Thomas Konietzko

Fifty years ago the world saw for the first time canoe slalom on the Olympic programme. This year, our canoeing family will return to this historic venue in Augsburg to celebrate an auspicious anniversary when it hosts the 2022 International Canoe Federation (ICF) Canoe and Extreme Slalom World Championships.

The Ice Channel in Augsburg is just one of several Olympic canoe slalom venues which regularly host major events, underlining the long-term benefits sport venues can provide for a local community. Augsburg has long since become a global centre for whitewater and recreational sports and serves the population as one of the most popular places for such activities in the city.

And with the ICF determined to continue as a world leader in the field of sustainability, making all our canoeing disciplines fit for future is a very important focus for us.

The addition of extreme slalom underlines how our sport is willing to embrace change. Introducing new sports is never easy, and many have had to make sacrifices, but the inclusion of this exciting new format on the Paris 2024 programme will further strengthen our role in shaping the future of the Olympic movement.

After two years of uncertainty, cancellations and postponements, 2022 is shaping as an incredibly busy year for our canoeing community. And we are particularly excited this year to have the opportunity to showcase our sport on different continents and at new venues.

With the Sprint and Para Canoe World Championships in Halifax in Canada, we are continuing our strategy of taking top-class competitions to all continents. At Tokyo 2020, we had three Olympic sprint champions and a Para canoe Paralympic gold medalist from the American continent, so we are particularly excited to be taking these World Championships to North America.

We are sure it will be a great advertisement for our sport and will build on the excitement generated on the American continent for canoeing during the Olympics.

We were very satisfied to see the strong growth in viewing figures for canoeing in regions like South and North America and Asia during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. In March this year, the ICF Board will meet in Charlotte in the United States where we will discuss ways to further expand our canoeing footprint in this important region.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games were a success story at many levels, and the ICF was proud to play its part. Despite the obvious but very necessary restrictions, our athletes appreciated the great lengths the Tokyo hosts went to to ensure the success of the Games.

And looking forwards, Paris 2024 is already nearly upon us, and already among our slalom, sprint and Para canoe athletes and Para athletes, the excitement is building. France has long been a global leader in all canoeing disciplines, and we are confident the fans in Paris will respond accordingly.

For the first time, two ICF Canoe Sprint Super Cups will be held in Russia for the best athletes in the world. This is the continuation of a successful fast-paced format that has found many new fans since its inception.

The best athletes in the world compete in innovative formats for titles and prize money, and with two competitions this year and the strong support of our host country, the prize money to be won will increase considerably.

The Super Cup is also another example of how we adapt our sport and our presentation to attract new audiences and new fans, and it is has proven especially popular with our athletes.

For the first time, we will also organise a Slalom Super Cup for the world’s best slalom and extreme slalom athletes, bringing another exciting event for our canoeing fans.

Canoe slalom enjoyed brilliant competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Imahes
Canoe slalom enjoyed brilliant competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Imahes

The increasing popularity of stand up paddling (SUP) within the ICF and our National Federations will continue, with the 2022 World Championships on the Polish Baltic Sea. Last year's World Championships in Hungary saw a record number of participants, despite COVID-19, and we expect even more nations to take part this year.

Our innovative television and streaming coverage of SUP events has been enthusiastically embraced by athletes and officials, and this year’s World Championships will raise the bar even higher. Additionally, the ICF will introduce for the first time in 2022 three SUP World Cups and a world ranking series on three continents to meet the growing demands of our National Federations for more continental competitions.

For more and more Federations, the team rankings introduced for the first time last year are an important motivation to participate with large teams.

Finally, World Championships in white water, dragon boat, canoe freestyle, ocean racing, canoe polo and canoe marathon round off a season that demonstrates the diversity of our sport on all five continents.

Many of our athletes have had very disrupted programmes during the past two years. Some have had no competition at all. We are keeping our fingers crossed this year we will be able to welcome all our athletes from all over the world back to the thrill of competing.

For the non-Olympic disciplines of canoe polo and canoe marathon, the World Games in Birmingham in the US will be the highlight of the season. Teams and athletes from five continents will use this stage to showcase the diversity and attractiveness of our non-Olympic sports to a wide audience.

There will be more competitions in our disciplines this season than ever before. This is part of a strategy not only to be present in the Western Hemisphere during spring and summer, but to strengthen our sport on all continents and to inspire our spectators with competitions throughout the year.

In addition to this season's competitions, the implementation of the ICF long-term strategy announced at the ICF Congress in Rome will be a major focus for 2022. It will be about making a successful sport even better, in order to remain a crucial and important part of the Olympic movement in the future.

Central to the changes is the ICF Fit for Future proposal, which will set the direction for the future development of canoeing.

There are eight strategic pillars of this proposal: The safeguarding and wellbeing of our athletes; Governance; Public Relations, Media and Broadcasting; Marketing and Revenues Strategy; ICF Events; Culture of Cooperation and Communication, Development programme; and, most importantly, our sustainability strategy to protect our environment.

The Fit For Future proposal will result in a realignment for our Federation and will guarantee our sport will continue to prosper and grow in a strong and focused environment.

During 2022, the ICF will develop new plans to embrace cutting-edge technologies, encourage more of our younger generation and introduce in the calendar completely new formats – indoor competitions, virtual competitions and practices, new boat models using hydrofoils systems to fly over the water and to give the spectators an amazing new experience.

The resilience of canoe sports has been on show for all to see during COVID-19. When many sports were being cancelled, many of our organisers found a way to make things happen. Of course, these events were very different to the types of events our athletes and fans were used to.

We asked a lot of our organisers and our athletes. But they did it. 2020 was almost a write-off, 2021 was only marginally better. But we have emerged into 2022 a much stronger sport and have big, exciting plans for the future.

A busy calendar for 2022 shows the diversity of our sport, as well as the wide range of water activities around the world. We have gained a lot of experience in organising events under pandemic conditions in the past year and are confident that we can safely organise competitions for our athletes based on this experience.

Even though many of our National Federations suffered financially from the effects of the crisis last year, we must now stand together and look for ways to support the particularly affected Federations in order to enable as many teams as possible to take part in the competitions.

For canoeing, the ICF and our Federations, 2022 looks bright.