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Olympics! Meet war canoe racing.


Sam Laskaris, Windspeaker Contributor, North Vancouver B.C







Page 37

If Derrick George had a wish, it would be to see the sport of war canoe racing added to the Summer Olympics' roster of activities.

War canoe racing features 11 participants paddling feverishly in one canoe. The canoe is a 50-foot boat, and although each one costs about $25,000 to make, George is confident there are many others interested in the sport's Olympic inclusion.

"I have so many people jumping on board," said George, a 41-year-old Native of Coast Salish descent living on the Burrard reserve in North Vancouver. "And I haven't put full-time effort into it until the last few months or so."

The summer Olympics, held every four years, already includes various canoeing events. At present there are singles and doubles categories, as well as four-person and eight-person team events.

George, the single father of three young boys who works as a boat mechanic, has a Herculean task ahead of him if he is to convince people that war canoe racing deserves to be in the Olympics.

For starters, George will have to get the support of the Canadian Canoe Association (CCA). But John Edwards, the CCA's domestic program director, said he knows nothing about George's initiative.

"I haven't heard anything about this," he said. "That's all news to us. But we're all the way out here in Ottawa."

Edwards said he believes Canada is the only country where war canoe racing has been staged. George said it is popular, so far, only among Native coastal peoples.

"It's not currently on our radar screen to promote it at the international level," Edwards added.

If the sport does eventually become popular, then the International Canoe Federation (ICF), which has its headquarters in Madrid, Spain, would have to jump on the bandwagon.

Then, before ICF officials would even consider asking International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials to include the sport in a future Olympics, there would have to be massive worldwide appeal.

Before the IOC even considers adding a new activity, its rules stipulate the sport must be practised by men in at least 75 countries and on four continents or by women in a minimum of 40 nations and on three continents.

The last competition George attended this summer in Vancouver attracted just 12 war canoe teams. That's a far cry from the number of entries George would see at events when he was participating in war canoe racing during his twenties.

"It's really died off," George said. "It is a hard sport and you have to be very dedicated to it."

George said many Native people have stopped competing in recent years because of their drug and alcohol addictions. He believes a return to the sport will help straighten out some lives.

"It would help people on the reserves stay away from alcohol and be drug free," he said. "And I think it would be really good for the Native economy."

George said he has been in touch with about two dozen British Columbia-based tree service companies that would help sponsor logs that would eventually be turned into war canoes. Each log to build a war canoe costs between $5,000 and $10,000.

George said his idea to have war canoe racing added to the Olympics has been received favorably by Vancouver-area rowing officials who are keen on the idea.

And he's receiving some support from abroad.

He has written to International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge informing him of his intentions. George has also been contacting various Olympic team officials in several countries.

"There's a really strong interest in this in Germany and in Switzerland," George said. "And I have a contact in Japan who's trying to get it going there."

George said he believes having the sport become popular in Germany is a big key.

"Once they get it going there, it will be like a chain reaction and countries all over Europe will get involved."

To further his message, George said a film on war canoe racing will be made with the assistance of the B.C.-based Native Education Centre. The film is to be complted by the end of this year.

George then plans to send the film to various Olympic officials throughout the world.

Even if war canoe racing does become popular world wide, IOC officials would want to see any possible new Olympic sport stage its own world and continental competitions and see how it does over time. Those events would have to include youth or junior age categories, as well as women's and men's divisions.

George was hoping the sport could make it into the Olympics by 2008.

"If not 2008, then 2012."

But it seems the process could take decades.

Edwards said George's desire to have war canoe racing included in the Olympics sooner rather than later stands "Not even a ghost of a chance."

But if George starts now, there could be hope for future generations.

"I'm a little too old to compete," he said. "But my children have already started to get involved. Maybe they can make it to the Olympics some day."