The IOC has a problem with rowing at the Olympics


Martin Cross summarises the issues facing rowing as it proposes its own cuts for the Olympic Regatta Programme. Sports are judged on a range of criteria:

  • Gender equality – Canoeing, Wrestling and Boxing are less good than rowing’s mix of 64% male : 36% female.
  • Universality – we aren’t good here either 21st out of 26 sports means we need more nations competing.
  • Number of hits on Federations websites
  • TV viewers
  • Articles in press
  • Spectators

What has World Rowing done?

Martin Cross reports dramatic proposals – one fewer mens eights. Also cut the M4x and reduced by 3 crews from 13 to 10.
These will mean tough qualifications at the “Regatta of Death” in Lucerne in 2015.

Womens events gain – more womens pairs 10 – 15; Womens 2x 10-13 entries. LW2x up 17 to 20.

For the regional qualification regattas (South America, Africas etc) top rowing countries are limited as to how many crews they can qualify (which is an extension of the existing rules whereby South Africa can’t qualify using the regional regatta and has to go to the Worlds or Lucerne leaving the local regatta for less highly ranked nations).

They’ve pulled in more semi-finals for the Olympic Regatta so there will be more races.

Martin’s view is that Rowing needs to allow athlete doubling up because he thinks the headcount will be challenged.

World Rowing has the full proposal.


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This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Tom

    A more drastic suggestion , if it came to it, would be for World Rowing to look again at the lightweight rowing events and whether they are actually required.

    AFAIK lightweight rowing was implemented in order to allow countries outside the “1st world” a better chance to qualify for the Olympics, however more recently we see that the lwt4- for one is completely dominated by the 1st world countries, and actually countries outside the “1st world” do better/compete in doubles and singles. This, combined with the fact there are already qualifying events by continent AND wild card entries, brings to the front wether the lwt events (and specifically the lwt 4-) is still necessary.

    If the lwt 4- was scrapped for example then more small boat and womens events could be added, both increasing the chance for lesser known countries to compete and also smoothing out equality between the men and womens events

  2. Rebecca Caroe

    Tom – that’s quite a suggestion. C’mon lightweights out there – defend yourselves…. what events would you “re-align” to fulfil the Olympic measurement criteria?

  3. Jeremy Fagan

    Get rid of lightweight by all means, but also change this uniquely stupid historical anachronism of racing everything over 2000m. Have sprints for real heavies, intermediate distances as current, but have a 10k+ head race in singles – lightweights have a good record in the Scullers’ Head. Anu Dudhia used to have something that showed that weight mattered less and less the longer the race. And it would allow the host city to showcase their countryside, make waterman ship matter, and generally make rowing a much more varied TV sport.

  4. D Tyler miller

    I think head races are less interesting for tv. Having scullers also compete in 250 and 500 dashes along with 4 person single scull relays of 500-1,000 m. Sweep rowers could do the same in smaller boats. Take some tips from swimming and what Oracle is doing with America’s Cup as it relates to tv interest. Bottom line is that tv interest is the true key for IOC, participation and revenue. Everything else is symptomatic.

  5. philip arshad

    Is the Olympics not meant to be inclusive, Not choosing what suits them to make more money? It is supposed to let AMATEURS compete in all sports. This is typical of arrogant idiots who run the organisations (see Will Carling 57 old farts in the 90’s). I think everyone should stand for this.Rowing is very successful (or is it the proposers country keeps getting thrashed by us?)

  6. Lewin

    Right time to think completely outside of the box I feel. The current problem, even more so than those mentioned above, is one that threatens interest in the sport as a whole is a combination of two issues. First is the diconnent between what most recreational rowers do, i.e. race down rivers with bends, currents, obstacles, against one or two other boats, has no relation to what professional rowers do at the worlds and the olympics. This reduces interest in top level events from recreational rowers themseleves who see little of their own experience on the Olympic lake

    Secondly, one crew can dominate and act as a massive barrier to entry in a key event. The men’s pair is a classic example, Bond and Murray, who should not be criticised for doing a good job, have effectively forced everyone else’s top rowers out of that boat class. When a dominant crew arises there are too many other events to run too, and thus you end up with processional coronations of B string (although excellent in their own right) rowers fighting for silver against the best in the world.

    My suggestion is that rowing at the Olympics be reduced to an Omnium, consisting of 5-7 events taking place over 4 days. Teams would consist of (choose you own level of radicalism here) a ten person national squad team, either a free pick of athletes for men’s and womens events, or 8 hwts and 2lwt’s, or 6hwt’s and 4lwt’s, or 5 men and 5 women, of any weight category;.

    Event’s –
    Day one –
    1) a 3k down stream seeding head race in eights, with a free pick of rowers. On of the rowers from the ten man team has to cox. points awarded for fastest finisher.
    2.0) ….immeadiately followed by reverse 3k “bumps” race in coxed fours, with the crews from the leading eights given pick of who they want to chase. pionts awarded for finishing time, Bonuses awarded to for bumps.
    2.1) the same event going back down the river in reverse order with the other five rowers from the squad.
    Day two –
    all against all 900m match racing in quads, on a 2k lake, with roations between racing crews taking place at each end of the lake and in the 200m middle zone between tracks, races to start every 15 mins, crews allowed to swap in and out at will as long as they make it to the start point on time. Rolling starts allowed for late crews. Points awarded for victories and for margin of victory.
    Day three –
    4X500m pairs relays in the morning on the 2k lake with free swapping between crew members, but all members of the 10 person team must race (crews must “bump” within a 25m zone in their lane to make hand over, and abide by their accidents) in a knock out format. points awarded for plaecement in A,B,C, ect finals
    2x1000m doubles relays in a knockout format in the afternoon with free swapping between crew members,but all members of the 10 person team must race . Points awarded for placing in A,B,C, ect finals
    Day Four –
    in the morning 5k singles head race on a “difficult” river for the 4 top scullers in each 10 man crew
    followed by a 5k pair’s bumps race for the remain 6 team members
    Day Five
    In the morning A classic 2k eights competition, points awarded for plaecement in A,B,C, ect finals
    In the afternoon a classic singles 1k competition with heats, repecharges, semi’s and final for the remaining crew member who did not race in the eight

