BOSN talks to... Mike Tanner

Tell us about the story about yourself and rowing.

I started rowing when I was at school, growing up in Tasmania, Australia. I continued rowing when I came to Hong Kong to work for the Hong Kong Government in 1974. I was a founder member of the Hong Kong, China Rowing Association in 1978. The Association was founded by 7 members of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC), which was the only club in Hong Kong with rowing facilities at that time. The vision of the founding members was to make rowing available to the local community and to allow Hong Kong to compete in international rowing regattas. I am currently Chairman of the Association.

I have been involved for many years with the World Rowing Federation (FISA), serving on the Umpiring Commission from 1993 to 2004, being on the Governing Council since 2004 and on the Executive Committee since 2011. This has allowed me to be closely involved with international rowing and policy. It has also meant that I have attended all Olympic Games since 1992 as an international rowing official and most World Rowing Championships during this period. I retired from FISA at the end of 2018 upon reaching the FISA retirement age.

What were the challenges bringing the World Rowing Coastal Championships 2019 to Hong Kong? What are the solutions?

Hong Kong has hosted a range of high level international rowing events since it was formed. These include the 1stAsian Rowing Championships in 1985, several Asian Rowing Indoor Championships and Asian Rowing Junior Championships, the Asian Rowing Cup in 2013 and of course the rowing regatta of the 2009 East Asian Games. Hong Kong has a number of international rowing officials with good experience, officiating at World and Asian level events each year and involved as Committee members in the World and Asian Rowing Federations. So we felt comfortable that we could step up to organise the higher level World Rowing Coastal Championships in 2019. But we needed to identify the right venue and we needed funding.

For the venue, we finally decided that the best way to promote a unique experience for all competitors and to show off an amazing side of Hong Kong was to hold the racing in Victoria Harbour. The iconic urban backdrop coupled with the City Centre location and the working harbour carrying on around the races would surely make this an event for all to remember. And it fitted well with the Government's stated policy to promote the harbour as a venue for international and local water sports.

Of course the harbour presents a number of special challenges, particularly as we wanted the races to be close to the shoreline of Central and Wan Chai so that spectators could really experience the excitement of rowing. The race course is 4km for preliminary races and 6km for medal final races. Because the course runs from Causeway Bay to Central Pier 10 and return, crews will twice cross the Star Ferry route from Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui. Through discussions with The "Star" Ferry Company we were able to come to arrangements whereby the races can be held with little or no disruption to the ferry timetable. This was put to the test during the 2018 Asian Rowing Coastal Championships, held as a "test event" in November last year on the same venue and with a high level of cooperation on all sides, proved to be very successful. We believe the bigger World Championships this year can be managed just as successfully here. The fact that the Star Ferry is an internationally recognised icon of Hong Kong Harbour makes this cooperation all the more meaningful, both for spectators and for international participants, and will present some wonderful photo opportunities.

The other challenge if we wanted to hold the event in the harbour was to find a suitable event base. There are very few places which provide suitable access to the water and support facilities around the harbour for such a high level world event. Fortunately, the RHKYC has been a home of rowing for over 100 years and the Club agreed to become the "Venue & Delivery Partner" for the World Championships. The Club not only provides a race village and boating base for competitors, but will also contribute a massive amount of water sports experience and logistical support to the event, including daily laying of the course buoys and motor boat support. All crews will access the water from the Club.

And finally funding. The government's Major Sports Events Committee (MSEC) Fund ("M" Mark) provides support for major events such as world championships held in Hong Kong.The fund's parameters have been revised this year and now provide enhanced financial support for approved events. Whilst we are also seeking commercial sponsorship the availability of "M" Mark funding has allowed us to bid and proceed with our planning with a high level of confidence to bring this major event to Hong Kong.

What can we expect to see in terms of competitions in the Championships when it takes place this November?

The World Rowing Coastal Championships uses coastal rowing boats. Unlike Olympic rowing, these boats are designed for use in open water and rough water conditions. So races will be held with no wave protection in the open harbor, providing clear views of the boats and rowers from all angles.

The Championships includes 7 events. There are 3 events each for Men and Women – Solos (1 rower), Double Sculls (2 rowers) and Coxed Quadruple Sculls (4 rowers plus a coxswain who will steer the boat). There is also a Mixed event - Double Sculls, where each crew will have 1 man and 1 woman rower.

The racing course will start at Causeway Bay, off the western end of the typhoon shelter, heading towards Central and turning around a buoy at Central Pier 10, before returning along the Central waterfront, around the HK Convention & Exhibition Centre, and then back to the finish line off Kellett Island. The longer 6km course will be the same but crews will do a second loop around the buoys between the Convention Centre and Pier 10.

In Central crews will come to within 20 – 30 metres of the waterfront and spectators will be well placed to see all of the action as crews navigate around buoys and vie for the lead.

There will be a race village on the shoreline. Can you tell us more about the village and the programme?

