Issue 103 - October 1997
ARA Council, October 4: Christopher Dodd
Following FISA's deletion of its amateur requirement at its Council meeting in August, the ARA's Rules Committee produced a discussion paper with the proposal that an extraordinary general meeting should take place in conjunction with December's Council meeting to decide changes to the ARA Memorandum of Association, Articles of Association, Rules and Rules of Racing.
At the end of a stimulating and at times stormy debate, the feeling was that the association should move to an 'open' definition to be implemented in the 1999 season. The paper was put forward by Mike Walker and lists matters to be considered to revise rules dealing with receipt of money in excess of expenses currently permitted, importation of rowers for prestige events, effect on clubs without money available to larger clubs, maintaining grass roots sport parallel with open clubs and athletes, managing payments to athletes by the ARA earned from rowing and 'star appeal', ownership of athletes, and preservation of 'inherent nature of the sport' in face of alternative events. The name of the ARA will also have to be changed.
Walker's apparent conclusion that amateur status would have to be maintained alongside a new open class was condemned by most speakers round the table. Ian Fisher thought it right to protect the lower end by means of maintaining the amateur, but he also said that it is wrong to stick to the old amateur code. 'Brundage's days are gone,' he said, referring to the former IOC president's strict amateurism.
Mike Williams, treasurer of the ARA and member of the FISA executive, said: 'I am disappointed by this paper. It moves the clock back 30 years instead of forward by 20 years. At present professional athletes row within the rules in amateur events. Rules on money are difficult to police and impossible to control.' He said that athletes are already funded by their clubs in expenses, transport, regatta fees etc. 'The paper does not start to address the professional world of licensing, marketing rights, advertising rights, rights for athletes, clubs, sponsors, the ARA, the BOA. Those are the issues. The paper is blowing in the wrong direction. Rowing is an open sport.'
Williams also rounded on Walker for criticising FISA's changes, which caused a spat in which Brandon-Bravo had to call Walker to order. Walker then protested that he was so offended that he refused to say anything. Later he accused FISA of causing the changes to be made in indecent haste by dropping its amateur references between February and August. Williams pointed out that FISA's proposed four-year consideration of the topic had been dashed by the Australian federation - seconded by the ARA - when they forced a vote at August's Council.
John Kinnear said that the paper's issues would amount to a mountain of rules for the very few. Rodney Beer queried Walker's idea that lapsed open athletes would be able to become amateurs again. 'Why create the barrier in the first place?' he wanted to know.
Richard Phelps (CUBC) said that, coming from a famous watermen's family, he would be extremely disappointed to see the amateur-professional divide reintroduced to rowing.
David Tanner, international manager, said that rowing had been a pseudo-amateur sport for 15 years. 'Does the rower make a profit? Some do. Prize money would be a big change for the better. He also said that there was no necessity to change the rules in haste as long as the situation was kept under review. 'The squad can operate under the present arrangements for the time being.'
Ray Painter (Leander) described the paper as 'complete overkill'. He urged council not to give their committee a mandate until clubs and regions had had the opportunity to discuss the issue. He said that the ARA would have to change its name.
Neil Thomas said that 'rowing will become open'. He said that athletes should be consulted, and the Scottish ARA and the Welsh ARA should be brought into the discussions on the future name of the ARA. The feeling of the meeting agreed with Walker that the name change was secondary tochanging the definition.
Difficulties arise with a new name because the ARA is responsible for GB rowing internationally but only rowing in England domestically - something which may be complicated further by the preference of most Northern Irish athletes to row for the Irish Amateur Rowing Union which represents all-Ireland internationally. Thus names such as GBRA, English RA and British RA are ruled out. The Rowing Association is the only politically acceptable proposal so far, but may be judged a touch arrogant.
© Copyright Regatta Magazine, 1997.
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