GARY and Paul O’Donovan will dip into their own pockets to compete at the second World Rowing Cup event of the year in late June.
The Skibbereen brothers, Ireland’s only ever Olympic rowing medallists, will also have to ‘beg, borrow or steal’ a boat to compete on the course that will host next year’s World Rowing Championships, which will act as the qualifying event for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
A funding shortage means that Rowing Ireland is sending teams to two of the three World Rowing Cup regattas in the coming months, beginning in Belgrade this weekend while World Rowing Cup III takes place in Lucerne, Switzerland in mid-July.
But Rowing Ireland is not sending a team to World Rowing Cup II in Linz, Austria from June 21st – 24th.
As well as World Cup rowing titles on offer to the crews with the combined best results after the three regattas – the O’Donovan’s chances of winning the overall title would be hampered by not competing in Linz – this series is the ideal preparation ahead of the European and World Rowing Championships in August and September respectively.
While the size of the senior rowing team has increased from 2017 – Ireland are sending a team of 11 rowers to Belgrade and Lucerne – the Government funding Rowing Ireland is receiving in 2018 is the same as last year, which means the same amount of money must cover a bigger number of athletes.
‘The funding situation is not ideal,’ Gary O’Donovan told The Southern Star.
‘I’m not sure of the figures but I don’t think it’s any more than last year and the team is getting bigger so therefore the investment in athletes isn’t going to be as great.
‘As a result the team is having to sacrifice going to the second World Cup.
‘It’s almost that rowing is a victim of its own success. We’re doing so well and the team is getting bigger, stronger and faster but when you add more people in and the money stays the same, something has to give.
‘It’s important to invest. Going to regattas is very important because it can help athletes develop and get used to the that environment, learn how to race and compete against the best in the world.
‘What can you do? If they (Rowing Ireland) don’t have the money, they don’t have the money. You can’t just pay for stuff with air, you have to have money – and we just don’t have it.’
But Olympic silver medallists, Gary and Paul, are intent on competing at World Rowing Cup II in Austria and are currently working on their travel plans and organising the loan of a boat to race in.
‘Myself and Paul are still hoping to go, someway or another borrowing boats, it’s a beg, borrow or steal kind of thing to get there because we feel it would be hugely beneficial to compete in that World Cup event,’ Gary said.
‘We’ll try and go somehow, we are working on the logistics at the moment and we’ll try to get there somehow.’
Front page of this week's @SouthernStarIRL leads off with how Ireland's top rowers, Gary and Paul O'Donovan, will make their own way to Rowing World Cup II in Austria in June because of funding shortfall. Plus #Liverpool fan @Sullyod chats about his Champions League trip to Kiev pic.twitter.com/6qE9hZ9RtT
— Kieran McCarthy (@KieranMcC_SS) May 31, 2018
Adding extra significance to World Rowing Cup II in Austria is that the 2019 World Rowing Championships that will act as a qualification event for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo will be held on the same course in Linz.
‘I completely understand why Gary and Paul feel it will be key for them to compete in Austria because that’s where qualification for Tokyo will take place. They want to gain that experience there,’ explained Rowing Ireland CEO Michelle Carpenter, who admits a shortage of funds is the reason that a team isn’t being sent to Austria.
‘We have more rowers of a higher standard now and we are sending a bigger team to international regattas, like World Cup I this weekend – and there is obviously cost implications with that.
‘It costs more to send more athletes. We need to look at that because we need to develop athletes. Tokyo is just two years away and then we have Paris 2024 beyond that so we need to plan ahead.
‘We need to broaden our team in line with developing the sport – but there are more costs and we have the same funding as last year.’
Despite the ongoing success of Irish rowers, driven by the medal heroics of Skibbereen Rowing Club’s Gary and Paul O’Donovan (the latter a two-time world lightweight champion), world lightweight pair champs Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan, and European silver medallist Denise Walsh, Government funding in the sport hasn’t increased.
Under Sport Ireland funding for 2018, Rowing Ireland received €210,000 as a National Governing Body (NGB) of Sport, the same as in 2017, while in the high performance programmes of the 21 NGBs, Rowing Ireland received €525,000 for 2018, also the same amount as last year, despite a record medal haul that saw world gold, European silver and World Cup gold all come back to Ireland, thanks to Skibbereen rowers.
‘We get money from Sport Ireland every year – and our 2018 funding is the same as it was in 2017. But we have more athletes now,’ Michelle Carpenter explains.
‘Sport Ireland would love to give us more money but their funding hasn’t been increased either. Sport Ireland have been great in supporting us, to be fair.’
As well as no increase in Government funding despite the excellent results of Irish rowers on the world stage, Rowing Ireland is also struggling to attract sponsors to help fund the sport and teams ahead of Tokyo and Paris Olympics.
‘It’s disappointing that no sponsor has come on board with us for Tokyo,’ Carpenter says.
‘Sponsorship is another form of funding and sponsors can help us invest.
‘It was disappointing that we had no one come on board after Rio but the opportunity is still there to help us on our journey to Tokyo and beyond – and be part of this dream that we have of winning gold.’