Rafting and the Olympics: The Road Ahead

IRF Executive Committee
June 2018
An Open Letter to IRF Members and Followers:



Most of you are aware that the newly created World Rafting Federation (WRF) and certain people in the International Canoe Federation (ICF) signed a cooperative agreement shortly after we (the IRF) filed our application for membership in the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) formerly known as SportAccord.  Although the details have been kept secret, the IRF would welcome the opportuntity to review and comment on the agreement should those responsible release it publicly.

The ultimate goal of Olympic inclusion for rafting remains a top objective of the IRF. The first step to Olympic inclusion is membership in GAISF. Our submission for membership is acknowledged and progressing through the application process.

GAISF and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) require that only one internationally recognised body may represent a sport.  By creating a second international body, the leaders of the WRF have delayed IOC recognition of rafting and therefore delayed rafting’s introduction into the Olympic Programme.

In planning our application for membership with GAISF, we have factored in an expectation of objection or query as to the authority of the IRF to represent the sport of rafting. We are not threatened by objections, and we welcome the opportunity to demonstrate how we (you included) have built our sport over the decades.

Many paddle sports have been challenged or hindered on their route to GAISF membership and IOC recognition by ICF attempts to claim ownership of all paddle sports. These are tactical attempts to prevent independent recognition of these sports and their eventual acceptance into the Olympics.  Rafting is no different.

Some recent examples of challenges have been:

  • Photo: www.dragonboatnet.com

    Dragon boating was initially rejected when presented to the ICF as a new discipline. Consequently, the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) was created.  Eight years later, the IDBF applied to GAISF/ SportAccord for membership which was contested. However, IDBF persevered and was granted GAISF membership, and is now recognised by the IOC as the international federation (IF) governing dragon boating.

  • Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) has been developed and nurtured by the International Surf Association (ISA) for more than 10 years.  Under ISA leadership, SUP was slated to be introduced at the 2018 Youth Olympics and was in process for inclusion in the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Programme. But the ICF has challenged the ISA’s authority over SUP which caused the IOC to remove SUP from the Olympic and other calendars until this conflict is resolved. The challenge is ongoing but is looking likely to be with the original host organisation, the ISA.
  • Raft racing has built its global presence through the hard work of the IRF, and through the participation and support of (you) our members.  Unfortunately, because of the WRF’s attempt to undermine the global authority of the IRF, we are in a position where we now have to prove the IRF has the experience, ownership and history of the sport of rafting which will further delay rafting’s progression to Olympic recognition.

We vehemently reject the proposals stated in the recent ICF press release for its members to sign up to the WRF. Splitting the sport of raft racing is clearly detrimental to the aims and objectives of everyone involved in rafting – recreational, conservation, guiding and racing.  We are stronger together.  With over 20 years of experience and heartfelt passion behind us, the IRF will continue to promote and defend our authority over the sport of rafting worldwide against all pretenders – guiding, recreation, conservation and of course racing.

The IRF remains open to discussion and/or agreements with the ICF but to date we have received no response to any of our communications since we first approached ICF leaders in early June last year (long before the formation of the WRF) to discuss a cooperative agreement.

Inclusion in the Olympic Programme is a long one. As we have seen with the removal of C2 as an Olympic discipline, water sports in general are having the number of medals on offer reduced as new sports are introduced to keep the Olympic Programme more aligned to current sport trends.

Our next steps are to ensure rafters all around the world and those who vote for their federation’s leaders, understand the complexity and difficulty of getting a sport added to the Olympic Programme; and that they are not misled by incorrect information or false promises.

This is where we need your help. We need you to engage with your members, supporters, sponsors and friends to get the message out that the IRF (your federation) is aggressively defending our position as the global leader of rafting, and that we will continue to actively pursue our goal, and surmount any obstacles necessary, to take rafting to the Olympics.

Shortly we will be issuing press releases.   We ask you to spread and share them far and wide, and to translate them for your own websites, newspapers, and national sport media outlets!

As we lead up to running our 17th World Rafting Championship (and our 9th Youth World Rafting Championship), we will continue to be your international representative and voice for rafting.  We pledge to continue to push forward towards achieving GAISF membership and IOC recognition, and to increase the exposure of our beloved sport of rafting the world over.

Thank you,

IRF Executive Committee

#AreYouReady #RaftersAreAwesome #StrongerTogether #WeAreOne #WeAreIRF