(OKLAHOMA CITY, OK) April 2, 2022 – Oklahoma City’s RIVERSPORT Rapids whitewater center has been selected as the site for the 2026 International Canoe Federation (ICF) Canoe Slalom World Championships. It will be the first time for the event to be held in North America in more than a decade.

“Aside from the Olympic Games, this is the most significant event in any given year for the sport,” said Mike Knopp, executive director for RIVERSPORT. “Oklahoma City invested in a world-class whitewater rapids center and now, we’re seeing recognition from around the world. It’s a great moment for our city and state.” 

The ICF cited RIVERSPORT’s successful hosting of the 2021 ICF Canoe Sprint Super Cup and the organization’s willingness to step up and host the 2022 ICF Stand-Up Paddle (SUP) board and Canoe Sprint Super Cups, events displaced by the war in Ukraine, as playing a role in the ICF Board’s decision which was announced today

The weeklong event in Oklahoma City is expected to attract nearly 400 athletes from more than 60 countries. 

“Oklahoma City is playing a significant role in bringing international paddle sports attention to the U.S.,” said Rok Sribar, General Manager of High-Performance programs for the American Canoe Association. “We are also pleased to announce that Sarasota, FL, has also been awarded international competitions.”

“This is an unprecedented number of events to be awarded to North America. We believe it signals a significant opportunity for the U.S. to benefit from the growth in competitive paddle sports that other countries around the globe have already experienced,” said Sribar.

While the United States currently has more than 24 million canoe/kayak enthusiasts, the majority are involved in the recreational side of the sport.

“Our goal is to be a model for the development of youth participation in competitive disciplines such as whitewater slalom, extreme slalom and flatwater sprint heading into the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 2028,” Knopp said. “We’re investing in world-class coaching and making this is an inclusive initiative at a level never seen before in either canoe/kayak or rowing.” 

Mayor David Holt

“This will be the biggest and most prestigious event yet held at RIVERSPORT and more validation that we have built one of the greatest venues in the world,” said Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt.  

“The presence of athletes from over 60 countries over the course of several weeks in 2026 for training and competition will make Oklahoma City feel like the international city we know it to be.  This is a major win for this venue and our city, both in terms of exposure and the economic impact.  My congratulations to the team at RIVERSPORT and my gratitude to our partners at the International Canoe Federation for continuing to believe in us.”

River Protectors, First Americans, Diversity & Inclusion

The ICF also expressed significant interest in RIVERSPORT’s River Protectors program, which is dedicated to keeping waterways clean, and sees Oklahoma’s support for First Americans as being supporting reasons for awarding the event to Oklahoma City.

“We share these commitments that you’ll find around the globe when it comes to paddlesports,” said Mike Knopp. “Diversity and inclusivity, recognizing and honoring First Nations, and being good stewards of our water resources are all at the heart of paddlesports communities worldwide – and it’s where we’re focused as well.”

Established in 2005, RIVERSPORT is a 501c3 nonprofit that has led the growth of rowing and canoe/kayak in Oklahoma City with the development of the $100M Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River. RIVERSPORT is a US Olympic & Paralympic Training Site for both rowing and canoe/kayak and has hosted Olympic Trials as well as international competition in both sports. Coached and recreational programs are available for youth, adults, collegiate, masters and senior athletes in rowing, sprint and slalom canoe/kayak, whitewater rafting, dragon boating, and stand up paddle boarding.

RIVERSPORT focuses on breaking down both financial and cultural barriers to ensure those in underserved communities have access to Olympic and adventure sports and recreation. In the past three years RIVERSPORT has delivered over 80,000 hours of free programming through its Thrive Outside OKC initiative.