FFCK is one of the biggest canoe federations worldwide and in 2017 officially welcomed the rafting sport under its umbrella, becoming a WRF member.
Rafting in France is a historical discipline from the recreational and commercial point of view, but the first National Championship was held in 2019.
Since then the agonistic field is exponentially growing: next June the World Rafting Championship will see 30 Countries paddling in L’Argentière-la-Bessée on the French river Durance.
We interviewed Mr Jean Zoungrana, FFCK President since 2016.
The entry of the FFCK in WRF has been an enormous result for our federation, since France has one of the most important canoe federations worldwide. What are the reasons that prompt the FFCK to focus and invest on rafting?
Our federation obtained the delegation of the Ministry of Sports for Rafting in 2017. It is also the moment when I was elected president of the French Canoe Kayak Federation by carrying a development project for our federation which aims to develop all of our paddle sports and not just the Olympic disciplines as some federations do. I also proposed to change the name of our federation which is now a French federation of canoeing and paddling sports. Canoeing and kayaking are our historical disciplines, but since then we have had many other disciplines that have developed, one of which is rafting, and which should be recognized. Our desire to develop rafting is therefore part of a broader desire to develop all of our paddle sports in calm water, white water and sea, with our 700 clubs and our nearly 70,000 members.
What is the approach of your federation in the development of our discipline, historical from the recreational and commercial point of view, but at the same time “new” in the institutional field?
Rafting has long been developed in France as part of leisure and tourism activities. We indeed have a lot of whitewater rivers. These activities are organized by a highly developed professional sector. Until now our federation was not very open towards these structures. Here too, we have changed the federal strategy by opening up to this professional sector. These structures can become certified members of our federation and thus benefit from all our services and the defense of their activities.
The delegation of the ministry for rafting led us to develop a new dimension, the sporting dimension with the organization of the French championships, the selection of a French team, the participation in the world championships.
44 teams attended the First National Champsionship of France, 19th May 2019
Despite the first National Championship in France was held recently, almost 2 years ago, many teams participated and the level was very good. How did our sport developed over the years in France? How do you think rafting will grow from now on?
We actually organised our first French Championship in 2018 with the Provence Alpes Cotes d'Azur regional committee and its President Bruno Carlier. The development of the discipline goes from our point of view through different axes and in particular:
The establishment of a commission in charge of the Raft and of executives and elected representatives for the discipline. For the moment the raft is associated with our Freestyle commission to pool organisations. Ultimately, when the discipline is sufficiently structured and developed, an autonomous commission will make it possible to build a calendar of regional and national events, to set up training courses for judges, to adapt sports regulations. Unfortunately the Covid-19 did not allow us to develop these sports events as we would have liked.
It’s also training. In this context we have the L'Argentière-la-Bessée regional training center with its Director Didier Lafay, which has been recognised as a center of excellence by the WRF. We also have a "EuroPAddle pass" training system with skills to be developed in terms of technique, safety and the environment. In this context we have defined a color paddle progression from the white paddle which corresponds to the beginner level to the black paddle which corresponds to the expert practitioner of the discipline.
Rafting developed all around the world over the years, connected to several territories with peculiar differences. What could be the result of a worldwide union? What are the benefits of the resulting structure?
At the international level, we note that in certain disciplines, there are several federations. This is the case in Dragon Boat with ICF and IDBF, Va'a with ICF and IVF, but also for Raft. The multiplicity of federations makes things less readable. It multiplies the titles, the championships, with economic consequences which can be important for the federations to participate in the various championships. A single federation makes it possible to reduce schedules and pool organizations as much as possible. These situations require reconciliation. These require time and strategies to share the vision of the future of the discipline, the steps in the rapprochement and the agreements to be negotiated between the parties. It is not always easy, each federation having its history and its vision.
FFCK President Jean Zoungrana and WRF President Danilo Barmaz
A new channel near Paris will be built on the occasion of the 2024 Olympics, and this facility will therefore become the new headquarter of the FFCK. Considering the fact that rafting is a great tool to approach the public and make people discover the river world, what do you think about a rafting event/initiative that brings people in the river to value the river visibility before and/or after the Olympic dates?
Since 2018 we have inaugurated the Olympic and Paralympic nautical stadium of Île-de-France located in Vaires-Sur-Marne. We have installed our French teams and our federal headquarters there. Our project is to build our canoe-kayak and paddle sports house which will house the future federal headquarters at the entrance to the site. This site is one of the largest in the world dedicated to the practice of paddle sports, with its two artificial rivers for training and competitions and its lake for calm water disciplines. We will host events in many different disciplines: Rafting, why not?
What is the way to develop a positive synergy between rafting and canoe?
During the phase of discovering our paddle sports, it is important to be able to allow practitioners to discover all the supports. It’s part of a comprehensive paddle sports education. Thereafter, the athletes are led to make choices according to their physical and technical capacities. To promote the development of the discipline, one of the solutions would be to consider, in particular, joint organizations. In 2017, we organized the Slalom and wildwater world championships on the same site in Pau. Why do not we consider a championship that combines wild water with Rafting? This will make the sport grow.
WRF promotes the Olympic agenda values of Tokyo 2020 every day: sustainability, legacy and gender equality. How can these three principles be achieved and further developed through and after the Olympics?
Our federation shares these values and these orientations. Thus our federal project has three orientations: to perform during the Games but also in all disciplines, to celebrate the Games and to build our Paris 2024 heritage for the future. A material heritage in terms of infrastructure, equipment, navigation sites but also immaterial by making paddle sports accessible to all, by training our practitioners and by offering quality sports and leisure activities.
Regarding gender equality, in the last election I presented a team with equal representation of both genders. We are currently working on the evolution of our statutes so that there are at least 40% of women or men in all the bodies of our federation.
Sustainable development issues are also part of our concerns. We must fight against global warming by intervening in all our sectors of activity: transport, food, the life cycle of our equipment, waste management, in the organization of our events, etc. it is also the protection actions of our practice sites with all the cleaning operations of our rivers that our clubs carry out. Finally, it is also the defense of access to our spaces, sites and navigation routes to ensure that our users can continue to navigate safely on all sites.
What is your message to the athletes who are preparing for the World Rafting Champs?
France awaits them for this championship and is doing everything possible to ensure that they are received in the best possible conditions. The Argentière La Bessée site is a remarkable site for the practice of Rafting and offers excellent reception conditions as well as quality whitewater navigation courses with the river and the whitewater stadium. We look forward to welcome you all!