Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

The International Rowing Federation (FISA) was assured last week by organisers of the World Rowing Championships at Sarasota in Florida that the presence of the odd alligator on the course would pose no risk to competing oarsmen and oarswomen.

Pictures surfaced - as it were - of boats being accompanied by briefly inquisitive heads that clearly belonged to scaly spectators, although Max Winitz, a World Championship Rowing spokesman, put things in perspective.

"The chances of seeing an alligator during racing, well, I wouldn’t say it is slim but gators are terrified of any fast-moving object in the water, so while you may spot a head they are going to duck right under."

One boat - or rather, boat class - did come to grief in Florida however, although its sinking had nothing to do with Florida’s native Alligator Mississippiensis and everything to do with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The gold medal earned by the Italian crew of Federico Duchich, Leone Barbaro, Lorenzo Tedesco and Piero Sfiligoi in the men’s lightweight four (LM4-) now has an additionally historic resonance, as the FISA Congress held immediately after the Championships upheld the FISA Council’s solution to achieving gender parity at future versions of the event by dropping that boat class from the competition.

This picture of the IOC at the Nathan Benderson Park course that hosted last week's World Rowing Championships was posted on Instagram by the Danish Association of Rowing Sports. Sorry, not the IOC - an alligator.
This picture of the IOC at the Nathan Benderson Park course that hosted last week's World Rowing Championships was posted on Instagram by the Danish Association of Rowing Sports. Sorry, not the IOC - an alligator.

In so doing, by a vote of 137-6, the gathered National Rowing Federations indicated final assent to a course of action that had met with greater resistance when it was recommended in an Olympic context at FISA’s Extraordinary Congress in Tokyo seven months earlier.

On that occasion, the urgent prompting of the FISA President Jean-Christophe Rolland, who became an IOC member last month, was somewhat grudgingly accepted by a vote of 94-67.

Rolland marked the insidethegames card over the waning health of the LM4- on the eve of the Championships: "Unfortunately, many Sport Ministries, National Olympic Committees and National Federations (NFs) immediately cut their funding for the rowers usually in this boat and the rowers switched to either open sweep rowing squads, or the lightweight double squads.

"We will have a vote on the World Championship programme at our congress on October 2 and the NFs will decide on the future of this boat at the World Championships."

Asked if there was a risk it would shrink without an Olympic option, Rolland added: "Yes".

Once, in Olympic terms, the LM4- had gone the way of the Seventeen-Man Naval Rowing Boats class from the Athens Intercalated Games of 1906, it had effectively been given the Black Spot. Come in lightweight four, your time is up…

No doubt, once it became clear that there would be no place at the London 2008 Olympics for the 17-Man Naval Rowing Boat class, there were cries of dissent from disgruntled competitors. Judging by the result of the 1906 race most of them would be in Greek, given that the hosts took first, second, fourth and fifth place (thanks to boats named Poros, Hydra, Psara and Spetsia if you wanted to know. Well done Varese of Italy for bucking the trend with bronze).    

Italy, who finished out of the medals behind champions Switzerland (background), get that sinking feeling after the men's lightweight four final at the Rio Games. Now the boat class has sunk beneath the water at the Olympics and World Championships ©Getty Images
Italy, who finished out of the medals behind champions Switzerland (background), get that sinking feeling after the men's lightweight four final at the Rio Games. Now the boat class has sunk beneath the water at the Olympics and World Championships ©Getty Images

The Olympic and world rowing managed without that numerous class, and will do so without the LM4-.

But that doesn’t mean voices of dissent have not been raised over this most recent alteration of course.

Britain’s Mark Hunter, who earned Olympic gold with Zac Purchase in the lightweight men’s double sculls, and silver at London 2012, made his feelings very clear before the Extraordinary Congress met in Tokyo: "I think we are just being strangled by the IOC to do what they want," he told insidethegames.

"We are on our knees begging for them to look after our sport.

"We are losing control of our sport - they are basically saying that we are not responsible for it any more."

The latest adjustment in the World Championships has drawn dissent from another bemedalled Briton, Andrew Triggs Hodge, who won coxless fours gold at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics followed by gold in the eight at Rio 2016.

In response to Rolland’s card-marking story, the recently-retired 38-year-old tweeted: “Why does rowing bother with our own elected body when we’re just run by the IOC?”

The same forces have come to bear upon canoeing following the Rio Games, where the canoe slalom featured three men’s events – the K1, the C1 and the C2 – and one women’s event, the K1.

At the Tokyo 2020 Games, the men’s canoe double (C2) will be replaced by the women’s C1. Gender parity, and you can’t argue with that. But there was a mournfulness in last week’s celebration by France’s C2 pair of Gauthier Klauss and Matthieu Peche after they had won gold at the 2017 International Canoe Federation Canoe Slalom World Championships on their home waters of Pau.

"It was a really close C2 final, I hope all crowd and all the canoeing family will never forget about C2, who we are and who we will be," Klauss said.

"There is a lot of emotion.

"It’s important because this may be the last race for C2, we can be world champions for the rest of our lives."

That now appears to be the distinction bestowed upon Duchich, Barbaro, Tedesco and Sfiligoi. It’s bittersweet, at best. But sport, like life, must evolve…