Rowing, a competitive sport 

FISA, the World Rowing Federation, FISA (from the French, Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron) introduced adaptive rowing at a world championship level in 2002. Which first took place at Seville in Spain, 38 athletes competed in the men’s scull and coxed four. Additionally, in 2003 at the world championships in Milan, the mixed double scull was added and the women’s first single scull raced in 2006. The popularity of adaptive rowing at the world championships led to rowing being endorsed at the Paralympics in Beijing, 2008.  Para rowers are adaptive rowers who engage rowing with an impairment and meet classifications set out by FISA. 

The GB team started competing in world adaptive rowing championships in 2003.

Rowing, a Paralympic event

Rowing is a relatively new sport to the Paralympic Games, being introduced in Beijing 2008. As a result of its popularity at world level, rowing was introduced to the Paralympic Games in Beijing and has continued to grow, with now over 24 nations competing. 

British rowing medal winners

  • 2008 Beijing, China –
    Tom Aggar and Helene Raynford – gold
    Vicki Hansford, Naomi Riches, Alistair Mc Kean, James Morgan and Alan Sherman - bronze in Mixed Coxed Four 
  • 2012 London, UK – 
    Pamela Relph, Naomi Riches, David Smith, James Roe and Cox Lily Van den Broecke – gold in Mixed Coxed Four

How rowing has evolved

Para rowing at the Olympics as of 2017 has been given a new racing area size of 2000 metres which is the same for standard Olympic Games and will come into fruition at the Tokyo games in 2020.

During training boats are now fixed with forces sensors, angle sensors and accelerometers. This then allows for individual athlete data and data to see how boat is moving on a whole.

The data is compiled and given to coaches, the angles of rowers, stroke length and acceleration is examined for feedback.

Tom Dyson, coach for Tom Aggar notes that when he first began rowing, he only had access to a stroke rate and speed sometimes if the boat had an impeller on the bottom. Moreover, he states that data collected by biomechanics can provide information that isn’t visible to the naked eye (Martin, 2016).

Rules of rowing

There are four events on the Paralympic rowing programme: the men’s arms and shoulders only scull (ASW1X): the trunk and arms mixed double scull (TAM1X2X): legs, trunk and arms mixed coxed four (LTAMIX4+). All impairment groups except athletes with learning disability are eligible to compete. 

Technically speaking the coxed four is the only ‘rowing’ event the rest are sculling events. Each athlete uses two oars instead of one. 

The races take place over 1000 metres of water which is divided into six lines and marked by buoys, the first boat to cross the finishing line wins.

Governing bodies

British Rowing is the national governing body for all indoor rowing and outdoor rowing in Britain. They are responsible for the development, participation and training of all rowing crews representing GB at games.

FISA are the international rowing federation who govern and set rules for impairments and classifications of rowers.

Regional clubs

In England rowing clubs are managed through six rowing areas, North, North-west and Yorkshire, Midlands, East South-East and West these cover all the counties in England.


Rowing stories

Video still of an interview with Naomi Riches

An interview with Naomi Riches MBE

Naomi Riches is an adaptive rower who was part of the British mixed coxed four team that won gold at London in 2012 and bronze in Beijing in 2008. Read more.