A day at the races

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I work to protect fresh water, but the reality is, I don’t get my feet wet as often as I’d like. But there are days when I get to leave the desk and computer behind, and remember why I’m in this fight. Last week I had one of those days, as I cheered the athletes at the World Rowing Championships.

WWF and FISA, the World Rowing Federation, have been partners for clean water since 2011. The connection is obvious: rowing requires water, and neither rowers nor fans enjoy polluted, degraded rivers and lakes. But more than that, the partnership is committed to setting a new standard for environmentally sound sporting events and raising awareness about the threats to freshwater.


It was great fun to see the boats glide past WWF’s iconic panda logo as each race reached its dramatic finish. And in the broadcast truck, the director was tasked not only with capturing the intense effort and athleticism poured into races determined by fractions of a second, but beautiful images of Lake Aiguebelette and its cool, clear water. This is part of FISA’s effort to integrate water conservation seamlessly throughout its events – and an incredible opportunity for WWF to reach audiences beyond our loyal supporters.

But what really thrilled me about the day was a little logo on the rowers’ sleeves. Not the panda I mentioned earlier. A new logo for a new venture: the Kafue River & Rowing Centre in Zambia. While still a work in progress, this extraordinary multi-purpose facility will serve as a gathering place for scientists and water managers to share knowledge and solutions to our most pressing water challenges. And the Kafue River has them all: pollution, industry, agriculture, flooding, damming for hydropower, and drinking water scarcity. The plan is to encourage anyone anywhere to visit the centre “virtually” and interact with the researchers – all research will be shared openly, thus benefitting the world as a whole.

The centre will also be a training and development facility for rowers, particularly people from the region who are new to the sport. As FISA expands, its partnership with WWF will clearly establish the connection between sport and conservation – our planet’s health is inextricably linked to human health and well-being.

After a day at the races, I am motivated anew to be back at my desk, giving it my all – not for a medal or a world record time, but for the thing that sustains us all: water.

Stuart Orr is Head of Water Stewardship at WWF International. 

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