The traditional powerhouses of rowing — including Australia, Britain and the US — could face limits in the number of events they compete in at the 2012 London Olympics.
The 126 member nations of FISA, the sport’s world governing body, will vote next month on a Swiss proposal that would restrict countries to entering a maximum 10 of 14 gold medal classes. The move is intended to give smaller European nations more chances to qualify.
The move was opposed on Friday by FISA Council member John Coates, who heads Australia’s national Olympic Committee and is a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Christian Stofer, director of the Swiss Rowing national federation, said the plan was designed to “shake the world of rowing a little bit” and was in the sport’s long-term interests.
“The strong countries have to feel they also have a certain responsibility,” Stofer said by telephone. “Is it really necessary that big countries have a boat in more or less all the boat classes?”
Australia was the only country to qualify in all 14 race categories at the Beijing Games last August. Germany and the US had 13 crews, Britain 12 and China 11.
Britain led with two gold medals, two silvers and two bronzes. Australia had two gold medals and a silver, followed by Canada (1 gold, 1 silver, two bronzes) and the US (1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze).
Stofer said Olympic exposure was crucial for smaller European teams to earn domestic funding that helped develop young talent and host world-class events.
But those same countries have been squeezed in qualification by a FISA continental quota system that ensures places for emerging teams from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
However, Austria missed out and Spain was represented by a lone women’s sculler who had to be given a wild card entry by FISA, Stofer said.
“We are not asking for free seats — we know our rowers have to be good enough,” said Stofer, whose country had one qualifier, men’s sculler Andre Vonarburg.
The Swiss official said he was confident of winning support at FISA’s congress in Cape Town, South Africa, from Feb. 13 to Feb. 15. The proposal needs two-thirds support for approval.
But Coates said it would do little to help international rowing.
“Having improved the opportunity for developing rowing nations to qualify for the Olympics through our continental Olympic qualification regattas, the IOC and FISA must be careful to ensure that the Olympics remains a competition for the very best of our rowers and scullers and in every class of boat,” he said.