CHANGES: Off shore rowing is growing in popularity. The All-Ireland Coastal Rowing Championships were held in Dingle last summer and over 600 competitors took part. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan

 

EXCLUSIVE

 

By Sean Moriarty

Rowing Ireland held a public open meeting in Killarney last night (Thursday) to discuss the national governing body’s plans for offshore rowing, which is set to become a new arena for the sport on the international stage.

The sport’s world governing body, FISA, is behind a plan to include offshore rowing in future Olympic Games. This is in response to increasing pressure by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to replace existing codes in favour of adding new events.

Favourite to get the chop are the lightweight classes, a category where Irish rowers have excelled in the past.

Local Olympic hero Paul Griffin represented Ireland in the Athens Olympics (2004) and finished sixth alongside fellow Muckross oarsman Cathal Moynihan in the lightweight coxless four final in Beijing four years later. The lightweight four event has already been culled since 2016 and the sole lightweight boat at Olympic level is now the double sculls.

During the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, the O’Donovan brothers of Skibbereen won silver behind France in the lightweight double sculls, the first rowing medal won by Ireland in the Olympics. Tokyo 2020 may be the last time the lightweight double features as an Olympic event.

However, offshore rowing is growing in popularity, to the point that Muckross Rowing Club will soon take delivery of its first offshore quad boat.

This growth in offshore rowing is offering new opportunities for rowers countrywide, including local rowing clubs in Killarney.

A new summer league has been announced for this season with regattas taking place in Kerry, Cork, Wicklow, Wexford, Donegal and Antrim and there are over 30 clubs competing nationally offshore.

“A simple analogy would be cycling when they started to include mountain biking alongside the road races,” Muckross Rowing Club PRO Tim O’Shea told the Killarney Advertiser.

“It won’t mean the end to lightweight rowing, but it might present alternative opportunities to get local rowers to the Olympics and further grow the sport nationally. Offshore rowing is a very different skill in a different style of boat, you are fighting currents and waves where the Olympic style of rowing as we know it requires mostly calm conditions.”

Depending on the next move by the IOC, offshore rowing could be included in the Olympics as early as Paris in 2024 and Rowing Ireland is getting ready. The discipline is already confirmed for the Youth Olympic Games in Senegal in 2022.