Local rower Joel Cassells says he will not give up on his Olympic dream despite a controversial decision by the sport’s governing body to eliminate the Men’s Lightweight Four from the next games in Tokyo.
FISA wrapped up its weekend meetings in Tokyo at the Extraordinary Congress, electing to recommend an Olympic schedule for the 2020 Games that eliminates the lightweight men’s four and replaces it with a women’s four.
The result was exactly what was expected and FISA believes it has selected a proposal that best meets the IOC gender equality goals, and one it believes the IOC will accept.
It’s a hammer blow for Cassells who had hoped to follow in the oar strokes of fellow Bann Rowing Club members, Richard and Peter Chambers, who won silver in the four at the London 2012 Olympics.
Despite his disappointment though the 22-year-old told Times Sport his is determined to keep working hard to achieve his Olympic dream, but added his long term future in the sport may may not be so certain.
“It won’t stop my Olympic dream,” he said. “The path has gotten a little narrower, about 50 percent narrower, but it just means that I’ll just have to fight twice as hard to get there.
“I foreseen the possibility of this as far back as 2015 when concerns were first voiced, and have been focusing my efforts on the lightweight men’s double, especially this year.
“The Olympics are still three years away, so I have plenty of time to adjust to this decision. It may impact my decision on continuing with my sport beyond 2020, but thats something for me to think about closer to the time.”
Although the decision was expected by many in the sport, Cassells, who has won World and European Golds in the Lightweight Pair, said it was a ‘huge blow to rowing’, but he added he is in favour of gender equality.
“The ruling, while I knew it was coming down the line, is still a huge blow to rowing as we know it,” he said.
“On a personal level it has affected me, on an emotional basis I went to England to strive to go to the olympics, following in the footsteps of Richard and Peter, who won silver in this now defunct event in 2012.
“Now that it is essentially history is deeply saddening, and it will take some time for the rowing community as a whole to adjust to this.
“I support the 50/50 equality agenda to be clear, as do most in our sport. However I strongly believe FISA were not up to the challenge to support and defend men’s lightweight rowing.
“The event was the most hotly contested event in World Rowing, it was anyone’s guess who would win in any race due to the closeness of the boats in high quality racing.
“For example in 2010 when Richard won gold in this event, there was less than 1.2 seconds between first and fifth. In the women’s four final this year the gap was nearly 20 seconds.
“We’ve replaced a hugely competitive and enjoyable race for one which frankly isn’t all for the sake of equality, it just doesn’t seem right. It seems especially unfair when you consider the raft of open weight mens events that were available to be gotten rid of.
“A heavyweight man typically has 14 seats to try and earn, now a lightweight man has 2.
“It is in my view FISA took the easy option to solve the problem, and I really fear for the sport in the years to come.
“Now the IOC can see how easily it can dictate changes to a weak leadership, its anyone’s guess what the future of world rowing will look like.
“We’ve now cut off about 70 percent of developing and Asian nations participation in the sport according to the arguments presented at the weekend, so it will have a direct impact on rowing remaining in the Olympics.”
Many of the opposing views to the proposal came from smaller countries that do not have the athlete pool, or available resources, to field a large and open weight team. There will be just two lightweight boats in the Olympics now, the men’s and women’s doubles.