The future for Olympic rowing is looking short, heavyweight and mixed.
If you are scouring your Plovdiv program for the lightweight men’s coxless fours you may be surprised to learn that it was dropped after Sarasota. This leaves a WRChamps lightweight program of singles, doubles, coxless pairs and quads for both men and women.
Looking further ahead, depressingly the only Olympic opportunity for lightweights at Tokyo will be in the double sculls. The even more depressing news is that even this boat class probably won’t make the Paris program in 2024.
The reason? The 28 core Olympic sports have been directed by the IOC to collectively bring down the number of competitors who will take part in the Games. This means the 10,616 athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Games will have to be reduced to 10,500 for Paris 2024. To make matters worse from rowing’s perspective, three new sports will also have to be accommodated adding further pressure on an Olympic program, in part, dictated by viewing figures & short attention spans.
FISA President Jean-Christophe Rolland gave an extensive interview to Inside the Games this weekend. Rolland says rowing is under pressure from the IOC to reduce the course length to provide more TV-friendly events and to have mixed crews as a way of moving even closer to gender parity. The FISA President, who was made an IOC member in September 2017, says he is opposed to the shorter course but that FISA has “not found any good reason or argument that would prevent us to have mixed crews.”
Rolland told Inside the Games, “We offer mixed gender boats at the Paralympic Games and the athletes have fully accepted this as a proactive approach to gender equality. We also have mixed gender events at our Masters regattas. We believe that this needs to start at the lower end of the pyramid of participation – schools, universities, clubs then junior, under-23 and finally senior. We do not believe it should just be started at the top event of an athlete’s career.”
Change is never easy to navigate but we can definitely say that the demise of lightweight adult rowing is something to be resisted at every opportunity and at every level of the sport. Lightweight rowing provides some of the best sport, produces incredible athletes and broadens participation. It’s worth noting that the Asian Games, the second largest sporting event in the world, boasted a full heavyweight and lightweight rowing program in August.
As for mixed crews at Olympic level – fine but at what cost and ultimately what value will remain in this quadrennial competition?