Proposal would limit rowing teams

GENEVA -- The traditional powerhouses of rowing -- including Australia, Britain and the United States -- could face limits in the number of events they compete in at the 2012 London Olympics.

The 126 member nations of FISA, the sport's world governing body, will vote next month on a Swiss proposal that would restrict countries to entering a maximum 10 of 14 gold medal classes. The move is intended to give smaller European nations more chances to qualify.

The move was opposed Friday by FISA Council member John Coates, who leads Australia's national Olympic Committee and is a member of the International Olympic Committee.

Christian Stofer, director of the Swiss Rowing national federation, said the plan was designed to "shake the world of rowing a little bit" and was in the sport's long-term interests.

"The strong countries have to feel they also have a certain responsibility," Stofer told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "Is it really necessary that big countries have a boat in more or less all the boat classes?"

Australia was the only country to qualify in all 14 race categories at the Beijing Games last August. Germany and the U.S. had 13 crews, Britain 12 and China 11.

Britain led the medals table with two gold, two silver and two bronze. Australia had two gold medals and a silver. They were followed by Canada (1 gold, 1 silver, two bronze), the United States (1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze) and China (1 gold, 1 silver).

Stofer said Olympic exposure was crucial for smaller European teams to earn domestic funding that helped develop young talent and host world-class events.

But those same countries have been squeezed in qualification by a FISA continental quota system that ensures places for emerging teams from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

A total of 60 countries competed at Beijing, including one crew each from Honduras, Kenya, Myanmar and Venezuela.

Coates, however, said the proposal would do little to help international rowing.

"Having improved the opportunity for developing rowing nations to qualify for the Olympics through our continental Olympic qualification regattas, the IOC and FISA must be careful to ensure that the Olympics remains a competition for the very best of our rowers and scullers and in every class of boat," he said.