Exclusive: Rowing NZ using 'scare tactics' to try keeping our best young talent here over Ivy League scholarships

Abby Wilson
Source: 1News

Rowing New Zealand's hard line attitude to young rowers choosing top education facilities in the US could see us losing a significant amount of our best talent.

1 NEWS can reveal 70 per cent of the men who represented New Zealand in the 2016 junior world championships are no longer rowing in the silver fern with some saying they've had no other option but to switch allegiances.

One such case was Lenny Jenkins - a junior world champion in 2016 who one day hoped to win an Olympic medal for New Zealand.

But then he was invited to attend Ivy League university Yale in the US.

"It was probably one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make because I was 17 at the time and I was choosing between a dream that I'd had since I was 14 and one of the best universities in the world," he said.

Under current Rowing NZ rules, choosing Yale meant he could no longer row for his country.

Jenkins says he was bullied to stay.

"I would absolutely describe it as a scare tactic.

"There's no, ‘this is the positives of going to the United States, these are the negatives,’ - it's just like, ‘these are all the negatives, you should never go, it's not good enough, do not go’."

In the end, Jenkins couldn't turn down $500,000 worth of education.

He's kept rowing - this year his eight crew won the national title - but he's never worn the fern again.

While places like Australia and Great Britain hold under 23 trials for US -based athletes after their exams, Rowing NZ High Performance Director Alan Cotter says that's too late.

"We've got to be fair to the athletes that are here in NZ to pick them," he said.

"They’re in our system, they're in our pathway, they've committed to the sport here in NZ so that’s why we pick them at the end of March."

Rowing NZ says it's hard to beat the programme at Lake Karapiro but the American universities make a good sales pitch.

"There was about 11 different university scouts out here looking at them so they are pretty aggressive in their recruiting side."

Perhaps in an attempt to stem the flow, school age coaches have told 1 NEWS Rowing NZ made it clear to them if they were found to be helping American scouts, it'd affect their chances of coaching nationally. Rowing NZ says they're focused on helping athletes make informed decisions.

US opportunities are proving enticing though.

Of the 17 men who rowed for New Zealand at the junior world championships in 2016, 12 of them are now studying in the US and therefore unable to trial for the Kiwi team.

Some, like world champion Jenkins, have even switched allegiances.

"I'm one of the lucky ones," Jenkins said.

"I'm lucky that I have an opportunity to row for another country and I'm privileged to have been selected into the British team this year."

Rowing NZ says since the class of 2016, changes have been made that will hopefully mean the stars of the future keep wearing the fern.