Ivrea, famous as an Italian city where once a year people can legally throw oranges at each other, will this year host another major battle where no fruit will be thrown, but it will be much easier to determine a winner – the 2018 ICF U23 and Junior Canoe Slalom World Championships.
Ask any canoe slalom athlete what they consider to be the most beautiful venues in the world, and the stunning Ivrea course in northern Italy is always prominent.
After two years on the ICF World Cup circuit, including a drama-packed Olympic selection event in 2016, this year Ivrea will be front and centre when it hosts the under age World Championships.
For local organisers, it will be much more than an opportunity to host the most exciting young athletes in the world. It will also be a chance to showcase their city and their region.
It’s a cliché to say a venue is on a city’s ‘doorstep’. But in Ivrea, the venue runs through the front door, up the main passage and then into the dining room.
So the pictures beamed from this year’s World Championships will show this Italian city in all its glory.
“Canavese, the north-west part of the Piemonte Region, of which Ivrea is the most important city, is a beautiful territory from a naturalistic point of view, but it is not so well- known by tourists,” Claudio Roviera, President of the organising committee, said.
“Organising an international canoe event, and particularly the World Championship, could be a special occasion to make our territory known to a lot of people, and to generate and increase economic development.
“The various renewal and modernisation interventions made on the course during the last few years and the organisation of big canoe events made that the city can now host a lot of national and foreign athletes, all year round, increasing the number of visitors for the whole territory.”
But what about the locals, I hear you say.. Will they be happy with all this attention? Judging by the enthusiasm in which this small but passionate community has embraced canoe slalom so far, it’s unlikely there will be a problem.
“Fortunately, we have established a very good relationship with Ivrea‘s community,” Roviera said.
“Canoeing is now part of the city’s life, people are used to and happy seeing handsome kayakers walking downtown, and they have become more and more familiar with them. They know their names, they follow their progress and keep informed about their results during the season.
“Most of the citizens look forward to the yearly international canoe event. By the beginning of spring, the “Eporediesi” (that’s the name of Ivrea’s inhabitants) gather on the banks of the canoe slalom course or stop on the city bridges on Dora Baltea River to watch the kayakers while they train.
“Walking along “Lungo Dora” (the stretch of river), it is, in fact, impossible not to be charmed by a canoe sliding silently on the river or by colorful groups of children familiarising themselves with paddles and this beautiful sport. Ivrea is very proud to host and meet foreign athletes. With some of them, they have already established some beautiful friendships.”
The key now is to convince the locals to go further than the bonds of friendship. Roviera believes this is a key to the potential success of the 2018 U23 and Junior World Championships – bringing the locals along for the ride.
“We are trying to involve the whole Piemonte Region in our organising project,” he said.
“We strongly believe that unity is strength, so we would like every expertise and every peculiarity of our territory be an integral part of our event and efficiently represented in it.
‘This goal is challenging because it means being able to explain and convince everybody why they should be and feel part of the Ivrea World Championship, and the reason why sharing the project could be an opportunity for everyone.”
It goes further than just winning the support of the locals. Roviera and his team want the community to be part of the action, to have ownership of the event.
“We need a lot of volunteers, a lot more than the previous years, because the racing period is longer and harder,” he said.
“For this reason now, with the help of local newspapers, we are engaged in a volunteers recruiting campaign. We hope that Ivrea’s community and the broader Italian canoe movement will respond with enthusiasm to our call.”
In recent years Ivrea has established itself as a base for the Italian slalom community. Word has spread quickly, and many of Italy’s top athletes now base themselves in the town.
And there are now international paddlers who are using Ivrea as a training base. Roviera wants to see more, and a lot is riding on the success of this year’s World Championships.
Of course, running a World Championships doesn’t come cheap. Roviera makes an obvious point – the more money you have to spend, the better the show.
“We are involved in the most difficult challenge of all: raising money!” he said.
“We already have the support of the City of Ivrea. We are confident in receiving financial support from the Piemonte Region too, and we’ve got confirmation of some private sponsors, but that’s not enough.
“Organising a World Championship means spending a lot of money, and the more money you have, the greater the event you can offer to the athletes and spectators. Having great ideas is not the real problem, it is being able to finance it.”
Hosting an U23 and Junior World Championship carries extra responsibilities that you don’t necessarily find with a senior world titles.
The athletes involved are the future of the sport, and their experience at a World Championships could go a long way towards shaping their future in the sport.
Roviera's team is not taking that responsibility lightly.
“Our main goal is to make all the athletes, officials and spectators feel at home,” Roviera said.
“All the efforts of our organisation are focused on this objective, particularly on the athletes’ psycho-physical wellbeing. Kayakers will spend around two weeks in Ivrea, and for most of them the World Championship will be an experience that they will treasure in their hearts and minds forever, because it will be one of the first big international races they will participate in, and for many of them, probably the biggest ever.
“That’s why we want their memories of the Ivrea World Championship to be great.”
The 2018 ICF U23 and Junior Canoe Slalom World Championships will be held in Ivrea, Italy, from July 17 to 22.