We want the championships to be seen by as many people as possible and to let more people in Hong Kong know what is rowing and to feel they have been a part of the event. We will establish several activation areas in Central and along the shoreline to Wan Chai. These will include exhibitions of Hong Kong’s rowing history and how this relates to the maritime history of Hong Kong. We will also have opportunities for the public to actually try their hand at rowing. This will include competitions and trials on rowing machines, but we also aim to put people into boats and have a short experience on the water together with experienced rowers to have the feel of rowing – but also to experience the thrill of being on the harbor together with this international event. Other entertainment and games will also be provided to make this a true family experience.

How do you and the organising committee encourage the public community to involve in the Championships as well as the sport itself?

Hong Kong has hundreds of kilometres of coastline, much of it of great beauty and stunning views. Coastal rowing opens up the whole of this coastline to the sport of rowing. It allows rowing to take place from any location where water access is available.

Our first objective is to organise a memorable World Rowing Coastal Championships. But we are also aware that this gives us a unique opportunity to raise the profile of rowing in Hong Kong. The Organising Committee and the Association are committed to use the Championships as a springboard to significantly expand rowing to the community. We are holding public trial days as part of the build-up to the championships and in terms of community sports development we see the championships as the beginning of a major expansion of our sport in the community.

Sustainability is a big topic especially for water sports. How do you encourage minimizing waste in the Championships?

In 2011 the World Rowing federation (FISA) entered into a Strategic Alliance with WWF International (World Wide Fund for Nature). WWF is the world’s largest and most respected independent nature conservation organisation, with more than 5 million supporters and a network active in more than 100 countries across all continents. WWF is working to protect freshwater ecosystems and improve water access, efficiency, and allocation for people and the environment. The WWF partnership with FISA is a perfect fit in promoting clean water, and one which the Association and the Organising Committee strongly support. For the 2019 World Rowing Coastal Championships we will introduce a number of initiatives to minimise our environmental footprint and publicise rowing’s “Clean Water” message. This will be headlined to the participating rowers by the policy of RHKYC to allow no single use plastic bottles, but further initiatives will be developed to also include the public in this environmental message. And for the championships themselves the Organising Committee is committed to minimise waste.

Hong Kong has hosted a number of mega rowing events in the past including the 2009 East Asian Games Regatta and 2013 Asian Rowing Cup II. Can you share with us your experience being part of these events as different roles?

The 2009 East Asian Games Rowing regatta was one of the best events I have attended in Asia and I would be happy to say, from the organization side, that it was world class. Many people contributed to this and it well demonstrated the Hong Kong Rowing community’s depth of experience and their abilities and commitment to producing an event of high quality. The 2013 Asian Rowing Cup II was another example of this, combined with our annual Hong Kong Rowing Championships, it brought rowers from many Asian countries and regions to compete in Hong Kong.

What do you see in Hong Kong rowing in terms of innovations and event achievements in the next 5 years?

This is a multi-pronged question!

Development is very important. The Association has had a very successful Youth Development Programme (YDP) for many years. Involving school visits and other initiatives the YDP has provided us with a very strong foundation for our Hong Kong Rowing Team, with almost all Team members having come up through this programme. When the YDP was first introduced it was a highly innovative initiative, but after many years it now needs to be revamped and updated to make it more relevant once again to today’s youth. We are in the process of doing this and this update will be an important part of our work in the coming year.

Coastal rowing brings us new horizons for the further expansion of rowing to the community and there is no doubt that this will bring new venues and new organisations into our sport to enjoy the special values which rowing brings to participants. But “flat water” rowing will also continue to be developed strongly in Sha Tin and other suitable areas. University and club rowing is a central part of our activities and both will benefit from further strengthening and support from the Association.

As a member of the Hong Kong Water Sports Council, the Association is also a central partner in initiatives to establish a number of new water sports centres, each involving multiple sports. The first of these is likely to be the East Kai Tak Water Sports Centre, a temporary centre expected to open early next year at the site of the old Kai Tak Runway Fire Station, close to the Cruise Terminal. This centre will initially cater to the community of East Kowloon and will allow us to bring rowing to many thousands of people in a convenient and safe environment in the protected water of Kai Tak.

The Association will also continue to partner with the RHKYC in organizing the Club’s annual Around the Island Race (ATIR). Using the same coastal rowing boats, this 45 km open water race is fast gaining an international reputation among top rowers. This year it will be held one week after the World Championships and discussions are ongoing to encourage many rowers to stay on and race in this event. We are confident that over the next several years the ATIR will develop into an iconic open water race and place Hong Kong firmly on the world coastal rowing circuit.

Rowing is an elite sport at the Hong Kong Sports Institute and we have strong international ambitions. Our rowers are very competitive at Asian level and we have had several medals at World level. We want to improve this to develop a Team and a programme which is consistently competitive at World level. This is very challenging in a sport like rowing, where the height and weight profile of Hong Kong athletes is somewhat less than many other countries. But we believe there are many athletes in Hong Kong who do have the potential and we will continue to identify, recruit and work with them for this purpose. Our target is to qualify at least one crew for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and we are already starting to prepare for the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.

The Association continues to be ambitious in developing rowing and in particular encouraging more community involvement. We have a large number of experienced and committed persons who voluntarily give their time to the Association and its work.