Maybe it’s just a Question of Semantics?

The cover of the Swedish rowing magazine which featured a couple of articles on the FISA World Cup in single sculls on Lake Hjelmsjön in 1991.

16 May 2019

By Göran R Buckhorn

Is HTBS editor Göran R Buckhorn trying to re-write rowing history? Here is a sequel to his article on 1 May about the 1991 FISA World Cup at Hjelmsjön, a regatta that maybe was not all that it was cracked up to be.

It’s not easy to be entertaining, and it’s even harder to be funny. On 1 May, I published an article about Romanian single sculls star Elisabeta Lipă, who I picked up in Malmö, Sweden, to drive her to a rowing regatta on Lake Hjelmsjön in 1991.

I had been thinking about this story for many years (obviously), but it was first when I read a press release from FISA, World Rowing, on 23 April that I felt I could tell this anecdote and still be writing about a current event.

In FISA’s press release, we were told about a new process called the Strategic Event Attribution Process (SEAP), which ‘offers a more strategic and long-term approach to attributing FISA events. It allows interested parties to indicate all of the FISA-owned events between 2021 and 2028 that they believe would support their long-term events strategy,’ the press release read. It continued:

There are 36 events open to bidding for the period spanning 2021 to 2026, including the 2023, 2025 and 2026 World Rowing Championships. For the 2021 to 2024 period, bids are invited for the junior and under-23 World Rowing Championships, three World Rowing Cup series regattas per year and the World Rowing Masters Regatta. In addition to the World Rowing events, FISA owns the European Championships at the senior, under-23 and junior level and these events for the 2021 to 2024 period are also open for bidding.

The press release went on to say that 21 federations had sent in preliminary bids from 31 rowing venues, including the ‘regular’ ones, Lucerne, Bled, Poznan, Plovdiv and Belgrade. There were also bids from several venues that had hosted FISA events, but those were now some years ago. Then there was a third category: ‘Bidders include an emergence of new venues, which – if successful in their bids – would host World Rowing events for the first time such as Hjelmsjo (SWE), Kazan (RUS) and Pretoria (RSA).’

‘Ahh’, I thought. Hjelmsjön has organised a FISA event before; I know because I was there. I was one of 130 officials at the regatta, which was a Scandinavian Open event, which included the second year of FISA’s newly created World Cup Rowing for single scullers, a series that ran between 1990 and 1995. Four hundred rowers from 20 countries had found their way to the village of Örkelljunga and Lake Hjelmsjön. Elisabeta Lipă was one of the female stars that came to the regatta, and I was the one who drove her there. Now was the time to tell my Lipă story.

Again, trying to be entertaining and funny is to walk a thin line between being a humourist and a twit. I understood that the other day when I received a friendly e-mail from Matt Smith, executive director of FISA. Though Mr. Smith was very polite in his e-mail, he didn’t like my 1 May article. He points out that I’m wrong about Hjelmsjön arranging a FISA event in 1991. (Maybe I should mention Matt by his first name as he called me Goran in his e-mail? As a matter of fact, we became on a first-name basis when I interviewed him in Lausanne in 1997 for the Swedish rowing magazine; though that is some 22 years ago, so I can’t expect him to remember me.)

Matt Smith. Photo: FISA

In his e-mail, Matt starts out by saying ‘Just for the record, FISA ran a “singles-only” World Cup from 1990 to 1995, which was neither televised nor supported by FISA staff and service providers. It ended in 1995 as not having succeeded to achieve its goals.’ He continues to write ‘When we say [in FISA’s press release from 23 April] that Hjelmsjon has not hosted a “FISA” event, we refer to World Championships or, since 1997, a World Rowing Cup event or, since 2007, a European Rowing Championship regatta.’

Matt explains further in his e-mail, ‘The new “Rowing World Cup” series started up in 1997 with all Olympic events, Television broadcasting confirmed and timing and results service provision by Swiss Timing, etc. This changed in 2011 to “World Rowing Cup” and has continued.’

This surprised me, and I’m not sure I understand Matt correctly. Is he saying that because this series of single sculling events were not televised, and as no staff from FISA were present at the event, the regatta at Lake Hjelmsjön was a non-FISA-sanctioned event?

During the regatta at Hjelmsjön, the FISA flag was proudly raised with the Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish flags. At the regatta, I chatted briefly with John Boultbee, then FISA Secretary General, who was there in his nice, blue blazer. While it was Lipă who won the women’s single sculls race, it was Sweden’s Maria Brandin who still was in the lead of the women’s series and therefore was entitled to wear the yellow FISA jersey.

Detail of the cover of the Swedish rowing magazine “Svensk Rodd”: Swedish sculler Maria Brandin wearing FISA’s yellow jersey, indicating that she was still in the lead of the women’s FISA World Cup Rowing series of 1991. The overall series was later won by Canadian Silken Laumann. Photo: Per Ekström.

While the regatta at Hjelmsjön was not televised, in the meaning that every race was broadcast on a TV channel or streamed by FISA, Swedish national and regional TV channels were present, even a Swedish sports channel, which interviewed Lipă after her gold medal race. As she spoke Romanian and Russian, not any languages someone among the regatta officials spoke – especially not me – a young woman from a Baltic coxed four who knew some Russian translated the TV interviewer’s questions and Lipă’s answers. Maybe not a perfect situation, but the TV channel was happy, Lipă seemed happy with her medal and the sport of rowing got a few minutes of airtime on Swedish TV, a rare thing in the beginning of the 1990s.

I understand that FISA wanted to kill the World Cup Rowing for single sculls as the series had not reached FISA’s goals after a six-year run. If we look at FISA events – cups and championships – these days, 24 years after FISA dropped the single sculls series, the world rowing federation is running a well-oiled machine where there is more money involved than ever before (there was no money in the 1990s). Just the other day, it was announced that the Olympic Channel will present live streaming coverage of the 2019 World Rowing Cup series. Perhaps it’s all just a matter of semantics and one should not confuse World Cup Rowing with World Rowing Cup. However, I do think those who won the events from 1990 to1995 consider themselves to have achieved World Cup status.

One thing that I should maybe apologise for in my 1 May article is my use of ‘fake news’. Matt finishing up his e-mail by saying that he, as a ‘half American’, is sensitive to those words. However, what I’m really writing is ‘No, no, FISA is not spreading “fake news” in their latest press release…’ Despite that I’m using the negation ‘not’ in the sentence and surround the phrase ‘fake news’ with single quotation marks, the world rowing federation finds it difficult to be mentioned in the same sentence as ‘fake news’. I get it. Here in America we are struggling with what daily comes out from certain news sources and Washington. American expats out there in the foreign wilderness must be baffled about what’s going on in their old country and where everything is going – and for that I’m truly sorry.


  1. Well, there is some funny details in the story.
    World Cup from 1990 to 1995 had prize money.
    Paid by FISA.
    And now it was not a FISA event???

  2. Fredrik is right. During the World Cup for single scullers, 1990-1995, FISA paid out prize money to the top three male and female rowers, which I mention in my 1 May article.

    For those readers who don’t know, Fredrik was Marie Brandin’s coach. He is now her husband.

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