Two and a half years ago, British Olympian Imogen Walsh (World Rowing’s December Rising Star) spent seven months there to expand the programme to schools on the chain of islands. Walsh recently travelled back to check on the progress.  

“When I left, there were a lot of pupils on the books. Each day anything from 10-30 kids would be coming down. It was all but one of the schools on the chain of islands that took part.”

The programme that Walsh worked on helped get five schools participating in coastal rowing, each one time per week. There was also a performance group of slightly older athletes. They trained 5-6 times per week and raced at the Asian Coastal Rowing Championships and the like.

“It ran for about one year or two, but without funding for a coach it started to disintegrate. It just isn’t quite the same culture. But the head of the rowing there, Ahmed Habeeb, decided to take it on and its absolutely fabulous,” Walsh says. “Habeeb recognised that it wasn’t going to happen without a coach and I trust that he will run with it now. He is very passionate.”

Habeeb and his team recently organised the MTCC Interschool Rowing Beach Sprints. The event boasted single and team events for boys and girls. More than 80 school kids from the islands participated. A true success.

Coastal rowing in the Maldives © FISA

 

Rowing was always a traditional means of travel and trade in the Maldives. But much of that has stopped with modern technology and motorways. With it, sport activity in general has dramatically declined.

“One of the big barriers you have to get over is that anything to do with outdoors and the seas can be seen as a lower-class kind of thing. But the kids love it. It’s such a beautiful place to do it and it’s something that they haven’t experienced before,” Walsh says.

While students participate in sport at school, the sport culture still needs to grow amongst adults. The exposure to rowing is starting to cause that shift.  Walsh says that since she was first there, adult running clubs have popped up and she sees more people out participating in sports.

This is just one of the positive effects that Walsh has noticed over the last few years.  Another one is the environmental change.

“One of the big things that has changed in the last couple of years is an awareness of the need to protect the environment. Part of the rowing project is that they take care of the environment in which they row, which I really pushed for when I was there. People are much more conscious, using reusable water bottles and doing beach clear-ups,” Walsh says.  “Rowing aside, that has to be one of the big positives of the project.”

Follow Habeeb and his team through their very active Twitter account: @rowmaldives