27 Jan 2017

125 years of World Rowing highlights rich history of European Rowing Championships

A milestone anniversary for the World Rowing Federation (FISA) this year highlights the rich history and heritage of their flagship European event – the European Rowing Championships.

Image credit: FISA Igor Meijer

FISA, the acronym for Federation Internationale des Societies d’Aviron, was the first international sports federation, and one year after its creation in 1892 organised the first edition of the European Rowing Championships.

Fast forward to 2018 – when the leading European Sports Federations from Rowing, Athletics (EA), Swimming (LEN), Cycling (UEC), Gymnastics (UEG), Triathlon (ETU) and Golf (ET & LET), together with the EBU, Glasgow and Berlin, will collectively come together to create a new multi-sport championship. They will do this by bringing together their existing senior European Championships in order to protect and enhance their rich tradition, which dates back to 1893 for Rowing, 1926 for Swimming and 1934 for Athletics. These Championships are the crown jewels in the Federations’ event portfolios that will be carefully nurtured in this new generation multi-sport event.The creation of FISA in 1892 came out of the growth of rowing that was going on in the second half of the 19th century. Led by the governing body of the Belgian rowing federation, there was a conviction that a uniform set of rules were needed for the sport.

At that stage the rules of racing varied from club to club, the race distances and type of racing varied, rowers could use any type of boat and betting was rife. This led to rowing representatives from five European nations to meet.

On 25 June 1892, delegates from five countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland and “Adriatica” - a part of Austria at the time, now Italy) came together and founded FISA. Rules governing regattas began to be established and the first European Rowing Championships were staged the next year.

From these small beginnings FISA has grown to cover all of the world’s continents with 150 member national rowing federations now part of FISA. The rules of rowing are well established with a 2000m straight buoyed course becoming the standard racing distance. The boats and all rowing equipment is standardised, amateurism dominates and FISA has established itself as a leading sports federation based in Lausanne, Switzerland. Along the way FISA has led the way in anti-doping policies, helped establish rowing in new rowing nations and worked towards equality between female and male athletes.

The sport has also spread to encompass not only on-the-water, 2000m racing, but also indoor rowing on the ergometer, coastal rowing and para-rowing with adapted boats. Age group rowing has developed and there is now World Rowing junior and under-23 championships. Masters rowing and university rowing has been embraced.

"To be part of FISA during this significant year is an honour," said FISA President, Jean-Christophe Rolland. 

Rolland, who has been FISA president since 2014, follows the tradition of FISA presidents being former Olympic rowers. Rolland is an Olympic Champion from the 2000 Sydney Olympics and one of the youngest serving sports federation presidents. He follows in the footsteps of Denis Oswald, who was also an Olympic bronze medallist rower and became FISA president in 1989 at the age of 42.

FISA tradition dictates that the athletes come first. “There is such respect for and between the athletes. Everyone engaged in FISA is there because they love the sport,” says FISA Vice President and IOC member Tricia Smith.

Throughout 2017 FISA will celebrate its 125 years notably at World Rowing regattas culminating in the World Rowing Championships at the end of September in Sarasota-Bradenton, USA.