11 February 2017
Göran R Buckhorn writes:
The FISA Extraordinary Congress in Tokyo has ended. The FISA proposal to replace the men’s lightweight four with a women’s four as an Olympic boat class was adopted by 94 votes. An option put forward by Australia, China, Denmark and Switzerland, to replace the men’s open four with a lightweight women’s four, received only 67 votes. FISA believes that the organisation’s proposal will meet the International Olympic Committee’s gender equality goals and will be accepted by the IOC at a meeting in July. If the IOC will accept the FISA proposal, rowing will continue to be a 14-event sport at the Olympic Games with an athlete quote of 550.
The opposition mostly came from smaller rowing nations, which are struggling to raise crews for the heavier boat classes.
Thereby, the men’s lightweight double and women’s lightweight double will be the only boat classes for lightweights left in the Olympic programme.
While I do applaud that another boat class for women will be included in the Olympic rowing programme, I see large problems coming FISA’s way in the future when fewer member nations of FISA will be able to make the medal podium or even make it to the Olympic rowing events at all. A couple of decades ago, FISA was working hard to get more countries to join the organisation so rowing could continue to be an Olympic sport, as the IOC demanded international sport federations to have members from around the world and not just member nations from the western hemisphere. Under the leadership of Denis Oswald, the former president of FISA between 1989 and 2014, the organisation managed to increase the amount of member nations of FISA to a staggering 145 plus – thanks in large part to creating boat classes for lightweights. This opened the opportunity for many Asian countries to join FISA. In interviews Oswald has mentioned that this achievement is the one he is most proud of during his 25 years as FISA president. At the Tokyo congress, American Samoa became FISA’s 151st member.
I cannot help feeling that the IOC twisted the current FISA president Jean-Christophe Rolland’s arm to get him to come to this conclusion. Social media is bubbling already for and against FISA’s proposal. What at least everyone is agreeing on is the sadness of having lost the iconic boat class, the men’s lightweight four.
The delegates at the congress also voted to change the racing distance for Paralympic events from one thousand to two thousand metres.