Is Rowing Ireland on the crest of a wave looking into a trough?
Could the shine be about to come off the Irish Rowing program? Having enjoyed an amazing run of success on the world stage including World Championship, European Championship and World Cup medals, Rowing Ireland is facing a revolt from within its own ranks. Athletes are unhappy at recent changes and working practices implemented by high-performance director, Antonio Maurogiovanni.
Maurogiovanni, who took up his position in August 2017, removed heavyweight coach, Sean Casey, after less than 12 months in the job. Rowing Ireland are now looking to replace Casey with someone with “more appropriate Olympic experience” but have already extended the deadline suggesting this won’t be easy. Irish sculler, Sanita Puspure, who came fourth at the World Rowing Championships in September, took to twitter to criticise the decision and now faces disciplinary action from Rowing Ireland.
Denis Walsh writing in The Sunday Times suggests that whilst Maurogiovanni brought lots of international experience as coach and competitor with him, he has tried to implement change at a very rapid pace at a time when Rowing Ireland was enjoying it’s most successful year in history. “As high-performance director it was his role to help optimise the performance of the boats. But it was a question of timing and approach and it was a question of perspective: what he saw as a positive intervention the athletes saw as interference. Maurogiovanni was joining a programme that was thriving. He needed to stand back in the beginning and go softly”.
Maurogiovanni is no stranger to controversy. He coached Australian Sally Robbins who famously stopped rowing in the 2004 W8+ Olympic final as her crew fell behind. Robbins was treated with disdain upon her return home but Maurogiovanni stood by her and oversaw her return to elite rowing. In 2012, whilst coach to the Dutch national eight, he was dropped two months before the London Olympics, after the federation lost confidence in him.
Clashes between athletes and high-performance directors are nothing new but, in the age of social media, much harder to contain. Sir David Tanner reportedly keeps a tight rein on communications regarding the national team and even after leaving national duties, athletes have reportedly felt Tanner’s wrath for airing grievances in public. There is a lot at stake. British Rowing is in receipt of £32m of National Lottery funds for this Olympic cycle and shortly they too will be appointing a new performance director following Tanner’s resignation in December.
Rowing Ireland has never before enjoyed such success, finishing the World Rowing Championships in Sarasota two places on the meadal table above Great Britain thanks to gold medal performances from O’Donovan and O’Driscoll in the LM2- and Paul O’Donovan in the LM1x. It will be interesting to see if Maurogiovanni can negotiate an accommodation with his athletes and what lessons the new performance director at British Rowing might learn.
Closing date for the British vacancy is February 15 and the brief can be found here.