Donegan Set to Umpire at Tokyo 2020 Olympics
News/ Jul 19

Donegan Set to Umpire at Tokyo 2020 Olympics

On Friday, the rowing events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will kick off with men’s single scull heats at 8:30am local time. Canada is sending its largest rowing team in 25 years with 29 athletes set to compete in the Olympic regatta. Another Canadian, Toronto’s Bill Donegan, will be in Tokyo for the Olympic regatta as well, as a member of the international jury representing World Rowing.

Umpiring at an Olympic Games is the high point of an umpire’s career and Donegan couldn’t be more excited to be making the trip to Tokyo.

“The Olympics is huge, it’s the pinnacle of your umpiring career,” said Donegan. “You can only attend one in your life so it’s a real honour and privilege to be named to an Olympic jury. It’s an incredible opportunity to just be a part of the highest level of competition in our sport as a participant helping to make the regatta happen and run smoothly for the best rowers in the world.”

Donegan got his start in umpiring in 1990 by umpiring in local events around Ontario such as CORA regattas, the Ontario Rowing Championships and the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. In a few short years he began to umpire at national events across Canada such as the National Rowing Championships and Canada Cup events, before obtaining his FISA License to umpire internationally in 1994. However, he didn’t start to umpire at the international level regularly until about ten years later due to other commitments within the rowing community. He was heavily involved in the organization of the 1999 World Rowing Championships in his hometown of St. Catharines and served as the Vice President of High Performance with Rowing Canada Aviron from 2000-2004. Once he had fulfilled his term with RCA, Donegan began to put his name forward for consideration for various international regattas, which began his pathway towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“You have to have a fair amount of international experience to be considered for an Olympic Games,” said Donegan. “There’s a progression within the World Rowing system where you start with umpiring at regional games like Pan Am Games, and then progress to World Cup events. Once you have those events under your belt you can apply to umpire at an U23 or Junior Worlds, and from there you can go on to do the Senior World Championships, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to attend two of those. World Rowing is looking for experience at the World Championships level before you can apply to umpire at an Olympic Games. All the events are great, and I’ve umpired in some great venues, like Amsterdam, Munich, Brandenburg, Sydney, and Lucerne. They’re all great experiences.”

To be chosen for the Olympics, Donegan had to first be nominated by the RCA Umpires Committee to World Rowing for consideration. World Rowing then chose 14 umpires, including Donegan, from a pool of candidates nominated by nations from across the world, a challenging selection process that takes into account individual skill sets as well as regional and gender balance. At the Olympic regatta the selected umpires will be switching around to different umpiring jobs throughout the competition, with the expectation that every umpire will get to perform every job at least once.

While umpiring at the Olympics will be a unique experience for Donegan, the travel to Tokyo and the restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic will also be unique to these Olympics for everyone involved. Donegan will leave for Tokyo today (July 19) and arrive the following day on July 20, along with the rest of the umpires. The umpiring jury will be onsite for two days on July 21-22 preparing for the event and the regatta will start on July 23. The events are scheduled to finish on July 30, with the following day being reserved as a spare day in case of any race postponements, and he’s set to fly back to Canada on August 1.

“During the time we’re in Tokyo we’re restricted from travelling anywhere in Japan and will need to remain in a ‘bubble’ type of scenario,” said Donegan. “We can only be at the hotel, the venue, and the transportation in between. It’s going to be an interesting experience, but I’m really excited about it. I can’t wait to get there.”

Umpiring at the pinnacle of the sport will be the culmination of journey for Donegan that began over 30 years ago. His involvement in rowing stretches even farther back.

“I started rowing in St. Catharines in the 1970’s,” said Donegan. When I became an umpire, I wanted to do something else to contribute to the sport and stay involved and umpiring is a really good way for someone to do that. It’s great way to remain in touch with the sport and give something back.”

Visit World Rowing for the full Olympic rowing schedule and for more information on rowing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.