On Saturday, 104 principals had a chance to put the health and wellbeing of their students over the prospect of winning a few titles meaningless to anybody outside the small schools rowing bubble.

The principals chose titles.

In a decision that has "disappointed" Rowing New Zealand officials, a move to ban lightweight rowing at secondary school level was thwarted by the people charged with acting in the best interests of their students.

Sixty-seven principals voted for change, two abstained and 35 decided the fullness of their rowing programmes were too important to sacrifice on the altar of common sense.

Advertisement

To effect the change, 75 per cent of the principals had to agree to the remit.

The minority held sway.

Asked why Rowing NZ sought the change, CEO Simon Peterson was frank.

"The health and wellbeing of kids in that 13-18 year old age range is critical," he said.

"Our view is that dieting and weight restrictions in a non-combat sport at school level is not required.

"Our position has been clear: we don't see any benefits of having lightweight rowing divisions at secondary school level."

Rowing NZ specifically went to the principals of the NZ Secondary School Rowing Association member schools, not the coaches or programme coordinators.

"We're disappointed by the outcome," Peterson admitted.

The move would have put NZ Rowing in line with FISA, the body that administers the sport at an international level.

But more than that, it's just the right thing to do. Encouraging or even tacitly approving of diets and weight loss among healthy pubescent and post-pubescent teens is plain wrong.

The briefing paper that went out to all the member schools made it clear why Rowing NZ was taking this step.

"There has been an increasing number of younger pupils competing in the lightweight grade and they are being exposed to an unnecessary idea of controlling weight during the years when nutrition plays a vital role in their long-term growth and development," the paper said.

"The Schools Committee holds the health and safety of our rowers and coaches paramount and the risk that lightweight rowing poses to these young pupils is unnecessary and so significant that we feel we must present this remit now for principals to decide."

The briefing paper called on the advice of a top nutritionist and sports bodies against the practice of weight-controlled classes in non-combat sports. It beggars belief that 35 principals thought they knew better.

The British Rowing Medical Sub-Committee took a lead that New Zealand should have followed.

The committee determined that "excessive weight loss, fasting, or calorie-controlled diets could have a serious affect on the growth and maturation of young people".

Body image and its close cousin body shaming are very real issues, particularly among young females. Anything that can be done to eliminate them at school sports level should be a no-brainer.

Yet 35 principals decided that the potential to win little-recognised national rowing titles in lightweight divisions was more important than the potential for physical and psychological harm to children they are duty-bound to protect.

You suspect many of the principals who voted against are heading up all-boys schools where the issue isn't so acute but ignorance in this case is no excuse.

It has to be noted that the failure of this remit at the special general meeting of member schools prompted a second motion, that classification by weight should be restricted to rowers over 15, which was passed (although 16 principals still voted against).

Peterson says he is "encouraged" by this, but you could argue that this halfway house solution should enrage him. All it says is that 19 of the 35 principals that rejected the first remit know there is a problem, but they were too weak to go all-in and do the right thing. They have what, the courage of their lack of conviction?

Colleague Kirsty Johnston and I kick-started a project into the "wonderful and sometimes troubling world of secondary school sport" last weekend.

The piece focused on the trend of Year 13s returning to school for an extra year. Often this is portrayed by the schools as having an "educational upside" but even within the education sector many argue the only beneficiaries of Year 14s are the 1st XIs, 1st XVs, rowing crews or other teams they play for.

There is a growing belief that some schools place a disproportionate amount of importance on the success of their sporting programmes and this pressure is passed on to kids who, in many cases, do not possess the wherewithal to cope.

The very notion that some schools have principals who see no harm in kids trying to 'make weight' to qualify to sit in a boat and go backwards does nothing to dispel this theory.

--

The selection of Dean Brownlie to replace Ross Taylor, should he be ruled out with a recurring eye problem, is smart and, to these eyes, nine months too late. He should have replaced Taylor for the home series against Australia last season. That was a massive screw-up.

--

Amazing stuff from Amy Satterthwaite. Three ODI centuries in a row against Pakistan last week and all scored at a great clip. She picked a good time to do it, with a light being shone on New Zealand cricket for its aberrant treatment of the women's game.

NZC put their hand up and admitted they have not done enough while at the same time unveiling Debbie Hockley would be the new president, taking over from Stephen Boock.
This is all very nice and overdue but just as fundamental is the continuing issue of selling the game to the public.

Women's cricket lacks the pace and power of the men's game and is, with the best intentions in the world, an inferior spectator product. It bears repeating that a couple of simple steps could remedy this: have one fewer fielder allowed outside the 30m circle at any given time and, most crucially, shorten the pitch by a yard.

Neither of these changes would betray any of the essential skills of the game. All it would do is improve the product and eliminate what was the most disappointing aspect of last year's World T20, the proliferation of donkey-drop bowlers.

THE WEEK IN MEDIA ...

Love this Q&A with former England left-armer Alan Mullally.

This story from Kenya's Daily Nation shows how one Olympic official showed plenty of pairs of clean heels to investigators who came to arrest him for corruption.