At the back of this group of canoers and kayakers was a lone, young woman in a canoe. She was a left sided paddler , struggling to steer in the right’s wind, struggling against the head wind because of her size, struggling with her balance because her own coach was paying attention to those ahead of her and giving her motorboat wash (there was nothing that annoyed me more, and discouraged me more, than getting wash from my own coach – especially in already difficult conditions). And yet she persevered, continuing to forge ahead with the workout in by far the most challenging conditions as compared to everyone else in her training group.
That’s when it hit me. While in my career as a male canoer I had to endure those conditions on rare occasions, top female canoers I know would read about the practice I am describing and say, “yeah, for me that was almost EVERY practice.” Always fighting for water behind the guys, always fighting for coaching time, always fighting for equal coaching, racing, funding and opportunity.
The practice I was watching is a metaphor for what women in canoe are currently experiencing on the world stage. Not including Women’s Canoe racing, in equal measure with the men, at the 2016 Olympic Games is unjust. Plain and simple. There can only be one reason – politics.
There are politics because the IOC has put a “cap” on the total number of people that can attend the Olympic Games. Each sport has an “athlete’s quota” – a total allocation of athletes, so if Women’s canoe was added, the number of athletes from Women’s Canoe would have to be subtracted from Men’s kayak or canoe, or Women’s kayak. Those disciplines obviously don’t want to give up their numbers, so rather than take on the problem, the International Canoe Federation simply declared at its November Congress that the status quo would remain for the 2016 Olympics.
Well, that’s not good enough. That response invoked an outcry from WomenCan International (www.justcanoeit.com), a group dedicated to getting Women’s’ Canoe in the Olympics, and from leading male canoe paddlers and Olympic medalists, like Larry Cain (see his blog on this subject at www.larrycain.ca), Steve Giles and Mark Oldershaw.
I would like to join the lobby group. As my contribution, I will put forth a solution to the “athlete quota” problem. This took me about half an hour, I admittedly had a huge advantage because I have no vested interest in any of this other than seeing equity and fairness.
So, here goes;
Qualification Numbers for Olympic Canoe Kayak
Men's K1 200 16 12
Men's K1 1000 15 12
Men's K2 200 20 18
Men's K2 1000 20 18
Men's K4 1000 40 16
Women's K1 200 18 12
Women's K1 500 20 12
Women's K2 200 0 18
Women's K2 500 28 18
Women's K4 500 40 16
Men's C1 200 13 12
Men's C1 1000 13 12
Men's C2 200 0 12
Men's C2 1000 20 12
Women's C1 200 0 12
Women's C1 1000 0 12
Women's C2 200 0 12
Women's C2 1000 0 12
Total Boat Quota 263 248
Allocation 248 248
There are three significant changes;
There is gender equity in all disciplines.
I have put Men’s C2 200 back in the program (the second C2 event was removed in 2012) because removing it in 2012 was not a reasoned decision.
There is a significant reduction in the “athlete quota” numbers for Men’s and Women’s K4. This requires some explanation (see below)
I am proposing that the top four countries at the World Championships from the zones of Europe, Asia, North America and South America/Oceania (zones will have to be created to include everyone) receive 4 athlete quota spots for K4 for a total of 16 K4 spots for both men and women. Other countries can enter K4 at the Olympics, but they must use athletes from K1 and K2. For example, in 2012 Canada had four kayak athletes at the Olympic Games, Adam Van Koeverden, Mark de Jonge, Ryan Cochrane and Hughes Fournel. Those four athletes could enter the K4 event for Canada.
I realize that under existing rules, countries that do not qualify K4 can enter K4, but they do not, primarily because of schedule. I am proposing that special consideration be given to the scheduling of the K4 event, so that K4 is held AFTER the other kayak events are concluded, for example, somewhat ironically, you could have a final day of men’s and women’s 200 meter canoe racing, with K4 heats in the morning and the K4 final as the last event of the Olympics, like the 4 by 400 meter event in track and field.
While there are other issues with athlete quotas and distances, I’ll leave it at that. I want to stick to the important issue. I want that young woman who is toughing it out every day at the back of the pack to paddle in a world where she has equal opportunity.
Put Women’s Canoe on the 2016 Program.