FISA announced the final two proposals for changes to the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020. The delegates at the
Extraordinary Congress in February 2017 will have to decide between two options:
- Replace the LM4- with the W4- This is the proposal from the FISA Council
- Replace the M4- with the LW4- This is the proposal supported by Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Switzerland
The decision will be down to an absolute majority.
So, what does this mean?
Fundamentally the FISA delegates are deciding the future of Lightweight Sweep rowing. If they accept option 1 then there will be no lightweight sweep rowing at the Olympics. Without the Olympics as a showground it’s likely that lightweight sweep at a World Championship level will wither and ultimately die. Some would say this is no bad thing, lightweight rowing is a “failed experiment”.
Part of the problem for the LM4- is actually they’ve gotten too damn fast. The best of the LM4- are now competitive with all but the very best heavyweight men’s fours. To the average viewer there isn’t enough to differentiate between the lightweight and heavyweight fours.
The other major consideration to be factored in is the attitude of the IOC.
They have gone on record a number of times to voice their dislike of weight-restricted events (outside of combat sports and weightlifting). If FISA propose a 14 event programme with 10 open-weight and 4 lightweight events there is the very real possibility that the IOC will reject the 4 lightweight events and rowing will be left with just 10 events at Tokyo. Make no mistake, if a lightweight event gets rejected it won’t be replaced by another open weight event. The other thing I find slightly odd about the 2nd proposal is it champions an event (the LW4-) that hasn’t even been raced at World Championship level since 1996. I understand why the LW4- has been suggested as it gives parity with the lightweight men’s version, but it does feel a bit like clutching at straws.
What will be crucial come the voting in February, is the attitude of some of the “big” Eastern European nations, the likes of Romania, Belarus and Ukraine – countries who have a very strong tradition of open weight women’s sweep rowing but next to nothing for lightweights. There is also the fact that option 1 is the preferred choice of the FISA Council, a lot of nations would be reluctant to vote against their governing council’s preferred option. So, as sad as it may seem to a lot of people, I think Messer’s Gyr, Niepmann, Schuerch & Tramer of Switzerland will be the last ever Olympic LM4- Champions. Let’s just hope that the IOC (who are the ultimate arbiters of what is and isn’t included in the Olympic Rowing Programme) agree to retain the LM2X and LW2X…although I fear they won’t.