Fairness of 'Year 14' competitors at Maadi Cup questioned

The man who coached the New Zealand men's eight to Olympic gold in Tokyo hopes he can spark a crucial debate around fair play at the prestigious Maadi Cup.

Tony O'Connor is one of a group that have raised questions about a small number of coaches who encourage students to repeat year 13 for another crack at the famous regatta.

"It's the, 'aim to win at all cost' mentality which, unfortunately, is endemic in every sport in this country and around the world as well and it has really come to the fore here as far as I’m concerned," O'Connor told 1News.

As well as coaching the New Zealand men’s eight to gold at the Tokyo Games, O'Connor has since become a coach at Christ’s College as well.

O'Connor, along with a handful of coaches from Christchurch schools, have written to Rowing New Zealand, School Sport and Sport NZ concerned about so-called "year 14" students competing at Maadi.

There is at least six year 14s competing from a "number of schools", O'Connor says.

"I’ve seen them come back for three months, they’ll race this regatta and then they’ll go off again," he said.

"It just says to me that winning means more to them than the sport is about."

While the Maadi Cup will be as big as sport gets for many Kiwi kids, O'Connor said there’s a concern some are being pushed to take it way too seriously.

"Every year it happens, every year I'm aware," he said.

"I’ve actually talked to kids over the past 15 years here who’ve actually been through that - they actually came back to school at the insistence of coaches to do that."

Schools compete in the U17 Boys final at the 2021 Maadi Cup.

Rowing New Zealand in response believes there's no suggestion rules are being broken though.

If you're under 18, you're free to compete, CEO Geoff Barry says.

"The key thing is it's within the rules, and if the rules need to change, then there's process to change the rules," Barry says.

"But right now there's no appetite and no momentum for the rule to change."

Regardless, it's something O'Connor still reckons should be looked at.

"You’ve got kids who have got an extra year training on top of everybody else which is an advantage in itself.

"I want it to be fair for kids and kids value fairness and I value fairness - it’s as simple as that."

But in the race for school rowing's biggest prize there's fair and there's equitable, and they aren't necessarily the same thing.