Countdown starts for 2024 worlds
The world is coming to St. Catharines for the third time.
On Thursday at the Neil Campbell Rowing Centre on Henley Island, a flag ceremony was held to begin the official countdown to the 2024 World Rowing Championships taking place Aug.18-25 in St. Catharines.
The city hosted the senior worlds in 1970 and 1999 but the 2024 edition will include the under-23, junior (under-19) and senior championships for non-Olympic boat classes.
St. Catharines was awarded the championships in September 2019 following a vote by delegates at the FISA Congress in Linz, Austria.
“The bid from St. Catharines was of the highest quality,” FISA executive director Matt Smith said at the time. “We were impressed by the care and commitment we witnessed in the attribution process and we are pleased to be looking forward to another successful World Rowing event in Canada.”
World events delayed many preparations for the championships.
“What made it tough is the two years of COVID,” world championships chair Bill Schenck said. “With everything shut down, everything on hold and businesses closed, it has been a tough go. We have been holding back on trying to do any fundraising or promotions in the community just because of that. We wanted to let them somewhat recover from COVID. This fall is when we will kick things into gear and ramp it up.”
St. Catharines is blessed with plenty of experience hosting major regattas and that will help offset the slow start.
“The expertise we can draw on from our volunteers and our volunteers are well recognized for making events happen,” he said. “That is what is going to carry us through on this one.”
Organizers have partnered up with Sport Niagara to make things a reality.
“They bring a wealth of knowledge from what they gained at the Canada Summer Games and they are helping coordinate with us on some of the areas we haven’t been doing with the events.”
It was about five years ago that conversations started about hosting another world championships in St. Catharines.
“Tim Rigby got ahold of me and said it is time for us to invest back in the facility and the future of our local athletes as well as other athletes who come to the Henley course,” Schenck said. “It was an opportunity by hosting these world championship to keep it a world-class facility by minor improvements or major improvements. Hosting one of these events helps us with the legacy moving forward.”
Both the 1970 worlds and 1999 world championships, which were co-chaired by Rigby, had legacy projects associated with them. Capital improvements were made to the island and course but nothing has been announced yet with regard to the legacy portion of the 2024 championships.
“There is stuff going on in the background and at this point I am not able to tell you what it is,” Schenck said.
The championships have a wish list of improvements seeking government funding, highlighted by $2.5-$2.8 million in improvements to the finish tower.
“Most of the others ones are like a new Albano (buoy) system to make everything look fresh,” Schenck said. “We are spending some time, because we have to do a YouTube broadcast of the event, working with Niagara College in putting together video for the event that can be life streamed around the world. It’s a big change from what we have been doing.”
There was experience gained last year during the Canada Summer Games and organizers worked closely with Niagara College this summer during the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta.
“They are able to tweak and add more for next year for the championships which is fantastic.”
Some of the legacy components of the championships will also be what is developed in the background.
“We are trying to do a better organization of what we are doing and capturing more of the information. There is a lot of computer software stuff that we are working on behind the scenes. After we do this event, we can turn it over to different people. Some of the stuff came out of the Canada Summer Games and we built on that for Henley. This gives us another opportunity to expand it.”
At the ceremony, $1 million in federal funding and $800,000 in provincial funding was announced for the championships.
“Supporting athletes competing in sport is a priority for our government, on behalf of Canadians who understand the values and benefits earned while learning how to win, and sometimes how to lose with grace and dignity,” MP Vince Badawey said. “We are helping to strengthen the character of competitors who will become our nation’s future leaders.”
Neil Lumsden, the provincial Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, said the province was proud to support the event.
“Sporting events like this unite communities, offer an opportunity for some of our best athletes to compete here at home, attract international visitors and offer a direct boost to local and regional economies.”
The regatta will start with the juniors, the non-Olympic boats will be held in the middle and the event will conclude with the under-23 championships. Racing will start Wednesday, Aug. 23 and conclude Sunday, Aug. 25. Adaptive events will be part of the championships.
It is expected 2,500 athletes from 70 countries will take part in the championships.
“We are thrilled to welcome the world to the City of St. Catharines when we play host to the 2024 World Rowing Championships next summer, our third time hosting this event at the prestigious Henley Rowing Course,” St. Catharines mayor Mat Siscoe said. “We are so fortunate to have the Henley Rowing Course here in St. Catharines and be able to host national and international rowing competitions in our own backyard.”
Organizers are in the process of figuring out how many volunteers will be needed but Schenck expects between 450 and 500 will be required.
“It is different than Henley and the (Canadian) high school championship because now we have bussing, parking, off-site parking, the hospitality area that will be set up in Rennie Park and the extra security that is involved around such a big venue. We are still putting the nuts and bolts together on the different areas and the different plans.”
Rowing Canada Aviron is thrilled that St. Catharines is hosting the event.
“This is a rare opportunity for the local community and for Canada to host the best rowers in the world. This event not only showcases our next generation of athletes, it gives our future Olympians and Paralympians the honour of competing before a home crowd, inspiring them to new heights of excellence,” CEO Terry Dillon said.