Rowing seeks to innovate through broadcasting

With athletes racing over 2000m at speeds of up to 25km/h, rowing is one of the tougher sports for broadcasters to cover at the Olympic Games. Boats carrying cameras can disrupt competitors, while bankside coverage makes tight races hard to follow at the finish. Lenka Dienstbach-Wech is chair of the Athletes Commission at World Rowing and she told Athlete365 about how technology can change the viewer’s experience for the better.

  • World Rowing is hoping to use drone-mounted cameras to broadcast races at Tokyo 2020.
  • The drones will be tested at the 2019 World Rowing Championships in August.
  • World Rowing’s Athletes’ Commission is the principal driving force behind this proposal.

Improvements for the viewer

We have been using drones more and more in recent years because, in a race, it’s always difficult to get close to the action. You’ve got six lanes, and it’s really hard to see across them. Typically, there is a boat following by the shore and a camera on the roadside, but the result is often an angle cross, and that’s really confusing for someone who doesn’t know the sport because you can’t really tell who is in front.

The drones can give you some really nice overhead shots. You can actually look down on all six lanes and, even if you don’t know much about rowing, you can clearly see who is in the lead. I’m absolutely sure that this will open the sport to a fresh audience, and we will be testing the technology in Linz-Ottensheim (Austria) at the World Rowing Championships, from 25 August to 1 September.

The athlete experience

In the old days, the television imagery was boring and confusing for spectators; but with this technology, you can even come down really close to the athletes, so you can see the work that’s done. Sometimes rowing looks fairly relaxed, and people ask me, why are you collapsing at the finish?

You can’t really feel the pain or the effort that goes in. We felt that if you could actually have close-ups, maybe microphones on boats, or even transmit heart rates, that would create an extra layer of excitement for the spectators, and when you see the rowers very tired at the end, it’s completely understandable.

Ensuring fairness for athletes

Additionally, we convinced FISA to implement static umpiring, so there is a stationary umpire every 500 metres rather than a couple following the race in boats. Extra boats don’t create many waves, but they are still there nonetheless. Sometimes there are two or three boats up ahead and they’re fighting for the medals, so the TV cameras and umpires obviously want to follow. But if you overtake the crews in fourth or fifth, they can be washed down, which creates a larger gap between the boats, and they can’t really compete.

All of this is what we have really been pushing for from the Athletes’ Commission. If the technology is successful, we want to take it on to Tokyo next year. It’s a tricky course, and so the less disturbance we have from other boats the better.

Keep up to date with World Rowing’s Athletes Commission by following them on Twitter.