Women’s Boat Race announcement – highlights and reaction

There were hints here and there over the last few days but for many, the news that the Women’s Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge will gain parity with the men’s event in 2015 came as a shock when Rachel Quarrell’s story was published in the Telegraph on Wednesday morning.

Women were admitted to membership of the MCC in 1999, while Wimbledon granted equal prize money to men and women in 2007. This is another major milestone for equality in sport.

A media conference at Somerset House provided an opportunity to get answers to some of the logistical questions. Much is still to be decided but in summary:

  • From 2015, the women’s race will be run on the same day over the same course, moving from its current place at Henley-on-Thames, usually the weekend before the men’s event.
  • New funding from asset management company BNY Mellon and its subsidiary Newton – under a five-year agreement – will bring equal funding to men and women from this year, without reducing the amount the men’s squads currently receive under the deal with Xchanging that expires this year.
  • The three-year delay is to allow for an improvement in infrastructure and performance levels for the women’s boat clubs and to iron out logistical issues such as who boats from where, who races when and how the media gets to watch both.
  • The men’s reserve race will remain as part of a triple bill but the women’s reserve race and the men’s and women’s lightweight events will remain in Henley.
  • The BBC has committed to covering the races equally, although a contract has not yet been sealed with the broadcaster past 2014.

There are more questions and answers in this Rowing Voice blog, written by Rachel and me and in this article on the West London Sport site.

Matthew Pinsent made clear the task ahead for organisers when he said of the women’s clubs: “To this day one of the big attributes of someone in the squad is that they have their own car.”

Sir Matt expanded on this, and named two women – Anna Watkins and Natalie Redgrave – who could have featured more heavily in the Women’s Boat Race had parity been achieved earlier, in my blog entry for Hear the Boat Sing.

Here is a pick of the reaction on Twitter. So far, no one has raised a single objection. The main sentiment seems to be that it is amazing the change did not happen sooner.

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5 Responses to Women’s Boat Race announcement – highlights and reaction

  1. HJ says:

    Martin,

    The crazy thing is that the Oxford and Cambridge women’s crews have been far from the best women’s university crews in the country for years. It seems crazy that they will now get TV coverage and money when other, better, university crews will not.

    Of course, by 2015, we may find that the Oxford and Cambridge women’s crews are raised to a higher standard altogether by the influx of international rowers pretending to be students in a similar fashion to the men’s crews.

    • martingough22 says:

      Hi Huw

      I think we’ll find the standard raised by an influx of internationals. I don’t know the admissions process intimately but it always feels to be that the suggestion rowers are pretending to be students is a bit harsh. Can see your point in the first paragraph but the Boat Race wouldn’t be the Boat Race if the entrants were different. A shame neither the men’s or women’s crews tend to push on to summer season, though.

      • HJ says:

        It’s not a harsh assertion at all Martin. It’s just true.

        Just to pick a random example: Andy Hodge and his MSc in Water Management after doing his degree at Staffordshire University (it may have still been a Poly when he was there). The Boat Race attracts many people who are more interested in competing in it than they are in the academic side.

        It’s their private match and they are entitled to do as they please. However, it is wrong of the BBC to splash a lot of money on an event and then to “big it up” to justify the money. If you didn’t know anything about rowing, then from watching the BBC and reading its web site, you’d get the idea that the Boat Race is the pinnacle of the domestic rowing season. The Eight Head, Nat. Champs, Henley, don’t even get a mention anywhere on the BBC these days, despite the fact that the first and last of these generally feature far more high level athletes rowing for their clubs (we only normally see them internationally). Neither would you even know that other universities row to a high (and sometimes higher, certainly for undergraduates) level.

        This will also further distort university rowing in this country away from a competitive environment which will bring more promising athletes through. Many will now be denied a place in Oxford/Cambridge university crews in favour of established internationals. These crews will be even less likely to compete in domestic events against other universities to raise the standard overall. It’s a huge pity.

      • martingough22 says:

        Hi Huw

        I don’t know what Andy’s results looked like but I know he had to go through the same admissions system as anyone else. Compare Oxbridge to US universities that offer hundreds of sports scholarships with far less worry about whether athletes will be an academic success or not.

        Yes, the Boat Race distorts rowing in the UK but it also showcases it to millions more people than watch the sport at any other time. I’d say there’s a general acceptance within the sport that while BR isn’t a true reflection, it is a great way of raising awareness and attracting new people to the sport.

        Your suggestion that the BBC splashes money on the event is just wrong. Very few programmes that attract 7m viewers cost as little.

        Henley doesn’t get a mention on the BBC? Video in this page appeared on network TV too.
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rowing/14008189

  2. HJ says:

    Martin,

    You must be the only person who knows anything about rowing who believes that Andy Hodge (and others) got in on academic merit. US universities are another matter. For a start, the BBC doesn’t televise them and secondly the top US universities most certainly don’t offer rowing scholarships – only the less prestigious ones do.

    You’re wrong about the money aspect – ITV stopped broadcasting it because it was too expensive to do so (two helicopters, for example, and a lot of outside broadcast cameras) versus the amount of TV time and viewing figures. You say that it showcases the sport more than other events, but that’s not true when it comes to the Olympics and it is the ONLY domestic event that is covered, so there is no basis for comparison.

    OK – I accept that Henley got a mention on the BBC – bit only a mention. The other events weren’t reported at all.

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