    The idea is to represent more accurately what happens in the world of amatuer rowing (shorter races, difficult to steer courses, doubling up between boats, racing different distances, and hurried changeovers, restricted crews) thus continuing interest form the converted, and forces the best crews to race in many classes of boat thus avoiding the “rotten boroughs” of events.It will also introduce faster sprint events providing more excitement and interest in the wider viewing public.

    Tiredness amongst crews after a hectic race schedule could be avoided by having squads of more than 10 rowers, introducing a rest day(s), or possibly just Manning Up.

    The use of graphics ala the America cup would be essential, immeadiate feed back from on board GPS, Onboard cameras with remot operators ect.

    The most radical suggestion would be to allow entry to nations with only 5 rowers and allowing pairing up by negotiation in the two eights events, or even creating Rest of the World invitational teams, for small nations.


    1. Lizzie

      This sounds fantastic both for spectators and rowers. It’d probably be a bit more fun for the coxes of eights too not to be stuck on a straight course all the time…

      I think the idea of having a squad system like you described and choosing your rowers for each event is a really strong one, and very similar to the way gymnastics competitions run now (they all have to do everything but can specialise as well). It would also prevent the ‘problem’ of some rowers becoming long distancers and others staying short (although I don’t really see why that is a problem).

      Can we get you on the IOC please?

  7. Stephen Walker

    I’m not a lightweight. At 63kg I’m a superlightweight. Yet heavyweights are permitted to scull against me in boats that weigh as little as my boat does. If they had to scull in heavier boats, related to their body weight somehow, then I would have a better chance. I can beat some heavyweights but not the best. I’m sure that Klaus Filter could calculate the necessary change in the rules to equalise heavy and light weight rowers chances. I know that this was proposed once previously but was voted down by lightweights who realised there would be fewer medals to go around and so a smaller likelyhood of winning one. But if fewer medals are going to be made available anyway then why not just dispense with lightweights and open it up for all athletes in this way? It’s simply a question of changing the rules.
    I cannot defend a 60/40 split between men and women. It has to be 50/50. That would certainly reflect the situation in my club.
    Forget Head races. You can’t tell who is winning. And if you go down that road you’ll end up with rowing becoming like athletics with rowers specialising in different distances.
    2000m races provide more drama than sprints which are all over after the start. And when women’s races were over 1,000m the women recruited to the sport were like shot putters! In fact when the Worlds were at Nottingham, I think in 1975, the heaviest rower at the regatta was a 17 stone Russian woman. She was the darling of the regatta.
    Keep as many events as possible and get out there and teach the world to row & scull!

  8. David Harralson

    This is a complicated subject.

    One proposal I have seen is to increase the number of lanes from to six to eight, ten, or twelve and possibly narrow them. Together with TV cameras panning with the boats this increases the number of competitors and viewer involvement. Have multiple cameras to focus on each team so that national interest TV feeds are possible.

    Some events (like weightlifting and boxing) have many weight classes. Rowing has only one division between lightweight and openweight and is not completely orthogonal even within that division. My Masters pair partner and I are lightweights, but are SOL when it comes to the start of a race against openweight pairs.

    Head races successfully start competitors off at ten second intervals. It is a competitor and official training and management issue to bring the staging interval of races down to a more reasonable interval and stage more races in a given time period. The current design of the start gate is an abomination, slowing down the pace of races. Each boat should be able to row up to the start line in straight line, be caught by the start gate, and then go on the green light, all in a straight line.

    Because of the size of its equipment and course requirements, rowing has an issue in that many nations may not be able to have a sizable enough local training and athlete complement. But every athlete and nation has that problem to a greater or lesser extent in many other sports. The level of commitment to field an Olympic caliber athlete or team is beyond the capabilities of many nations and/or athletes. But how many nations have Olympic level dressage.

    The issue with Bond and Murray is a red herring. They are an exceptionally well matched and trained pair (magic pair). No other national pair has chosen to self-select and train to the same level. I am confident that if a national team gave me carte blanche, I could develop a competitive pair. It just shows that no other head coach has the commitment to do so, because other events are more “important”.

    Allow more crews to enter the Olympics, but have qualifying events before the actual Olympic week itself so that smaller nations/budgets have a chance to compete and qualify for the main eliminations where other teams have prequalified. World Cup is nice, but it is a huge and insuperable budget item for small programs.

    So, keep 1, 2, 4, and 8 people boats, men and women, scull and sweep, lightweight and openweight. Increase the number of lanes, enhance the TV coverage, allow more teams to enter, speed up the pace of events.

  9. Chris A

    It’s only very few more races because you also lose races like the M8+ B final and M4x semis. There will need to be doubling up and I think a sprint set of races too would also add to the excitement – canoeing manages it.

  10. Rebecca Caroe

    Wow, great comments – I want to compete in Lewin’s Rowing Omnium immediately. It’d be awesome fun.

  11. Lewin Hynes

    Head races with gps positioning giving real time speedand distances between boats and no more than 5 seconds between boats would be exciting.
    Bumps racing can’t really help but be exciting.

  12. Alison Browning

    “: The IOC has a problem with rowing at the Olympics – ” Really?! Doubling up?! Are you crazy?!! #wtf

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