6 January 2020
By Chris Dodd
Børge Kaas Andersen of Denmark, Olympian, coach, regatta organiser and FISA umpire and executive member, passed away at age 82 in mid-December 2019, Chris Dodd writes.
Børge Kaas Andersen was one of FISA’s heavy-hitters. He joined the international federation’s umpires commission in 1973 when commissions numbered only two – umpires and technical – and was elevated to the executive committee as chair of the umpires after the Seoul Olympics in 1988, bringing with him experience of competing, coaching and organising regattas in his native Denmark.
Børge served as chairman of the Danish Rowing Association for a decade until 1989. At FISA, he was an original member, with Mike Sweeney and Thor Nilsen, of the fairness commission that was set up to provide solutions for inclement weather during championship regattas. Much of the incentive for such a body – and its famous ‘grassometer’ – came from blatantly unfair conditions on Lake Bagsvaerd in Copenhagen during the world championships in 1987, where Børge was head of the organising committee. He was awarded FISA’s medal for distinguished service to international rowing in 2018.
Rowing was the focal point of Børge’s life. He represented Denmark at the 1960 Rome Olympics in the coxless fours, coached at Copenhagen Rowing Club, and engaged in national and international rowing politics.
Børge’s time at FISA coincided with the visionary presidency of Thomi Keller and the age of the remarkable global development programme inspired by Thor Nilsen. Keller and Nilsen, as the recent biographies Thomi Keller, A Life in Sport (2018) by David Owen and Thor Nilsen: Rowing’s Global Coach (2019) by the article writer show, were dynamic and principled men presiding over huge growth in participation in rowing. Børge first met Nilsen while representing Copenhagen on Lake Bagsvaerd in 1958. The umpire stopped their race after 750 metres because Nilsen’s Norwegian crew from Bærum couldn’t steer. Copenhagen won the re-row.
When the Dane joined the umpires commission, Nilsen was coaching the Hansen brothers, Alf and Frank, who won the double sculls world title at Nottingham in 1975. Børge remembered Keller weeping after witnessing a breath-taking side-by-side race with the East Germans Joachim Dreifke and Jürgen Bertow. ‘It was one of the great moments in Thomi’s life, the first time that western Europeans had shown that they could be the best,’ Børge told me.
In 1977, when Thor was running Spain’s national team in combination with a perpetual coaching academy in Banyoles, Børge proposed him for a vacancy on the technical commission. Keller, the last amateur left standing, objected that Nilsen was a professional because he made money from coaching. Yes, said Børge, but he is an exceptional coach. He was eventually elected and was great in the rôle.
Børge’s lofty position as head of the oldest and senior commission gave him insight into the dynamics of the federation for three of the four periods of FISA history that he identified. First, a European social club from foundation in 1892 to the late 1950s; second, the Keller presidency in which Thomi built family values into his federation and championed the athlete above the blazerati (and in which he knocked the IOC down a peg or two); third, the promotion of universality during Denis Oswald’s presidency to maintain growth and position in the Olympic Games and movement; fourth, the continuation of this plus diversity under the current presidency of Jean-Christophe Rolland.
When presidential matters came to a head in 1989, Børge found himself walking a tightrope between Keller, who had reached retirement age but couldn’t let go of the reins he had held for so long, and his heir-apparent Oswald, the Swiss lawyer who had been his shadow as volunteer secretary-general since 1976. Elections and lobbying at the FISA congress in Bled only confused matters, and relations turned sour between the incumbent and president-elect and their supporters. There was sympathy with a man who had devoted 30 years of his life to rowing and wouldn’t know what to do when he walked away from it, and sympathy for a man who had been promised the chair and served a long apprenticeship to sit in it.
Nilsen and Kaas Andersen both had affection for Keller while privately expressing support for Oswald’s case. Of Thor’s role in FISA, Børge was of the opinion that without Thor, the federation would not have developed like it did. ‘Thor was first person who took to Asia and started to help them to achieve some rowing. He stood in the boat area and helped them with their boats. He was fantastic, teaching basic rowing.’ The Dane’s affection for Thomi was tarnished by Thomi’s dismissal of Lake Bagsvaerd, on television and in Regatta magazine, as a suitable course after the wind farce at the world championships of 1987. He was also at odds with Nilsen about conditions and remedies.
It had been clear for several years that FISA should do something about unfair conditions (e.g. at the old Bosbaan in Amsterdam, where conditions affected the outcome of races in 1977). Championship organisers now have a range of remedies for difficult wind conditions, and Børge played a major part in coming to terms with his Copenhagen difficulties.
The argument over the president’s chair was unexpectedly settled before the year was out when Thomi died of a heart attack suddenly in Monte Carlo. It took several months for the dust to settle in the family feud.
Børge Kaas Andersen, born 20 April 1937, died 16 December 2019.