Why Isn't Rowing In The Commonwealth Games?

Written by Concept2 NZ on April 12th, 2018.

Just like a lot of Kiwi sports fans, here at Concept2 we have been enjoying following the Commonwealth Games over the last week. We are passionate about sports and exercise in a wide range of shapes and forms, and feel super proud of the Kiwi team and their amazing achievements so far.

But watching the games, we can’t help but ask the question that a lot of our fellow rowing enthusiasts have asked - Why isn’t rowing included in the Commonwealth Games? Let’s assess the situation!

Rowing’s Commonwealth Games History

Maybe you have always wondered why rowing isn’t in the Commonwealth Games, or maybe it comes as surprise to learn that it isn’t! That might be because rowing has, overall, had a rather patchy history at the Games. Rowing was included in the very first edition of the games in 1930 (held in Hamilton, Canada) as one of just eight original sports, before dipping out of the 1934 games in London, only to be reinstated in Sydney in 1938. With the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, the Games came to a halt in the 1940’s and did not remerge until 1950, with New Zealand’s very own Auckland taking on hosting duties. Despite Auckland not having a 2000m rowing course, it was unthinkable not to include the sport. So, instead competitors travelled the 160km south to Lake Karapiro for the event.

The tradition of including rowing in the Commonwealth Games endured through to 1966. That year the event was hosted in Kingston, Jamaica which unfortunately did not have the facilities to accommodate the sport. This was the beginning of an extended period of dormancy for rowing at the Commonwealth Games. The sport made one more appearance at the 1986 in Edinburgh, before exiting the program once more having failed to secure a position as one of the Games eight ‘Core Sports’, albeit despite its status as one of the ‘original’ sports.

Rowing in The Commonwealth Today

From 1992- 2010, rowing continued to be contested among Commonwealth countries at the Commonwealth Rowing Championships. Typically held shortly before or after the Commonwealth Games themselves, the Commonwealth Regatta was first held in 1994, and carried on through to the most recent edition in 2014 held in Strathclyde, Scotland.

nathan cohen comgamesAn Olympic champion in the making, Nathan Cohen competes for New Zealand at the 2006 Commonwealth Rowing Regatta, taking Gold in the Single Scull.

New Zealand contested the Commonwealth Rowing Regatta, alongside rowing powerhouses Australia, Canada and the nations of the United Kingdom, from its conception through to 2006, but did not attend the 2010 and 2014 regattas. There is no word yet (at least not that we could find) of a 2018 Commonwealth Rowing Regatta, although we are hopeful that the regatta will continue to encourage the development of fledgling rowing programs in some of the commonwealth nations less familiar with our sport, as it has sought to do over the last 24 years.

There are many countries in the commonwealth with proud histories in the sport of rowing on the world stage, and it is encouraging to see commonwealth nations emerging more and more prominently in the annual World Cup and World Championships regattas. New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain (who compete in nations at the Commonwealth Games) and Canada are the great rowing nations that come to mind, but in recent years South Africa too has had crews step to the top of the Olympic and World Championship podiums. Commonwealth countries competing at the 2017 World Rowing Championships also included the Bahamas, Nigeria, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, showing encouraging depth in the sport. In 2010 rowing was upgraded by the Commonwealth Federation from a ‘recognized’ sport to an ‘optional’ sport, a significant improvement that could see the sport become a Commonwealth contender once more.

commonwealth rowing medals-692-225
The Commonwealth Rowing Medal tally as it currently stands

Which brings us to where it stands today. As an ‘optional’ sport, host nations may choose to include rowing in their event program in addition to the ten core sports- athletics, swimming, badminton, boxing, hockey, lawn bowls, netball, rugby 7’s, squash and weightlifting. However, hosts are limited to a maximum of eight optional sports (with the odd exception) which could be why rowing is yet to feature in the games despite its new upgraded status. It also may be because suitable rowing venues are not accessible to all host cities, and are a considerable investment to build especially for the games. We can only hope that host cities in the future will follow Auckland’s example, and look further afield for a site which could accommodate rowing, and other open-water sports.

If not, perhaps Indoor Rowing has a chance…?

Let us know what you think! Would you like to see rowing return to the Commonwealth Games?