There may have been very few opportunities to come together in 2020, but the international canoeing family once again showed its resilience and strength of community in the face of an international crisis that turned the world on its head.

That the ICF, through a coterie of very determined true believers, was able to put on three world cups at the end of this year is testament to the passion and “can-do” attitude of a bunch of people who eat, sleep and breathe canoeing.

Organisers of the ICF canoe sprint and paracanoe world cup in Szeged, Hungary, and the ICF canoe slalom world cups in Tacen, Slovenia, and Pau, France, moved heaven and earth to prove they could do what most of the world thought impossible – safely hold an international sporting event.

Sure, the events were missing some of the bells and whistles normally attached to an international ICF event, but nobody cared. The most important outcome was that a group of athletes got to compete.

Testing was rigorous, face masks were the new fashion accessory, hand sanitiser was being applied by the bucketload,and there were no fans to cheer the athletes on. It was inconvenient and annoying, but 100 per cent necessary, and no-one complained.

Hungary, Slovenia and France were the test cases for international canoe events. Nobody knows what the situation will be next year, but one thing is for certain – the ICF has a calendar filled to overflowing.

If worst comes to worst, and if there are few signs the devastating effect of the pandemic is declining, tough decisions will have to be taken. But what we’ve seen at the end of 2020 is that, with the support of local authorities, events can be held safely.

And there’s good reasons why federations are working hard to try and put competitions on.

With the support of local authorities, events can be held safely

2020 has been an incredibly traumatic experience for most of the world. Covid-19 has cost lives, jobs, relationships and devastated economies. For elite athletes it has taken away what they love doing best – competing.

It’s hard to measure the impact this has had on the canoe community, but a long line of athletes have spoken openly about how they’ve struggled mentally, physically and financially.

Elite athletes plan their life around preparing for and competing in their sport. Their diet, their training, their travel – it is all-consuming because to succeed at this level takes incredible dedication.

So if you suddenly and with very little warning snatch that away, its going to leave a gaping hole in the lives of many. Especially when the big prize which many athletes have been working towards for four years, the Olympics, is also taken away.

The sense of relief among athletes at the three recent ICF world cups was palpable. Everyone was a little on edge, but Olympic athletes like Fernando Pimenta of Portugal and Ana Satila of Brazil talked openly about what a physical and mental struggle 2020 had been, and how much it meant to them to be able to compete again.

Everyone has learned a lot, including the ICF

The ICF always has the safety and wellbeing of its athletes and officials as its number one priority, which made cancelling or postponing nearly every event in 2020 the only feasible option. Next year the federation will once again have to decide the best way forward and the priorities will remain the same.

The canoeing world watched on to see how Hungary, Slovenia and France would fare. Everyone has learned a lot, including the ICF, which will be the starting point for any discussions about next year.

Not every host federation will be able to put on their event if the current international situation doesn’t improve. But some will be able to tap into what we have learned in 2020 and will be keen to press ahead with their competition.

After the year that was 2020, it gives everyone reason to be optimistic that 2021 will be much better.

France Romane Prigent K1 Slovenia 2020

Canoe Sprint
Canoe Slalom
Extreme Canoe Slalom