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CEO Update: December 2021

CEO Update  

December 2021 

We’ve reached the end of 2021 and a second year fraught with challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. During uncertain times there is one thing we can be sure of – the resilience of the rowing community and your ability to adapt and support each other during difficult moments. Many of you will be winding down and looking forward to a well-deserved holiday and time spent with loved ones, but before then, please join me as we remember what was an historic year for rowing in Australia. Despite the challenges, there is much to celebrate.  

We started the year at scenic Lake Barrington and the 2021 Aon Australian Rowing Championships. After the cancellation of the Nationals in 2020, rowing returned to the national stage and with great anticipation we welcomed 1599 athletes, coaches, volunteers, and supporters for seven days of racing.  The King’s and Queen’s Cups were won by the Victorian crews and the Interstate Women’s Eight celebrated 100 years since the first Queen’s Cup was rowed. The Rowing Australia Cup for most successful State in the Interstate Regatta, was presented to New South Wales.  

After 18 months of uncertainty and two years without international racing, our Olympic and Paralympic crews made it to the starting line at the Sea Forest Waterway at Tokyo. Their journey to the Games’ was not without its challenges but their resilience shone through and the rowing community were proud witnesses.  

When the Games’ arrived, we gathered around TV’s and digital devices, in our homes and rowing clubs, to watch our athletes make their mark. With 28 debutants amongst a 38 strong Olympic Rowing Team and six debutants in an eight strong Paralympic Rowing Team, this measure of youth and experience proved to be a winning formula.  

The hour of power when our Men’s and Women’s Four’s stormed home for Gold and our Men’s and Women’s Quadruple Scull claimed Bronze, contributed to the most successful period in the history of the Australian Olympic Team. Those four medals won by Australian crews saw our nation finish in second place on the Olympic Regatta Medal Table.    

At the Paralympics, Kathryn Ross made history before racing started, becoming one of only a handful of rowers to compete at every Paralympics Regatta. We also celebrated a Silver Medal won by the formidable Erik Horrie who now has three Paralympic Silver Medals in his collection.  

We are immensely proud of each and every one of our athletes, but also of the team behind the team – our coaches and the support staff who guided our athletes every step of the way.  

The challenges our team faced should not be underestimated.  

At the height of the pandemic, Olympic and Paralympic athletes travelled to Europe to attend the Final Olympic and Paralympic Qualification Regattas. The trip resulted in qualification for the Women’s Quadruple Scull and PR2 Mixed Double Scull, which saw a total of nine Olympic crews and three Olympic crews qualified for Tokyo.  

With athletes making their Games’ preparations here in Australia, our Member Associations answered a call for support and worked closely with our High-Performance Team to simulate a competitive racing season across venues at Nagambie (Vic), West Lakes (SA), The Sydney International Regatta Centre (NSW), Lake Burley Griffin (ACT), Lake Barrington (Tas) and Wyaralong (Qld).   

To avoid Sydney’s lockdown, our women’s team had to pack the boat trailer and their belongings with only an hour’s notice. The consequence of not doing so would have prohibited them from attending the pre-Games staging camp at Rockhampton.  

In celebrating the achievements of our athletes, we must acknowledge host country Japan, its Government and the Japanese people for the enormous undertaking of hosting a global sporting event in the middle of a global pandemic. We offer our sincere thanks to the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and Paralympics Australia (PA) who took great care of our athletes and provided them with the most memorable Games’ experience.  

On the eve of the Olympic Games, Brisbane was announced as the host of the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  With this news, our sport has an incredible and unique opportunity to grow and develop the sport of rowing and we congratulate the Queensland and Australian Governments, as well as the AOC and PA on bringing the Games to Australia on a third occasion. The Rowing Australia (RA) Board and RA Executive is working together with its stakeholders including Council Members and our Major Partner Sport Australia, to reset our objectives for the whole of the sport, to ensure that they align with the opportunities that come with the staging of a home Olympics and Paralympics. We look forward to sharing our 5+5 Strategic Plan with you in the New Year.   

On the Events front, we were disappointed to postpone the inaugural Australian Coastal Rowing Championships, but the Australian Indoor Rowing Championships forged ahead virtually and at event centres in Adelaide, Darwin and Brisbane. All up there were 894 participants who took part.   

Thank-you to Rowing South Australia for stepping in as host of The Australian Masters Rowing Championships at West Lakes after the Sydney International Regatta Centre was unable to host the event due to water quality. This was a difficult decision but the rowing community rallied and I would particularly like to acknowledge the volunteers, boat race officials and staff in South Australia who were able to provide our Masters’ community with the opportunity to compete.    

Looking to our national calendar of events in 2022, we continue to plan for the safe and successful delivery of the Australian Rowing Championships at the Sydney International Regatta Centre (NSW), the Australian Masters Rowing Championships at Champion Lakes (WA), the Australian Coastal and Beach Sprint Championships at Noosa Heads (Qld) and the Australian Indoor Rowing Championships. We remain cautiously optimistic of national attendance at these events and have committed to providing our rowing community with regular updates. Please keep an eye on our website.   

After their postponement, the Hancock Prospecting Rower of the Year Awards will take place on Friday 11 March 2022 and I encourage you to book your ticket and join the celebration.  

In 2022, we also look forward to the resumption of international competition and Australian Rowing Teams travelling and competing overseas. In preparation for the international season, Our Men’s and Women’s National Training Centres will welcome the first intake of athletes in early January. The journey to Paris 2024 is well and truly underway and eligible Para-Rowers recently learned that a fifth boat class will be added to the Paralympic Rowing Regatta.  The News has sparked interest amongst eligible PR3 athletes who are excited to see the PR3 Mixed Double Scull enter the Paralympic program.   

At the grassroots, as well as identifying opportunities to attract new participants to our sport, our participation team is working hard to retain and upskill our coaches and officials. We’ve received great feedback on the series of coaching webinars and we are hopeful our face-to-face coaching course can return in 2022.   

In closing, I would like to take an opportunity to thank the many organisations and individuals who support RA:  

  • We are extremely grateful for the ongoing support of all our partners including Principal Partner, Hancock Prospecting, Rowing Australia Patron Mrs Gina Rinehart and Major Partner Sport Australia.  
  • The RA Board and RA Council play an important role in governing and growing our sport and I thank them for their time and commitment.  
  • The hardworking RA Staff and Staff of our Member Associations are at the coalface of our sport – they work selflessly to pursue positive outcomes for all participants.  
  • The rowing community – clubs, coaches, officials and volunteers – your resilience during a tumultuous period is to be commended. We look forward to seeing you on the water in 2022.   

Wishing you and your family a safe, happy and healthy Christmas.  

Ian Robson