Female canoeists say they need more opportunities for leadership in the International Canoe Federation -- as well as greater participation in the Olympic Games.
Australian canoe slalom champion Jessica Fox hopes the ICF will add the women’s canoe single event (C-1) to the 2016 Olympic program. Fox tells Around the Rings that women’s C-1 slalom represents a bigger issue that goes beyond Rio; this addition to the Olympic program would encourage more girls to get into the sport.
During the 2012 London Olympics, men competed across eight events in the canoe sprint category while women competed in four events. In the canoe slalom category, men competed in three different events; women only competed in the kayak single event. Women represented approximately 33 percent of canoeists at the London Games; men represented 67 percent.
Currently, a female C-1 canoeist like Fox cannot compete in the Olympics -- even though Fox is a champion in her discipline.
Pan American Canoe Federation (COPAC) president Cecilia Farias says change will only occur when more women occupy positions of decision. Farias tells ATR that female decision-makers advocate for women’s participation in the sport; their votes "count for female athletes." The 27-member ICF executive board currently has only three female members, including Farias.
International Canoe Federation (ICF) spokesman Richard Pettit responded to the concerns of Fox and Farias in a statement to ATR. "The ICF has always taken great strides to ensure gender equity amongst all its disciplines," Pettit said.
However, women’s C1 slalom will not be added to the 2016 Olympic program. "We will continue to strive for its inclusion in the 2020 Games," Pettit added.
Jessica Fox: An Athlete's Perspective
Jessica Fox says the ICF cannot wait until 2020 to add more events for women to the Olympic program.
"They’ve said that we’re safe for Rio," Fox tells ATR. "If we wait until 2020 to include more women [and] to include the C-1 event, then that might be too late. We might get kicked out of the Olympics."
Wrestling faced a similar predicament eight months ago when the IOC took the sport off the Olympic program. At the 125th IOC session, wrestling regained its Olympic status. "Wrestling is below us in terms of gender equity," Fox explains. Rather than sacrifice a spot in the Olympics, Fox says wrestling quickly addressed its issues.
Already in existence is the third draft of the ICF equity charter which addresses some issues and needs, including a boost for female leadership and an increase in women’s canoe slalom and sprint events. Pettit told ATR that the ICF is confident that all internal points stated in the charter will be met by 2016.
Cecilia Farias: Positions of Decision
However, Farias says the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo represents a better target for the ICF and national canoe federations to improve on goals in the ICF equity charter.
Farias became a member of the ICF Women and Sport Committee in 2006. She tells ATR that women are better off now than when she approached canoeing 39 years ago as a young girl in Argentina.
"Their efforts and commitment are recognized," Farias says. "Girls and women athletes have dedicated coaches, technical and medical support, and international participation." Despite these signs of progress she adds, "Invisible barriers become obvious."
At times, Farias says it only takes simple measures to ensure gender equity. For example when Farias became president of COPAC, she enforced a requirement in every COPAC activity: participants must submit an equal quantity of men and women.
The ICF Responds
Pettit stressed areas in which the ICF has made gender equity a priority: "Women’s kayaking has been part of the World Cup since 1988." He also pointed out that since the respective start of sprint and slalom canoeing, women have participated in each discipline’s world championships.
During the 2010 Canoe Sprint World Championships the ICF incorporated the women’s C-1 200 meter event, an exhibition women’s canoe double (C-2) 500 meter race, and seven Paracanoe events. "The first women C-1 and C-2 world champions were crowned," said Pettit.
Pettit predicts that the 2014 ICF Congress will pass a proposal to improve gender equity.
Ultimately Fox says "it’s about the future of the sport in the Olympics and it’s just about doing what’s right.
"The world’s moving forward and canoeing is lagging behind."
Written byNicole Bennett.
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