The photo of billowing flags shows exactly why racing was cancelled for the day here at the Lagoa Stadium in Ipanema, it was blowing a hooley and if you thought yesterday looked un-rowable, today really was!
There has been lots of chat going around on social media about the venue for rowing and how unsuitable it is, too windy, too unfair and not a ‘world class’ venue. I think it’s important as part of the rowing family, that we are careful to look outward, and not inward when it comes to judging this regatta and our beloved sport as part of it.
Despite what athletes and coaches may think and feel, the Olympics is not just about the athletes competing. I know that it is them that put in the hours of training and the commitment, but the Olympics is so much more that just playing sport. It’s about the spectators at the venue, those like me that are involved in rowing and passionate about it, but also those that are experiencing the sport for the first time. It’s about the host city and country, it’s their time to shine, to showcase their culture and to benefit from the boost to their economy and the legacy of hosting the games. And it’s about the spectators watching around the world, all the TV and media coverage means every sport is accessible for almost everyone in the world to engage with and be inspired. The Olympics are bigger than any athlete or sport and we in rowing are lucky to be part of it.
I met a young Brazilian from Sao Paulo yesterday at the rowing. He was sleeping on a friend’s floor and had tickets for a different sport every day, it was the first time that he had watched rowing. He was a lovely guy and was very enthusiastic about the Games, but he was also honest with me and said he thought the rowing was a bit boring. When you have margins of 27 seconds between first and second place in the heats, I can see his point.
In rowing we also have a problem of diversity. We do not have gender parity across all events, and this does not sit well within the Olympic ethos and the values it represents. The nature of our sport also makes it very difficult for up and coming nations to compete successfully, can you see Thailand or The Philippines fielding a heavyweight men’s eight any time soon? Are we offering enough of the right events to engage smaller nations of genetically smaller people in our sport.
And that brings me back to the lake – rowing at the Olympics represents a huge team, that does not offer gender parity or events that encourage inclusion, AND we need a 2km lake. We could not possibly have expected the Brazilians to have built a custom rowing lake when the iconic waters of the Lagoa, overlooked by Christ the Redeemer were available. For spectators around the world, what a spectacle the venue is. If you don’t have a vested interest in a competitor, what a spectacle some of yesterday’s racing was! Therefore, my point today, is that if we want rowing to continue to be the valued Olympic sport that it now is, we may have to look outward and be objective about our sport and embrace some changes. And for the next few days, I think we are just going to have to get on with it.