ICF: Controversy at the Berg

TPM Response to the controversy

As a seasoned paddler and club sweep I have had to fix lots of boats during river races. We have gone through reams of duct tape, used branches and if possible made hot mixes on the side of the river. We have also spent long nights fixing boats so that we can race the following day.  But never once thought of swopping boats. Although I have never done the Berg I have been DNF’ed for being unable to finish on numerous other races. So when we read the findings we were a little surprised that ICF Marathon rule 26.6 No exchange or substitution of boats is permitted, even with other competitors from the same team. Had been allowed. We went off to find out how and why.

We first put our questions to Anthony Penderis the General Manager of the Berg. He then referred us to Dave Macleod as the Media Officer so we put these questions as they stand to him.

There are a number of issues that we think need to be highlighted in this incident:

  1. The person who looks after their canoe finishes 11th and is denied at top 10 finish.
  2. Paddlers have finished races in far worse off boats.
  3. The Berg committee apparently changed a CSA / ICF rule 5 years ago. Why does it remain unpublished? Why was it changed in the first place?
  4. Were other paddlers made aware of the changes when they damaged their canoes in the 5 years leading up to this incident?
  5. Where did boat 2 and 3 come from?
  6. A 30 minute penalty is in our opinion not a realistic approximation of how long it would take to fix a boat.
  7. The incident took place 4 – 6 km from the finish. Why not walk to the end as others have done if the canoe is beyond repair.

We raise these issues because we are concerned about the precedent that this ruling sets.

  1. We believe that one of the fundamental skills of river racing is to skilfully negotiate your canoe through the obstacles
  2. Are race organisers allowed to change the rules?
  3. Who decides if the boat is beyond repair; the paddler, race committee, the local repair shop?
  4. Does this mean that we can all go to races with a flotilla of boats? What happens to the person with only one battered ten year old canoe?


This is what Dave Macleod had to say:

Will help where I can –  some will need to come from Andre, or perhaps Enslin Van Riet as I wasn’t involved with the disciplinary issues.

Keith Moule swopped his boat below Drie Heuwels on Day Two and finished in a borrowed boat. There was never any attempt to conceal this on his part, and he openly volunteered the information that was heard at the disciplinary.

You are correct that the rule and sanction that was applied is not published on the race website Rules page, and you are correct, at least primarily, in pointing out that the race should follow ICF Marathon Racing rules. That is however, unless a race specific rule supersedes this, for practical or safety reasons. And virtually every SA river race has a rule /rules that supersedes ICF rules simply because of the uniqueness of the race conditions here.

The Berg ethos is to try and allow paddlers to finish the race. They are lenient (as much as they can be) with daily cut-off times etc. to try and make it possible for an athlete who has trained, entered and made the practical and financial commitments to do the Berg, to enable them to complete it. The difference comes where the athlete concerned is competing for prizemoney or a podium in their class.

The precedent that was used in this case is recorded in the minutes of a Berg Committee meeting from some time back (Enslin will have the details here), where it was felt that an elite athlete who was forced to change boats for acceptable reasons, should be allowed to finish race, but sanctioned with a time penalty that would ensure that they were not competing unduly for prizes or positions, and thirty minutes was agreed as a reasonable sanction. This was applied down wholly in Keith’s case.

It was credit to his attitude and perseverance that what started as a genuine race for a podium and a gold medal became a race to try and get back in to the top ten (he eventually came 7th).

I believe that the race committee will be quick to accept that the decision that was originally taken and minuted should have been included in the race rules, and I am sure it will be going forward. There was a delay in handing down the sanction on Day Three caused simply by the race jury being unable to contact the CSA Official to ratify their logic in this case.

So to answer your questions, races can and do apply rules that supersede the ICF Marathon Racing rules, but they cannot CHANGE rules in the middle of an event. This decision was grounded in an existing committee decision. And as I mentioned, the error here was a failure to include this in the race rules.

And no, this doesn’t give paddlers a licence to bring spare boats, or to change boats to suit conditions as they see fit! The cornerstone of the decision is to allow paddlers to suffer serious/irreparable craft damage to be able to finish the event. In Keith’s case there was witness evidence, video evidence and his own verbal evidence that made it clear his boat was damaged beyond paddeable repair, which was never questioned.

I look forward to comment from Andre and Enslin, especially on areas of the disciplinary process that I was not privy to. Please hold your publication until you have heard back from at least one of them.

What were your thoughts about the rules? Do you agree/disagree with the points we are raising over here at TPM? Share your opinion in the comments below 🙂

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