ICF Congress 2008

Dec. 02, 2008, 1:22 p.m. (ET)

It was pasta instead of turkey as the ICF held its biannual Congress over the thanksgiving weekend in Rome. Gina Sanchez and Eric Lokken joined me as official delegated of USA Canoe/Kayak. Also present from USACK were Cecilia Farias, Charles Yatman, Charles Luckman representing COPAC. USACK Board Member Sandra Low attended as the official delegate of Guam and Victor Ruiz was there representing Puerto Rico. In all more than eighty countries attended.

The mood of the Congress was quite positive, with much self-congratulation about the success of our events in Beijing. The IOC will not release details of the event by event broadcast ratings until December, but indications are that the canoeing events did well, especially for sprint where the weather was much better and thus more telegenic.

The most dramatic outcome of the Congress was a large scale change in the ICF leadership. Ulrich Feldhoff from Germany retired after serving ten years as President. Former 1st Vice President Jose Perurena Lopez of Spain was chosen as the new President. In the race to succeed Mr. Perurena as 1st VP, István Vaskuti of Hungary, who had served the past four years as Chair of the Flatwater Sprint Committee, defeated Albert Woods of the UK.

The election for the 2nd Vice Presidency was a great disappointment for us as Richard Fox, multi-time slalom champion for the UK and now coaching for Australia, defeated our own Gina Sanchez and incumbent Joao Tomasini Schwertner of Brazil. Not only did we not achieve our goal of finally getting a US voice in the inner circle of the ICF, but the Federation itself missed its first ever opportunity to demonstrate its compliance with IOC mandates on the participation of women in International Federation leadership. Mr. Tomasini’s loss to Mr. Fox also means there is no longer any representation from the Americas on the ICF Executive Committee and further reinforces the Euro-centricity of the ICF.

Luciano Buonfiglio, President of the Italian Federation, was nominated over the incumbent Francesco Conforti, another Italian, and won election as treasurer over Christian Ryser of Switzerland, completing the Europeans’ sweep.
Canadian Frank Garner was elected the new Chair of the Flatwater Sprint Committee. Jean Michel Prono was re-elected Chair of the Whitewater Slalom Committee. The ICF Board then selected USACK nominee Eric Lokken to serve on that committee, replacing USACK Board member Eric Giddens who had served the previous four years. Many thanks to Eric G and congrats to Eric L.

Jorn Cronberg of Denmark and Jens Perlwitz of Germany were re-elected chairs of the Marathon and Wildwater Committees respectively. Other discipline committee chairs continue until the next Congress. Ms. Belen Sanchez Jimenez of Spain was re-elected Chair of the ICF Athletes Commission.

USACK member Ben Fuller should be recognized on his retirement after many years as Chair of the ICF Canoe Sailing Committee. That sport is no longer represented on the ICF Board under recently enacted rules requiring a minimum standard of participation in a discipline’s World Championships.

John Edwards from Canada was elected Chair of the ICF Sport for All Committee. Canada and the US are seen as leaders in the ICF’s effort to promote access to our sports for athletes with disabilities (what the ICF calls “PaddleAbility”). Gina Sanchez has served as a member of the Sport for All committee since its creation and is expected to be approved by the ICF board as a member for the coming term.

The most contentious issue at the Congress was surely the debate over changes in the sprint racing program. ICF continues to be under pressure from the IOC and EBU and other broadcasters to streamline its Flatwater World Championships and make the presentation of the sport, including at the Olympic level, more TV friendly. The IOC is also pressing the goals of universality and gender equity.
After what was reported to be a long and difficult meeting of the ICF Board on the issue immediately prior to the Congress the open discussion was no easier. There was clearly no consensus on how to change the program. Many federations had very strongly felt views.

Between the two days of the Congress, the Sprint Committee finally developed a compromise that was approved by the Congress. They essentially replaced the decision on what specific changes to make with a process for how the World Championships program will be changed. The Committee is going to develop a set of criteria by which events will be compared. In 2009 relays will be added, in the 2010, long distance races will be added. Based on the approved criteria, the committee will be ready to propose a new format for Worlds as well as changes to the Olympic program at the next Congress. The Worlds will now be composed of the Olympic events in one core unit that must be completed in three days plus the non-Olympic Events all of which must be completed within the four days of the total event, presenting quite a challenge to organizers.

One disappointing aspect of this compromise is the lack of any demonstrable progress on the gender equity front. Slalom on the other hand has definitely added women canoe events in its World Championships starting in 2010. Unless the committee’s criteria are weighed heavily in favor of contribution to improving gender balance, it is hard to see that any progress will have been over the next two years.

Other notable highlights of the Congress:

  • New official names for key sport disciplines will be Canoe Sprint, Canoe Slalom and Canoe Marathon. The traditional references to Flatwater and Whitewater will no longer be used (officially), nor will Kayak. I don’t view this as progress for the English speaking world.
  • All National federations were encouraged by the ICF leadership to minimize distinctions between sprint and slalom and to describe ourselves has having one discipline (i.e., “canoeing”) with multiple events, some of which are contested on various venues (i.e., flatwater or whitewater). Good luck with that.
  • A sweeping proposal to expand and develop the Wildwater Discipline was approved. A key element is the creation of a new standardized boat design.
  • ICF Secretary General Simon Toulson, addressing his first Congress, presented a plan to establish an ICF marketing and licensing program. This included the unveiling of new ICF logos for the purpose. He also announced the renewal of the ICF television deal with European Broadcast Union which was concluded only days before the Congress. He said details would be provided to ICF event organizers shortly. One of Simon’s key goals in the coming years is to change from having discipline committee chairs elected, to being professional members of the ICF staff.
  • ICF finances continue to be in very good shape. ICF ended the Beijing Quad with more than $2.5 million in cash reserves. That is before receiving some 8.5 million Euros from IOC from the Beijing Games broadcasting and sponsorship revenue. This was about $1.5 more than had been expected based on the results of the Athens Games.
  • ICF membership fees were left at the current level of 500 Euros with the same reductions for developing country federations as previously used.
  • There was some discussion about the Youth Olympic Games, set to be held for the first time in Singapore in 2010. All the federations were disappointed in what they and heard about it and were concerned about the lack of information about the events, the equipment, the qualification system, etc. Simon reported that the IOC had accepted the ICF proposal to include “head-to-head” sprint (in a circuit, not straight lanes) and slalom (on flatwater) racing, as medal events, but had very recently rejected the proposal to include canoe polo as a third, non-medal event. He said he hoped to have an IOC approved qualification system ready fro publication by the end of the year. There was no discernible enthusiasm fro this event at the Congress.
  • As we know all too well already from our work here with USADA and USOC, the new WADA Doping Code will go into effect on January 1. ICF will comply with he new out-competition testing and whereabouts programs. Only 150 athletes in both of our sports will be included in this system. Others will only be tested in-competition. Only athletes in this ICF pool can apply for therapeutic use exemptions, others may only apply for retroactive exemption following a positive test.

The Congress agreed that the next Congress will be held in Santiago de Compostela in Spain in late 2010—no word yet on whether it will be over our Thanksgiving holidays again.