Is racing fair? A look at World Rowing’s Fairness Committee
Behind the scenes at a World Rowing regatta are numerous groups of people working to make the regatta run smoothly. As an outdoor sport of continually changing weather conditions one group advises on how to make racing as fair as possible. They are the Fairness Committee.
Who are the Fairness Committee and what are their exact roles and responsibilities at each event? World Rowing spoke with Competitive Commission Chair and regular member of the fairness committee, Rosie Mayglothling to find out more.
The Fairness Committee is appointed for each World Rowing event and comprises of three individuals with ‘appropriate experience and ability’1. They are always experienced members of the international rowing community and Competitive Rowing Commission. As Mayglothling explains, their main task is to determine how best to provide fair racing conditions.
In order to make the best possible decisions during the event, the committee begins preparations long before it has started. They are in contact with a local weather forecaster, who will provide weather information in the lead-up to the event as well as hourly reports during racing.
“Documents are prepared – weather data, forecasts, course orientation and so on,” says Mayglothling. “We now have two members of the Competitive Commission, Peter Cookson and Henk-Jan Zwolle, who are responsible for that.”
The committee meets in person for the first time when they arrive at the venue, before the first team managers meeting and the draw. “We discuss the roles and duties, we look at the weather forecast and start to make possible scenarios,” Mayglothling explains.
The challenge for the committee varies greatly depending on the venue. Venues that have hosted multiple events have accrued more statistics and more weather scenarios that can be used for comparison, says Mayglothling. The committee uses this to help them prepare for the current conditions.
“It can be very difficult when the weather forecasts are not accurate, when there are local winds and situations that the forecasters struggle to account for. You can suddenly find that you’re getting biased conditions and it wasn’t predicted,” Mayglothling says.
During racing, the fairness committee members are stationed around the venue to continually monitor conditions on the course. One of the committee members tracks the statistics during the racing to check for biased results. And the local weather forecaster provides hourly updates on racing days. The committee is in constant contact via telephone or radio.
When a decision has been made that the conditions are not fair, the committee has several options. They can move across lanes, for example using lanes 0-5 instead of 2-7, they can reprioritise lanes, or they can postpone racing. Each option comes with its advantages and disadvantages.
“Moving across lanes can happen race to race,” Mayglothling says. “But reprioritising lanes takes about 20 minutes to implement. They have to be changed in the computer (for results etc) and everyone has to be informed, the bow numbers need to be changed, either on or off the water, and the control commission needs to verify it.”
And the decision to reprioritise lanes has to be evidence-based. “It’s easy when you’re on the bank to think it’s unfair, but you can’t change lanes every race. If you have a variable wind, it can be different race to race. So, it has to be done on the basis of evidence across races. You don’t want to disadvantage crews either.”
Another option is time trials. "We used time trials at World Rowing Cup III in Rotterdam (2019) because we lost half a day's racing and the course was unfair. So the heats were run as time trails," says Mayglothling. "We can use time trials and this would be the only way to deal with an unfair course if we had not completed any racing in the event. Once we have some races completed then prioritisation is more likely which is why it is so important to make each round the best result for your crew. At the World Rowing Championships and Olympic Games we have more time to try to utilise the best conditions for racing."
The last option of postponing or moving racing to a different time slot can also have a big impact. “You have to give enough notice,” explains Mayglothling. “We can give a recommendation, but other people have to implement it. Transport schedules, dining schedules, TV production, volunteers and more might have to be changed, and this takes coordination.”
In the end, Mayglothling says the most important thing is to find the best conditions possible for the competing athletes. “Sometimes it’s very clear cut and easy to make a decision, but when it’s very fine, then you ask yourself, which lane would I prefer to have?”
For more information about the roles and responsibilities of the fairness committee, click here.
1. Rule 71 and Bye-Laws to Rule 71
2. Also to the protocols which are on the World Rowing website