Proposals for Olympic Rowing Boat Classes Examined

Jean-Christophe Rolland.
Jean-Christophe Rolland.

7 February 2017

In a press release FISA writes:

Rowing federations from around the world will meet next week at the World Rowing Federation’s Extraordinary Congress to review the FISA Statutes and Rules of Racing, as they do every four years. An additional element to this year’s congress will be the discussion on the boat classes that will be proposed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for inclusion in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic rowing programme.

Meeting in Tokyo on 10 and 11 February 2017 the delegates at the congress will vote for one of two proposed Olympic rowing programmes, both of which would make the Tokyo Olympic rowing programme gender equal. The FISA Executive Committee will then submit this decision to the IOC for consideration by the IOC Olympic Programme Commission at their meeting in May 2017. A final decision by the IOC Executive Board is expected in July 2017.

The question is “which programme would put rowing in the best possible position in the Olympic movement?”

The FISA Council has carried out two years of consultation with FISA’s member federations as well as with the leadership of the IOC. Based on the consultation and discussions, the FISA Council has formulated its proposal.

“We are convinced that this (proposal) is the best and most realistic option in the current context of Olympic sport and for the best interest of Rowing,” says the FISA Council in a message recently circulated to the national federations. An alternative proposal has also been submitted by five member federations.

World Rowing talked to FISA President Jean-Christophe Rolland about the proposal.

World Rowing (WR): What is the objective of the proposal?
Jean-Christophe Rolland (JCR):
“FISA’s top priority is to ensure the best and most viable and sustainable future for the sport of rowing. To do so FISA must maintain the strongest possible position in the Olympic Games and within the Olympic Movement. This means achieving gender equality, maintaining our 14 events – including the lightweight category – and maintaining as much of our athlete quota as possible. It also means that we must continue to demonstrate our commitment to the goals set out in the IOC’s Strategic Plan, Olympic Agenda 2020.”

WR: Why the Council’s proposal?
JCR:
 “Rowing is part of the international world of sport and it is a leading sport in the Olympic Games. As such, we must acknowledge the broader picture outside our own sport and the pressures on the Olympics and the Olympic programme and respond appropriately.

“We know that Olympic sports now operate in a new context:

The Olympic Games are under pressure to keep costs down, so the IOC must impose constraints on all sports in terms of events and athlete quotas. Rowing, having the third largest athlete quota, is under particular scrutiny.

There is increased pressure from the IOC and other sports on why rowing has a limited weight category when the only other sports with this are combat sports and weightlifting.

The IOC now uses an event-based approach to decide the Olympic programme. So they now look at the value of each individual event in every sport and how it contributes to the success of the Games. Thus the IOC is now more likely to look at changing individual boat classes.”

WR: What does this mean for rowing boat classes?
JCR:
 “From all of our discussions with the IOC, the message is clear: they strongly question the inclusion of lightweight rowing in the Olympic Games programme. This is certainly not a new situation. The IOC has consistently questioned the inclusion of lightweight rowing in previous reviews of the Olympic Programme, but the context over recent years has dramatically changed. It is very clear to us, given this new context, that the IOC will not consider an increase in the number of lightweight events, nor even the status quo of three.

“The alternative proposal to replace the men’s four with the lightweight women’s four is highly unlikely to be supported by the Olympic Programme Commission nor accepted by the IOC Executive Board because it increases the number of lightweight events. It may also indicate to the IOC that FISA has ignored the questions they have raised in terms of lightweight rowing.

“We don’t know exactly how the IOC will respond, but we believe that they may take the opportunity to eliminate lightweight rowing completely. This proposal therefore carries a lot of risk for our sport as a whole.

“The FISA Council proposal which replaces the lightweight men’s four with the women’s four is the only proposal that is likely to be supported by the Olympic Programme Commission and accepted by the IOC Executive Board. This is because it addresses their concerns regarding the rowing programme in terms of gender equality and the lightweight category.

“In reducing the number of lightweight events to the two lightweight doubles only, we are acknowledging the concerns of the IOC while presenting a solution that supports both lightweight rowing and universality. The lightweight doubles, compared to bigger boat categories, are the two boat classes that have been proven to increase universality – the reason the lightweight events were introduced in the first place.

“We believe that this proposal, therefore, offers the best chance to retain the 14 Olympic events and the athlete quota.”

WR: Is there anything that you would like to add?
JCR:
 “I believe the FISA Council proposal addresses the main challenges to the rowing programme expected from the Olympic Programme Commission and the IOC Executive Board: gender equality and the lightweight category and puts us in a stronger position to maintain rowing’s events and as much as possible rowing’s athlete quota.”

HTBS editor’s note: To eliminate lightweight rowing from the Olympic programme has not gone down well in certain quarters. There is a petition from some Danish rowers urging FISA to preserve lightweight rowing in the Olympic programme. To get more information about the petition and to sign it, go here.

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