Sunday, 24 January 2016

Thoughts about the ICF proposal for the modification of the canoeing program in Tokio 2020 (and Part 3)

(This article is the third and last of this series. You can read here Part 1 and Part 2).

[NOTE OF THE AUTHOR: Please, have in mind that this article was made for an Spanish audience and trying to explain the information arriving to our country. It may happen that this information is incomplete (no German or Hungarian news, for instance, languages too difficult for this writer) or vision may be completely different depending on the country you live in. All feedback will be appreciated, do not hesitate to comment]

Well, at this point, we agreed that we would today revisit the interests mostly at a street level, which seems out of range for the control of the marketing department of Coca-Cola (kidding... and by saying Coca-Cola, I mean Red Bull or any other brand that comes to your mind).

Here I have made a mental map that divides the world into two. Two main areas of influence, one in favor of leaving things as they are (or making changes according to this status) and another in favor of change and give especially much more weight in the decision to gender parity. The first is made up of Great Britain and Russia. Second, Canada and Australia. This division is not fictitious nor capricious. Anyone who regularly follow in the world of canoeing publications from diaries or magazines to social networks, youtube, etc., will be able to guess where the shots come from, definitely I will not discover gunpowder today. Much of what I will present here is already known for some time, but at least I try to summarize so you can understand as clearly as possible.

Why Great Britain and Russia are not intended to give greater weight to women? Because that would force to cut down men disciplines. In the case of K2 200 and Slalom C2 the thing seems already clear, in Rio the last medals will be given in these races. In fact, the K2 200 was a rookie career in London, replacing the K2 500. Well, then let's go back for a while to London 2012. Who showed the greatest display of power of all the Olympics, according to me? Two gentlemen called Yuri Postrigay and Alexander Dyachenko. Where are they from? Russia. In the same race, the bronze went to two other regulars on the podiums in 200m, Liam Heath and Jonathan Schofield. British, to be more explicit.

Let's see the Slalom C2. Gold for Timothy Baillie and Etienne Stott, silver for David Florence and Richard Hounslow. Where are these four paddlers from?...

Great Britain. They gave their canoeing community, and on behalf the TV coverage the whole country, one of the best days they remember. The next morning, children no longer wanted to be central forwards of Manchester United, they wanted to get on a C2 and jump down a river. Historically, Russia and Great Britain have been more likely to succeed in male categories and, except exceptions, have not had female teams at the same level. So it looks reasonable that now you do not like having to tell all your 200m paddlers or slalom canoeists "Look, guys, from now on just paddle K1 or C1 and let's fight, just one of you will be at the Olympics".

Harder it is for the canoeists over 200 meters, which would directly be kicked off. What was the podium in London 2012? Cheban, Shuklin and Shtyl. Ukraine, Lithuania and Russia. Russian influenced countries (all belonged to the former USSR) also look like in the same situation as the Russians. "Guys, no more 200 for anyone, 1000 or go home". And except Belarus, none look to have a women's team at the level of men (I'm not considering Poland in this group, they were not part of the USSR). Can you imagine the Russians coming back home with no medals at all? Neither do they. The training they will get from now on for the C2 1000 will be no joke, mate. At least until it is also thrown out of the program after Tokyo 2020, they are the next on target.

In this case we could also put Spain. Although maybe I should not say this, I think that in a four years time we cannot replace the options now given by Benavides Arévalo, Toro or Garrote by some other women the expected retirement of Teri Portela... At least, I cannot see it right now, sadly. Another thing is the slalom, where the girls themselves are at a good level and getting medals, as the case of Maialen Chourraut and Nuria Villarrubla, the only ones gaining with the change (Nuria also old enough to appear in several more Olympic Games). What is the opinion of Spain about it? Officially it is not known or expected. Perurena is Spanish, don't forget that. So let's just listening, seeing and keeping mouth shut (I personally know what I'm talking about, but that's another story).

Well, let us now check those in favor of change and especially to seek gender parity. What do Canada and Australia have in common apart from the Queen of England? We could say that not much apart from van Koeverden and Wallace. However, each of these countries for their part have the same interest, the inclusion of women's canoe. The more competitions for women, the best for us, Canada thinks. As inventors of that boat, they have a long tradition and, as a result, the women paddle on a canoe since much longer time ago than anywhere else in the world. Therefore, they have already traveled halfway and the sooner female canoe competitions are in the Olympic program, the sooner they can begin to monetize their investment. New medalists, more advertising, more funds from the Canadian Olympic Committee, etc. etc... If for that reason they need to get rid of some male disciplines, it's still worth to pay the price, the change is still a benefit. But above all they are interested to make this change quick, as soon as possible. Because they know it's about time that the countries of Eastern Europe put their women training groups massively on canoes until reaching the level of men. And the better starting point of Canada would fade away. In fact, in the world championships of Milano in the two competitions at stake (C1 200 and C2 500), Canada got no medals. For them this change is arriving late, but still are the main supporters.

Meanwhile (and I know this I'm going to say is very politically incorrect), they are able to make a women C4 able to paddle within the lane, something that not every country can say. Hence, the proposal to the ICF (picture right), which was much more aggressive than the definite proposed by the ICF to the IOC. Same distance and same boats for men and women. Suddenly, Canada climbs up in the nations ranking, especially considering that they do not look like having a substitute for Adam van Koeverden, its great value for the last 12 years. And De Jong will still have his K1 in short distance. Canada going too far? It looks like, but, what if they hit the spot and get it?

