Open to Change?



I had two excellent opportunities to think about openness and change today.

First up, I received a link to Harold Jarche’s review post of David Price’s Open: How we’ll work live and learn in the future.

I appreciated Harold’s summary of David’s SOFT model in this graphic:


The second opportunity for the contemplation of openness came from colleagues in canoeing via Facebook. It was definitely illuminated by this box in Harold’s matrix (Trust/Business):



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Like many others, I have been profoundly disappointed by the International Canoeing Federation’s (ICF) lack of movement on gender equity in the Olympic disciplines of flatwater and slalom.

This was my post from earlier this year about the ICF’s position.

I was interested, therefore, to read of Richard Fox’s latest contribution to the ICF’s consideration of equity. (Background: the International Canoe Federation (ICF) announced on Saturday it would push to have women’s C1 slalom and C1 200m sprint included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.)

Richard wrote an open letter to the ICF. I have placed my own emphases within his letter.

Dear ICF Board of Directors

Thank you for distributing the press release “C1 Women’s Canoe Events Proposed for the Tokyo Olympics”.

It is positive to see a clear ICF position on the inclusion of more events for women in the Olympic Games. On face value, this can be taken as very good news and we can imagine this shift represents an exciting new opportunity for the Nanjing generation of juniors as well as some yet to start in the sport.

In contrast, high level female athletes continue to be significantly restricted in their access to canoeing events in the Olympic Games relative to men and will have to wait another seven years to see any change. Therefore, assumptions of a positive reaction regarding the potential inclusion of new women’s events in Tokyo should be balanced with a reality check.

We should not overlook Rio in promoting a Tokyo solution and the fact that the ICF has chosen to abandon the trend it started lightly in London 2012 where the men’s C2 500m was replaced with the women’s K1 200m. Instead, the ICF proposes to maintain the status quo of significant gender imbalance until 2020 which means that in Rio 2016, like in London 2012, only 5 out of a total of 16 Olympic gold medals will be available to women.

As it stands, only 1 female athlete per nation is able to compete in a canoe slalom event at the Olympic Games compared to up to 4 men per nation. The men have 3 events to choose from, as opposed to the women who can compete in just 1 event.

The exclusion of women from all canoe class events across both sprint and slalom disciplines at the Olympic Games is a remarkable situation for the ICF to maintain until Tokyo when other sports are clearly shining under the light of increased gender diversity.

The fact is there are 5 canoe class events offered for men  across  sprint and slalom and not a single women’s canoe event, which means our sport will remain firmly at the bottom of the league table when it comes to gender equity measures in Rio 2016.

What has changed in recent years, and this is acknowledged in the ICF article, is the rapid and highly significant growth in participation of C1 women’s event at all ICF world championship events. The numbers tell the story and there is clear evidence that women’s events are on the rise, particularly when measured against other existing Olympic events. If they are “ready for Rio” now, why wait seven years to do the obvious?

Unlike other sports, the ICF has not taken the opportunity to propose a quota neutral solution for Rio, i.e. include an additional women’s event while removing a men’s event, because it is too tough. But standing still is certainly not reflected in the ICF slogan, ” always moving forward”, either. It is a battle of conscious and unconscious bias, where neither side wins until gender balance is achieved.

Open to Change?

Harold opens his review of David Price’s open with a quotation that ends “The genuine democratisation of knowing is still being fought over”.

Equity in canoeing is a contested battleground. On reading Richard’s open letter, and identifying my own points of emphasis, I am hopeful that an observation I made earlier in the year resonates with the exhortation for the ICF to be much more pro-active in change:

I do think we have an important window of conscience available to us in canoeing. We should mind the gender gap as a moral imperative. ‘Mind’ in the sense of thinking deeply and ‘mind’ in terms of being concerned about decisions and their consequences.

Photo Credits

Open Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry (Alan Levine, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Photos of Sportscene Contributors (Doris Corbin)

Mind the Gap



I am a big fan of what Rob van Bommel does.

I admire the passion and the expertise that makes Sportscene compelling reading and viewing.

In the last year I have become particularly interested in the gender discussions that have taken place on the Sportscene site.

Mind the Gap

Like Rob and the many contributors to Sportscene discussions, I am at a complete loss as to the reasons for the International Canoe Federation’s stand on gender equity. Back in May there was a discussion about gender equity on the Sportscene page that debated the ICF’s plans for the Rio Olympics.

I thought Peter Giles’ response  (November 2012) to the situation was outstanding. In his open letter to the ICF President, Peter wrote:

 Canada is extremely disappointed with the proposal to hold the Olympic program unchanged in 2016. This is in conflict with the ICF’s Equity Charter, distributed at the 2012 Olympic Games; and indeed with the ICF slogan, “Always Moving Forward.” The Equity Charter commits the ICF to increase women’s events in sprint and slalom on the 2016 program, and to achieve “50/50” – full gender equity – on the Olympic program in 2020.

To achieve these goals will require some very difficult decisions. We applaud the efforts of the ICF to lobby for an additional women’s C-1 event in slalom. However, it is clear that the IOC cannot solve our larger gender equity problem. There is no easy way out; delaying the decision is not an answer, and will not satisfy the demands of the IOC, the media, or the public. We strongly urge the Board, as our elected leaders, to take on these difficult challenges; and as a first step, to submit a program proposal for 2016 that includes women’s canoe for slalom and sprint.

Like many people, I was dismayed by the departure of Richard Fox from the ICF Executive. I thought he was a remarkable advocate for development and progress in a sport that has “Always Moving Forward” as its motto. For some time I have been wondering if the sole purpose of the motto is to distinguish the sport from rowing as a means of movement down a water course.

On reflection, I wondered why I should be surprised. Back in 1985, my taken-for-granted world was jolted by Ellen Kuzwayo’s autobiography, Call Me Woman. My academic interest in the sociology of sport in the late 1970s and early 1980s had raised my consciousness about patriarchy. Meeting Jenny Hargreaves helped me clarify my thinking.

These thoughts came back to me as I read Sally Armstrong’s article in The Huffington Post. In the article, she observes:

The new wave of change isn’t about giving the “little woman” a fair shake or even about pushing reluctant regimes to adhere to hard-won international laws relating to women. It is based on the notion that the world can no longer afford to oppress half its population.

They came back too as I remembered the bravery of those involved in RAWA. Our struggles are of a completely different scale.

I do think we have an important window of conscience available to us in canoeing. We should mind the gender gap as a moral imperative. ‘Mind’ in the sense of thinking deeply and ‘mind’ in terms of being concerned about decisions and their consequences.

Like Sally, I believe “women leaders have long asserted that a sense of community is far more valuable than a sense of control”.

Photo Credit

Doris Corbin