Doping cheats will follow the money, Federations must be cautious – World Rowing

By iSportconnect | June 16, 2016

With the Olympics 50 days away, much of the focus in the build-up has been on anything other than the sport itself.

Doping has dominated the headlines, with Russia and Kenya’s participation in athletics still up in the air. Not only that, but retrospective testing has shown up cheats from 2008 and 2012.

While doping is a problem for all sports, Executive Director of World Rowing Matt Smith, believes that doping is intrinsically linked to sports with money flowing into them. In this case, rowing’s lack of financial clout may actually be an advantage:

“I honestly believe that because there is so little money in rowing, we haven’t attracted the sorts of people who come to sports with money. For me there is a clear connection. We’re here for the sport, not about making money. Every week people come to us saying ‘If you change this rule you can get more money!’ My response to them is – If we change that rule, we change the core values of our sport, and we wouldn’t do that. For that reason we don’t have a problem.”

Despite that assessment, FISA are taking no chances. They have one of the most vigorous anti-doping programmes at the Games.

“We have a very active anti-doping testing programme. We were the first federation to do out of competition testing in 1983. We were the first in 1989 to have a life ban for the first offence. We were the first to use DNA analysis to identify doping problems. We were the first to have a “no needles” policy at our events. We’ve always taken doping very seriously. As sports administrators, it’s our most fundamental duty to keep our sport fair and clean. To run a strong anti-doping programme, that’s credible, is the most fundamental thing we can do as a sports federation.”

In an exclusive chat with iSportconnet, UCI’s president Brian Cookson said that many federations are in denial that they have a doping problem, a conclusion Smith agreed with:

“There are several sports that have a lot of issues [with doping] that deny it. A lot of them are in the USA. Where there are professionals, where there is money, everyone is attracted to that money. That’s the fundamental problem, in my opinion.”

World Rowing

Amongst the doping headlines, the International Federations like FISA are trying to organise a successful Games, in a country that is struggling to be ready on time.

Rowing have more logistical problems than most to deal with, with much negative press surrounding the water quality that the boats will race in.

Smith feels they have a handle on the issue, although they are keeping a close eye on the water – and will make a daily decision on whether to race or not.

“We have been following the water quality issue very closely and I believe we have all of the elements under control. Or let’s say that we now understand the issues. Each morning at 6.30 we will have a meeting to assess all of the aspects that could affect the water quality, and make the decision about going forward with racing or not.

The only thing that can change the water quality in a short space of time would be a huge amount of rain. In the winter we don’t have that much rain in Rio, so that’s why we’re confident that that risk factor will be low.

We have done an analysis of the effect of heavy rain on the lagoon, we’ve analysed the worst parts of the lagoon, where pollutants could enter the lagoon. We’ve checked the canal between the ocean and the lagoon. We know all the elements now. We had swimming quality water for the test event and we’re pretty confident.”

Should the worst come to the worst, and the water isn’t fit for racing on a particular day (a probability that Smith assessed at 10-20%) Smith allayed fears of disruption.

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“We have eight days, and lots of experience with different issues in the past, of how to shift things around and still complete the Olympic programme within the eight days.”

Another issue that is overshadowing the Games is ticket sales. At the recent IOC Executive Meeting in Lausanne, the IOC said only 67% of tickets had been sold. While other sports are struggling on that front, a cut to the number of seats for the rowing events means FISA are confident they will be sold out.

“We started with 14,000 seats. But the floating grandstand will not be built, so we’re down to 5,000 seats. We actually went over there to walk the spectator experience; from the new metro station to the venue. I can tell you those 5,000 people are going to have a fantastic time. They’ll all be gathered near the finish area, near the athletes, whereas the floating grandstand would be rather far away. So we’ll be sold out with our 5,000 seats.

The final issue besetting Games is perhaps the most alarming – the Zika virus. Athletes, press and support teams have all considered dropping out over the risk to unborn children. Smith admitted it is an alarming development – but insisted, in line with the IOC, the risks to people coming to Rio is low.

“We’ve been following Zika closely. It is very worrying, and very serious. One question I asked was – ‘What is the lifetime radius of a mosquito?’ It’s 400 metres. A mosquito that is born, can only go a maximum of 400 metres. I understand they are fumigating around the venues and the living areas. Being winter, having less rain and moisture, I’m convinced that the Zika threat is rather low. But it’s very worrying and I urge people to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organisation. But there are several other things we need to keep our eye on as well. But I think the risk is lower in the winter and in Rio, as opposed to the north of Brazil.

Finally, when the Games are finally underway, could we expect to see an unlikely home winner?

“We’d be very happy if we saw a Brazilian underdog crew perform well! Brazil is actually getting better at rowing, they’ve had some good performances lately. Their para-rowing team is pretty good as well.”

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