FISA announced the end of the Lightweight mens 8 event at the Rowing World Championships on its website today.
According to Rule 36 of the FISA Rule Book, an event that registers fewer than seven entries at three consecutive World Rowing Championship regattas is automatically removed from the World Championship programme. This has been the case for the lightweight men’s eight, which saw three boats competing at the 2013 World Rowing Championships, five in 2014 and five again in 2015.
This further reduces the number of athletes and events and seems to seal the fate of lightweights who want to compete internationally. There are now only 7 sculling seats and 6 sweep seats for men and 7 sculling seats for women.
As one of the commentators on the FISA announcement says
This is an abomination. Rowing is the only strength oriented sport without a plethora of weight classes. Lightweight is very important, just as important as the women’s classes. As a lightweight, I feel discriminated against when there is no LMM2- class and I have to compete against rowers averaging 20 kg more.
Every regatta, from international to local, Masters on down, should have to offer all lightweight and women’s classes. It would be up to the organizers to combine classes if necessary.
At a recent regatta, my doubles partner and I checked the lightweight box, weighed in and raced together with the heavyweights but collected our medal as the best of the lightweights.
So, the key concept is to have a completely orthogonal division- lightweight/heavyweight, male/female, 1X, 2X, 2-, 4X, 4-, 8+. Every regatta HAS to offer all events. It would be up to the organizers how to put this together. This is the only way some of the “less popular” classes will develop. If there is, for example, a LMW2- event, there will be lightweight women who will be attracted to that event, rather than trying to get a seat in a four or eight. The sport of rowing as a whole will benefit.
Race formats need modernising
This is symptomatic of a wider issue in rowing – the sport is stuck in a time warp of 2000m only racing and allowing only a few specified crew classes.
This decision risks a knock-on to club and university racing around the world – Oxford Cambridge Boat Race and USA domestic racing.
Cycling and Swimming have successfully reinvented themselves with mountain bike, new velodrome events and open water swimming at Olympic and World Championship events.
Why not rowing?
Stan Collingwood is a UK friend and longtime rowing advocate. Here’s what he said earlier in the year when the UK competition formats were up for debate and change.
All over the country whether head races or regattas events are over subscribed. Yet we remain loyal to the ‘Garton Calendar’ in the summer as the ‘holy grail’ of HRR must be sovereign as the aim of all seniors and the nat schools the juniors summit. But why do HORR slavishly bow down to tradition? For clubs, of course, the current situation is delightful as it means their event cash cows will deliver the maximum dividend. But have those that run things well thought of the potential if they ran some additional events?
But what about the competitors? Time for clubs, schools and coaches to speak out snd set up events to deal with the overflows, fill the gaps and compete with those events where cash comes before competitor. Regional Calendar supremos will, rightfully, complain if new events are registered on the same days as traditional events.
But in the real world why should market forces not apply in Rowing? Will Regional councils really resist new events that promote and expand our sport? And if they do will their resistance be supported at a national level?
We live in a capitalist market driven world. So let market forces dictate our calendar not tradition. There are many events that richly deserve to be shaken out of their current hubristic inertia.
But there are insufficient umpires I hear you cry! Indeed but hands up all the regional umpires commissions that actively recruit in schools and universities to increase the number and reduce the age? I thought not!!
In advance of the competitions reorganisation lets think hard about our competitors and innovate – even at the cost of a few cracked egos and dead sacred cows.
What is best for the sport of rowing?
Do we need gender equity?
Do we need diversity of weight classes?
Should we introduce a range of race distances?
Should points / accumulation events be held that test both sweep and sculling skill?
Could participation grow and audience enjoyment rise with different racing formats?
Let us know what you think in the comments. and whether a range of international race formats versus domestic race formats is also worth reviewing.