Obviously, they shelter behind gender parity. It is a laudable aim in fact, as I said the first day. In nowadays society it is an indisputable issue. But I`m considering equality, not parity, which are different terms. Equality means that everyone has the same opportunities. Parity means 50% men - 50% women. This is sometimes not giving the same opportunities to everyone. Let me explain: In a prom ball a king and a queen are elected. That's parity, 50% each. But imagine it is a school of literature and philology, where 80% of students are women and 20% men. It means that a man has a 4 times greater chance of being elected king. Parity, but not equality.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I fear that the number of male licenses in our sport far exceeds that of women. Sadly, I have to admit, but that's a fact. And I do not say anything if we talk in terms of canoe paddlers. Why then the chance to go to the Olympics must be 1 to 1000 for a girl by 1 to 10,000 for a boy? Because otherwise it is politically incorrect. And I'm making it clear that this at all wants to be a constraint from my part for women. Not at all. Since women's canoe has entered the championships, we've all seen numerous girls encouraged to compete in canoe. That's very good for the sport and, above all, for the future of sport. But why does it have to be charged at the cost of so many dreams of boys of their same age? Why do these guys have to become some kind of Superman to reach the Olympics?

Moreover, why is not in the Olympic program male synchronized swimming? There are no boys out there who practice it? Are they not entitled to develope as athletes? I'm sure of it, but again that's knocking on big doors. Go tell  the International Swimming Federation that they must include it. And, in addition, they have to remove the 4x100 medley relay. Over their corpses, they would say. Not to mention trying that the Athletics team of Saudi Arabia brings a 50% of men and 50% of women. And more I say, their women with those bikinis the Western athletes use to wear (something I will never understand, by the way). Let's see who's the cowboy riding that bull.

So in regard to flatwaters, the topic is burning hot. For Slalom, things are much clearer. Good bye to C2 and everyone in K1 and C1. Same number of men and women. Total parity. It is very clear that in Tokyo it will be like that. And here it is where Australia appears. Jessica Fox was K1 silver medal at the London Olympics at just 18 years old. The daughter of Richard Fox, former Olympian and world champion representing Great Britain (and former vicepresident of the ICF when the Olympic Program started to be discussed), his country of birth, is one of the emerging figures of slalom. And not only she shines in K1, her results in C1 are usually even better. In fact, in the last world champs she already took the double gold in K1 and C1.

As they say on brokers' ads, "current results do not guarantee future results". But it is increasing the ceiling of aspiration. The chances are doubled. This means that if Jessica Fox has at least four Olympic Games ahead (will hit 2028 at 34), she is not playing for four gold medals, but seven, because from 2020 will also have the possibility of C1. After she may win or not, the rest of paddlers are good enough, too. But automatically your choices for success are increased in a 75%. The bet rises, but the prize too. In fact, it's not only about having a shelf at home with an impressive collection of medals. Also the prestige related to it. Everyone remembers Mark Spitz by winning 7 golds. If he had won 3, no one would remember him today. And with the prestige and medals are the sport authorities' helps for training, which are usually paid as a salary and are renewable annually. And advertising contracts, of course. Oh, wait, and Australia is also one of the two dozens of countries granting money prizes for the Olympic medals. To date, $ 126,000 for gold. So, not only we playe 7 medals, but also $ 882,000. There are days that I'm not getting them, huh? I insist, then you have to sweat and suffer as noone else to win. But motivation has grown.

And it may be a tremendous coincidence, but Jessica Fox is sponsored by a sparkled energy drink that gives you wings. Yuri Postrigay, not. In fact, if you've ever taken a look at his twitter account, the Russian is not a magnet for those advertisers who define the Olympic programs.

I do not know if at this point I have clarified things or I mixed them up even more, but just one more point to finish, which indicates clearly that nobody here is good nor bad, nor the opposite (including me, I want at all costs to make Olympic the K1 700 for bald guys less than 80 kg. born in July '74). That point is that Richard Fox, the father of Jessica Fox, was not re-elected vice president of the ICF in its last congress under the banner of gender equality in our sport. A very laudable aim, and as I say, necessary if we do not get confused with the parity, which is the thing happening at the Olympics under the flag of reducing costs. Finally, Richard Fox came not reelected despite having one of the most consistent views of sport and for the future that was in that election speeches. Maybe he was far too progressive at a congress of dinosaurs. In fact, many who are now affected by the elimination of Slalom C2 were in his favor, as a man who worked in favor of the sport and the transition to the future. The question is whether his speech would be the same if the were the father of Yuri Postrigay or Sete Benavides, for example.

And now, as a lover of thiller films, one last final twist: Richard Fox was replaced as vicepresident of the ICF by Joao Manuel Da Costa Alegre, president of the Rowing Federation of Sao Tome and Principe, a country that throughout its history has provided only one Olympic paddler. It was a 17-year-old boy called Alcino Silva and he was out in the first round of Beijing 2008 after setting 4'28"in K1 1000. It's not his fault, I insist, but that's the level. By the way, Joao Manuel Da Costa, in his younger days, was a handball player. He now sits at the right hand of Perurena.

And with this, the fish opens its mouth and bites its own tail.

Finally, and as a lover of our sport, I embed here a video of what you can enjoy for the last time this summer in Rio at an Olympic level. As you watch it, just think that in the end, the only ones who will suffer all this fights without being guilty at all are the poor kids that with all the enthusiasm in the world get cold on a kayak or a canoe after school because what they really like is doing sport and having fun with friends. For many of them, that's the only thing that will remain: fun.

Pump up the volume:

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