Dragon boats at Games at least 20 years away

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Canada, among the top three countries in dragon boat racing, would be well-positioned to secure Olympic medals if in fact this sport was an Olympic sport.

It's not, and it won't be for a very long time, according to Mike Haslam, executive president of the International Dragon Boat Federation. The IDBF is hosting its Club Crew World Championships down at the new Western Beaches Watercourse at Marilyn Bell Park this weekend.

Some of the best crews in the world are here, from 12 nations, an event that's more of a "friendly" competition compared to the IDBF's world championship, a more high-performance competition involving national teams. The next world championship is in 2007 in Sydney, Australia.

Haslam and others at the IDBF, the world governing body for the sport, have petitioned the International Olympic Committee about acceptance into the Olympics. That would have been especially timely for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, because of dragon boating's long tradition in China, going back thousands of years.

"All sports aspire to be Olympic sports," Haslam said. "And it would be tragic if there was no dragon boat presence (in Beijing in 2008). But the Olympics are but one event every four years. For the individual sports, the world championships are the big thing."

Dragon boaters will have to settle for a celebratory regatta in China during the Games. Haslam thinks it will take at least 20 years to get into the Olympics. The sport needs recognition as an Olympic federation first. Before that, it needs 75 national federations around the world under its umbrella. Dragon boating currently has around 60, Haslam said.

While athletes in the sport dream one day of a shot at Olympic medals, the odds seem stacked against it.

"I don't think it will ever happen," said Sue Holloway, the former Canadian winter and summer Olympian, now competing with the Canadian Senior Dragon Boat Club. "Thousands of people compete in these events. The summer Olympics can't accommodate a sport (this big). It deserves to be there, no question. It's the Olympics' loss."

Canadian crews again topped many of the races yesterday. The Pickering Dragon Boat Club elite junior squad captured another gold medal in the 2,000-metre junior open. Montreal Dragon Boat Club captured gold in the premier women's 2,000-metre race, while the Canadian Senior Dragon Boat Club of Toronto had another strong day in the senior open category by dominating the 2,000-metre race.

The event wraps up today with morning semi-finals for major race and finals this afternoon.


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