. The exception is the Lightweight Women’s 4x, at the moment there are no lightweight sweep events for women, but under the proposed changes by World Rowing to the World Rowing Championships, this would change and so given time, the quad could change into a four. This way, each gender has exactly identical events and this only takes up 12/14 event slots, votes could then be taken on which Men’s and Women’s event to be included.