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Australian Rowing History

Australian Rowing at the World Senior Championships

The Origins of the Championships

The idea of holding a World Rowing Championship had been discussed at an international level for some time before the first such championship was held in 1962. The annual European Championships conducted since 1892, were regarded as the unofficial world championships until that date. The idea of a World Championship was conceived by a former President of FISA, Gaston Mullegg (SUI) during his presidency from 1949 until his untimely death in 1958.

At the 50th FISA Congress in Amsterdam in 1954, the President of the American federation expressed the hope that the World Championships would be instituted by 1958. In 1955, at the FISA Congress, it was suggested that the championships be organised within the following four years, and the delegates unanimously instructed FISA to pursue the feasibility of this proposal.

More discussion was held in 1956 at the 52nd FISA Congress and the Americans proposed they hold the first world championship in Philadelphia in 1958, inviting the first two place getters in each event from the European championships.

The Romanian and Soviet federations, however, hoped that every nation would have the opportunity to enter, irrespective of its European championships performance. Agreement was not reached and the debate adjourned.

The Americans withdrew from organising the 1958 World Championships at the 53rd FISA Congress in 1957. FISA was to draw up contingency plans, but they were put on hold following the tragic death of Gaston Mullegg, FISA President, in an aeroplane accident on 3rd August 1958. He never lived to see the inauguration of the world championships which he had so strongly supported.

Eventually, at the FISA Congress on 23rd November 1958 in Vienna, it was agreed that World Championships would be conducted. Final approval for the holding of such championships every four years was postponed until 1961 to give all federations the opportunity to make their views known.

The 1958 Congress saw the election of Thomas Keller to the FISA Presidency, which he retained until his death in 1989. In his book, The Story of World Rowing, Christopher Dodd writes, "Chance put Keller into the chair at a time when survival, let alone expansion, of the sport and the future shape of competitive and amateur rowing required some hard decisions."

At the 55th FISA Congress in 1959 held in Macon, France, it was decided that the first World Rowing Championships would be held in 1962. Australia, Denmark and Switzerland offered to conduct the event. Switzerland was the successful bidder for the inaugural World Championships, having the event awarded to it at the 56th FISA Congress in 1960. The venue was to be the Rotsee in Lucerne.

In 1961 the FISA Congress decided that the World Championships would be held every four years. The Championships for open men were conducted every four years from 1962 until 1974 when, thereafter, they were held annually, except for Olympic years. World Championships for women commenced in 1974 and have likewise been conducted every year except in Olympic years.

World Championships for lightweight men and women were first conducted in 1985 and have been held annually since then. FISA Championships were held annually for lightweight men from 1974 to 1984.

Para Rowing World Championships commenced in 2002 in Seville in Spain and were conducted on the days immediately prior to other event. The following extract comes from a history of Para Rowing on the World Rowing website - AShortHistoryofPara-Rowing.pdf ( .

In the 1970s a number of adaptive rowing programmes sprang up in Australia, France, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA. The first FISA (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Aviron) recognised ‘adaptive rowing’ World Cup event took place in 1991 and was held in the Netherlands. In 1995 an exhibition of ‘adaptive’ events were hosted at the World Rowing Championships in Tampere, Finland. 

Subsequently, between 1996-2000 FISA held several adaptive rowing seminars in Berlin, London, Rotterdam and Philadelphia.

In 2001 FISA formed an Adaptive Rowing Commission (now Para-Rowing Commission) to work on establishing a classification system and pathway to Paralympic accreditation. The World Rowing Championships in 2002 was the first time that adaptive rowing events were integrated into the championship programme.

After the Championships, FISA informed the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) that it would apply for the inclusion of rowing in the 2008 Paralympic Games.

As part of the IPC application approval process, FISA was required to demonstrate that adaptive rowing was widely practiced in a minimum of 24 countries and three regions (America, Africa, Europe, Middle East, Asia or Oceania) by 2005. This also required the national federations of at least 24 countries to have participated in international competition or regularly held national championships. FISA asked these national federations to sign the ‘Seville Protocol’ as a statement of support for adaptive rowing in their countries.

The sport continued to develop, with adaptive events at the 2003 World Rowing Championships in Milan and the 2004 World Rowing Senior and Junior Championships in Banyoles, Spain. The discipline reached its highest level in 2007 during the World Rowing Championships in Munich, when 116 adaptive rowers competed in 58 boat classes.

When FISA was admitted as a member of the IPC in 2005, its inclusion in the Paralympic movement, helped to boost participation after the sport’s debut at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. This gave national federations more incentive to promote Para-Rowing and broadened the worldwide public exposure of the sport.

At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games ,26 countries competed in Para-Rowing for 12 medals in four boat classes. There were a total of 48 boats and 96 rowers. The medals were spread among seven countries, with Great Britain winning the most medals.

Para-rowing is uniquely integrated with the World Rowing Federation and FISA, and para-rowers participate alongside able-bodied athletes at some of the World Rowing Cups and the World Rowing Championships. With a new event added in 2013, para-rowing is currently divided into five boat classes: PR3 mixed coxed four, PR3 mixed double sculls, PR2 mixed double sculls, PR1 women's single sculls and PR1 men's single sculls. The PR3 and PR2 are mixed gender boats. Since 2017, the race distance for all five events changed from 1000m to 2000m.

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