Combining individual motivation with team participation, rowing is a sport that can facilitate personal and social growth.
Today at the Lea Athletics Centre in North London, 2,304 young people took part in the National Junior Indoor Rowing Championships (NJIRC) organizing by London Youth Rowing. Fifty per cent of the young people participating were girls, from all over the country.
The energy at the Athletics Centre was electrifying. Young people lined up to compete individually and in teams. There were 4 different competition areas, each staged to start in sequence, so that only 2 or 3 of the areas were in competition mode at any one time. In each of the areas, about 40 rowing machines were lined up facing each other, ready to ignite the determination of each of the competitors to go as fast as they possibly can. Large screens hung from the roof, projecting the live results so friend, families, coaches and teammates could track the progress of the young people competing. The excitement of the commentators, combined with the cheering of the fans and the whirring of the rowing machines, meant it was impossible to hear almost anything else…
It was a brilliant demonstration of the This Girl Can campaign in the UK. The campaign celebrates active women – and in today’s case young women and girls – who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets. Today’s event was about participation and motivation for young people, from all walks of life, from all over the country. This girl rows!
Rowing has many intrinsic qualities that set it apart from other sports. Rowing can be learned fairly quickly and easily, starting off the water on an “ergo” (a rowing machine) that are accessible in many gyms and sports clubs. The best thing about rowing is that it levels the playing field in terms of who may find they are a talented athlete. For example, someone who is tall and long limbed may be slow on a soccer field and less nimble with a tennis racket, but may suddenly find themselves excelling in rowing – on land and on the water. Rowing as part of a team also provides an opportunity for a number of important lessons that impact self-esteem, community building and the experience of mastery in a sport. If there are more than one person in a boat, the team must work in precise unison at full capacity to succeed.
In February this year, the governing body of the sport of rowing, FISA (from the French, Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron), set gender equality targets. At FISA’s Extraordinary Congress gathered in Tokyo, Japan, the home of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in February, one of the main proposals passed was to create a gender equal programme at the Olympic Games. Commitment to supporting women and sport, and the inspiring leadership of female athletes and Olympic champions as role models, is embedded within many levels of the rowing community.
Yet even with the long history of rowing in the UK, and indeed through the Commonwealth, the potential impact of working with rowing as a sport for development have yet to be realized. We want to tap into this potential and develop a “this girl rows” campaign – supporting local initiatives in London and other areas where these exist, as well as expanding opportunities to work with rowing as a sport for development in other contexts. Just yesterday Watipa applied to kick start a new project with The Gifted, mHub and Mwatipasa Malawi to work with the Malawi Rowing Federation in its ambition to identify future champions and develop community rowing.
There is a great – and as yet not fully realised – opportunity to work with rowing to support young women and girls, and their male peers, to achieve their full potential. Young people can become champions everyday – in rowing and in life – around the world, and we want to help make that possible.
Photo: London Youth Rowing