from left to right : Jean-Christophe Rolland, FISA President; Thierry Braillard, Sport Minister France; Denis Masseglia, President French NOC, 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A true love of sport in general – and rowing in particular – is what took Denis Masseglia on a path that has seen him president of his local club in France, leading the French Rowing Federation, and ultimately the National Olympic Committee. And then led him to be awarded the Distinguished Service to International Rowing for 2022.

When he got the call from Jean-Christophe Rolland, Denis Masseglia couldn’t be happier. “There’s nothing more than being rewarded by your family, it’s more important than any other recognition. Could you imagine, Jean-Christophe was still a rower [on the French National Team] when I was president of the French Federation… seeing his journey, and having him calling me for this award, I am just so proud.”

Rowing has been part of Denis Masseglia’s life since he was 12 years old. Born in the coastal city of Marseille, in the south of France, he quickly joined the local rowing club, the “Cercle de l’Aviron de Marseille”. His achievements on the water were remarkable – he was a competitive rower for two decades, finishing 10th at the 1969 European Rowing Championships in Klagenfurt, Austria, and was also a multiple National Champion.

But Masseglia was not only active as a rower. He quickly got involved in his local club, as chair of the sports commission, then vice-president and ultimately, president, from 2007 to 2010. In 1986, he entered the French Federation as president of the sports commission, and three years later, he became president of the “FFA”, the French Rowing Federation.

During his 12 years as president, he notably saw Jean-Christophe Rolland and Michel Andrieux grab an amazing gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympics in the Men’s Pair – an emotion he still remembers to this day. He then became president of the French National Olympic Committee from 2009 to 2021.

From the coastal city of Marseille, Masseglia has always had a strong interest in coastal rowing. It was then only a matter of time before the former president of World Rowing (then FISA), Denis Oswald, would ask him to be involved with the International Federation. “When Denis phoned to asked me to be active with FISA, and chair the Rowing for All Commission, I accepted with pleasure.”  The Rowing for All (now Coastal) Commission champions coastal rowing and recreational rowing tours along with other rowing activities. Masseglia chaired the commission for 12 years, was part of the World Rowing Council, and spent four years on the World Rowing Executive Committee up to 2004.

It’s been more than 60 years that Denis Masseglia has been part of the rowing family. And he is “proud to be a part of it. I have seen the evolution of the Federation, and I am really happy to see the relationship between the ones that have been there before, Thor Nielsen, Mike Sweeney, Denis Oswald, and the new people in charge, such as Jean-Christophe, Matt Smith, etc. This mix of history, tradition and modernity helps a lot with regards to the growth of the sport, I am also delighted to see that coastal and indoor rowing are at the forefront of the development of rowing.”

Although he retired a couple years ago, Masseglia can still be seen at local regattas from time to time, as he has built lasting relationships with people around his native hometown. And as a former physical sciences teacher, he always has a wise word for those who would want to be involved in the sport he loves so much. “First of all, practise sport. It is the most important thing. And then, try rowing. It is a team sport, where everyone learns how to put his ego aside and use his qualities and strengths at the service of the crew. Build your life with rowing and good things will happen.” Masseglia is the perfect example of it.