About ICF events - competition levels

As per the ICF sport governance rules (chapter 1 of each rule book), the ICF has the following sport competition levels (rule 1.2.1)

 Type of competitionCompetition
Level 1ICF competitionICF World Championships
Level 2ICF World Cups
Level 3ICF World Ranking competitions
Level 4International competitions
• Masters or open competitions
• Invitational competitions

World Championships

In the beginning there was Canoe Sprint

The first ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships (then called flat water racing) were held in Vaxholm, Sweden on the outskirts of Stockholm back in 1938. There were three men’s canoe events (C1, C2, C4) all contested over 1000m, and seven men’s kayak events (K1 1000m, 10,000m and 10,000m folding; K2 1000m, 10,000m and 10,000m folding; and the K4 1000m). Women raced in two events, the K1 and K2 600m.

Germany and Sweden dominated the medal tables; Sweden won no less than five of the 12 available golds, whilst Germany took home four.

Unfortunately, World War II broke out a year later and the Canoe Sprint World Championships took a forced 10-year break.

In 1948, the canoeing world reconvened in London, England for the second ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships.

All go for Canoe Slalom

One year later, in 1949, Canoe Slalom saw its first World Championship in Geneva, Switzerland. The men’s C1 and C2 each had two events: the team and individual races, while the men’s and women’s K1 races were held in folding Kayaks in both team and individual races.

From then on Canoe Slalom World Championships were held every odd year until 1999, after which they have been an annual event starting in 2002, with the exception of Olympic years.

Canoe Sprint, on the other hand has been held every year (except an Olympic year) since 1970.

Host Organising Committees

Host Organising Committees bid to hold a World Championship four years in advance. The winning bids then work in close collaboration with the ICF Headquarters to ensure successful delivery of the event.

World Championships are held over four days from Thursday to Sunday, with finals held over the weekend. Over the years, the programmes have varied and moved with the times. More recent event additions include women’s canoe in both sprint and slalom, and the addition of Paracanoe to the sprint programme.

There are also separate slalom and sprint Junior and U23 World Championships; these are held every year and are intended to bridge the gap between youth and senior competition.

Non-Olympic and Paralympic Disciplines

In addition to Canoe Sprint, Slalom and Paracanoe, the ICF directly governs seven other disciplines that each contest World Championships.

Canoe Marathon and Dragon Boat racing are each contested annually. However, Dragon Boat alternates between club and country championships each year. Wildwater Sprint is also an annual event, with the classic variant added to the programme every alternate year. These competitions can last for up to a week and can include Junior and U23 classes.

Canoe Polo alternates each year between world and continental championships, with Canoe Freestyle alternating between a world cup year and a world championships year. Canoe Polo World Championships are every even year, whilst Canoe Freestyle World Championships are every odd year.

Canoe Ocean Racing (Surfski) world championships were added to the ICF calendar in 2013 and Stand Up Paddling (SUP) world championships were added to the ICF calendar in 2019.

World Cups

Canoe Sprint

The Canoe Sprint World Cup competitions are held every year in a series of 2-4 competitions. These are generally held around May to June at the start of the season, followed by the World Championships later in the season. They are often held just a few weeks apart so teams from around the world can travel to all events easily. 

Canoe Slalom

Canoe Slalom world cups are often held in two groups, with world cups 1-3 held early in the season and world cup 4 and the world cup final held towards the end of the season. The ICF will award the World Cup to the overall winner of the series in each event. The world cup rankings are updated after each competition and can be found in the canoe slalom section of the ICF website.

Other Disciplines

Paracanoe, Wildwater Canoeing and Canoe Marathon hold both World Cups and World Championships every year. The number of world cups depends on the program of other events in that year and the availability of host venues.

Canoe Freestyle alternates its World Cup with its World Championships. Every even year, two Canoe Freestyle World Cups are held.

Canoe Ocean Racing holds multiple world cups each year, and dragon boat and stand up paddling (SUP) have also recently added world cups to the ICF calendar.

ICF world ranking competitions

Many ICF disciplines have athlete rankings for each event. These rankings generally use points allocated at world championships, world cups and often include a series of ranking races. Depending on the discipline, continental or national competitions may contribute to rankings.

Specific ranking competitions take place for canoe slalom, canoe marathon, wildwater canoeing and canoe ocean racing. Canoe sprint also has rankings but does not have separate ranking races.

Continental competitions

Continental Championships

The Continental Associations, aside from overseeing the sport in their specific region and representing their National Federations within the ICF, are responsible for holding Continental Championships. These cover all disciplines (which discipline depends on the continent) and includes junior, U21/U23 and senior categories, and often also includes masters competitions too. Some continental championships, such as canoe polo, are utilised as qualification competitions for the world championships.

Continental Multi-Sport Games

There are various multi-sport continental games around the world including the Asian Games, Bolivarian Games, Central American and Caribbean Games, the Mediterranean Games, the Pan American and Parapan American Games, the South American Games, and the Southeast Asian Games. A variety of ICF disciplines feature at these competitions, depending on the games, the year and the location.

Basic international events

The ICF recognises and endorses many canoeing competitions around the world that are organised using ICF rules, regulations and procedures, where athletes from multiple countries are invited to attend. There are over 100 of this type of race each year. National federations can request to have their competitions recognised by the ICF and displayed on the ICF event calendar by adding the competition directly into SDP.

Additionally there are global multi-sport competitions featuring canoeing disciplines including the World Games and World Masters Games, and standalone championships such as the World University Championships.