IN MY VIEW: Canoeing, a hidden gem of sport
There were so many incredible moments from the 2012 Olympic Games but one of the most incredible for me was GB’s canoe double medal success a gold and silver medal in Canoe Slalom. Seeing the first ever slalom gold and the two crews on the podium in first and second place was fantastic.
Something else that will forever stick in my mind was the number of people, who previously had no connection with canoeing or other Olympic sports, watching and enjoying Team GB’s performances on TV and the roars of support in the stands.
We’ve always known that canoeing is a bit of hidden gem of a sport. There are more people than ever participating in the sport and we’ve progressively improved medal rankings at international championships and Olympic Games, canoeing is firmly on the map as a successful Olympic medal winning and grassroot sport.
Without a doubt the key developments in canoeing have been the sustained Government investment and Lottery funding. It takes time to build up a world-class programme but our athlete focused approach and continued investment has matured and the results were obvious across the whole of Team GB.
Since the London 2012 Games, we’ve made the most of media interest in the sport. Our athletes have been relentless in making sure they take up media engagements. They are keen to progress not only their own profile but are dedicated to inspiring a new generation of paddlers. Unfortunately (some might say), canoeing will never be as big as football in this country but we are more visible than ever.
Our vision is for canoeing at grassroots to be a mainstream sport and for everyone in the UK to go canoeing or know someone that does. It’s already the UK’s most popular watersport, with over 1.2 million adults taking to the water each year. We want to promote the qualities that make it so popular and ensure everyone can enjoy the benefits.
Canoe England’s Olympic legacy initiative Go Canoeing launched in May 2012, encouraging new and regular participation. It’s aimed at the informal / leisure market where there is huge potential to expand the sport. It’s a consumer focused programme and includes; starter sessions, guided tours, canoe trails and events. We’ve seen huge interest, with more traffic to the website this year (during National Go Canoeing Week) than during Games time!
In terms of legacy for GB Canoeing and our Olympic programmes the mission continues to be the number one Olympic canoeing nation and to support that we’ve embarked on new talent identification programmes at Lee Valley White Water Centre, helping to nurture talent for future generations.
In terms of what’s next for BCU, we will continue to develop our relatively new Paralympic programme which has already been a resounding success in the international arena. Personally I’m very much looking forward to seeing Paracanoeing making a debut at the 2016 Paralympic Games.
Canoeing will continue to remain in the spotlight by hosting major international events in the UK. We’re delighted to be hosting the 2014 Canoe Slalom World Cup and the ICF 2015 Canoe Slalom World Championships. When the BCU won the bid to host the 2015 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships it became the first sport federation in the UK to secure a World Championships beyond the Games. Hosting events in the UK are a priority from both a performance and profile perspective. They also give us the prospect to attract new partners and sponsors through heightened media interest, hospitality opportunities and community engagement.
It’s important that we make the most of our success and continue to represent and support participants, membership and athletes whilst at the same time ensuring we are commercially sustainable.
It’s good to see the huge legacy that the London 2012 games have generated for canoeing and for Olympic sport in the UK. We’re working closely with partners such as Join In, Spogo and the BBC’s new Get Inspired initiative to name a few, which have been immensely useful.
The Games themselves were a massive celebration and unifying experience, they showcased London as a diverse and welcoming city. More importantly they helped ensure a huge legacy for people to get involved in sport and also more generally; for people to benefit from new jobs, new business and volunteering opportunities.
I’m enormously optimistic about the positive measures canoeing have put in place to ensure a lasting legacy for our sport and am also very excited to see the continued legacy of Olympic sport more widely, for future generations to come.
Paul Owen is the CEO of the British Canoe Union
Image: Paul Owen during the Olympic Games with his daughter Amber Owen