Big changes are taking place in the world rowing with FISA recently voting for gender-equity at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. The extraordinary congress members, which also took place in Tokyo, supported FISA’s proposal to lose the lightweight (lwt) men’s 4- for future Olympic Games with the women’s heavyweight 4- coming in as a new event.
Now, one criticism that can be aimed at FISA is that they have not promoted that gender equity is the purpose of losing a men’s crew. Unsurprisingly this message seems to have been lost in the long line of former lightweight rowers cursing FISA for not protecting rowing enough. Frankly, this is a ridiculous accusation to put to the world governing body, especially given the IOC have demonstrated on numerous occasions that they don’t want non-contact sports to have weight restrictions attached to them. By giving up the lwt 4- to support the IOC 2020 vision of gender equity, it is hoped that FISA President Jean-Christophe Rolland can keep both the lwt 2x events that are also currently in the Olympic programme. Give away a little, to keep a lot.
The criticism has now reached fever pitch with some of the rowing community suggesting FISA should pull out of the Olympic Games altogether as we are “losing control”. The Olympic Games is actually an invite only sporting event that rowing is extremely lucky to remain part of. Its an expensive sport, takes up a lot of room for a 2km+ lake, has a large quantity of athletes participating and most of the races have clear favourites. Also, anyone with the argument rowing will remain in the Olympics purely because of history are also sorely mistaken. The founder of the modern games, Baron Pierre de-Coubertin, had a soft spot for rowing as he was a, amongst other sports, a rower himself, but the IOC of our generation under President Thomas Bach, kicked out wrestling (re-instated on appeal) in 2013.
Last week I spoke at length with two of GB Rowing Teams current athletes, training hard for the World Championships in Sarasota this season with preparation already geared towards Tokyo. If we pulled out of the Olympic Games as protest to “losing control” what would these athletes do? The funding stream would be cut overnight, the purpose of rowing in Great Britain would become far more insular and domestic and the World Championships would become the pinnacle of a sport that is already a hard sell. These athletes and those like them around the world, deserve their chance to perform on the highest stage, in front of the biggest audience and get the rewards that come with this just as past generations have benefited from.
There is much FISA can do to improve rowing to a wider audience, but the decision for gender equity to result in the loss of an event at the Olympics is a minor price to pay if it keeps our sport in focus at least once every four years.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read this.