It was announced this week that from 2015 the Women’s Boat Race will be moved to the Thames and be competed alongside the Men’s Race.
This move will mark the first time in The Boat Race’s 183 year history that the female competition will be hosted in the same conditions as the male equivalent.
The women’s race has been contested since 1927, first alternating between the Cam in Cambridge and the Isis in Oxford, before moving to Henley-on-Thames. It will now move to the four-and-a-quarter mile Tideway course on the Thames that has been made famous by the Men’s race, taking place between Putney and Mortlake.
The move will emulate the equal status given to the Boat Races at other universities such as Newcastle and Manchester. The event will also be accompanied by a new sponsor, as BNY Mellon will replace Xchanging as the primary financial backers of the boat race.
In addition, the BBC have decided to broadcast both races from the Tideway course. In 2015 footage of Oxford’s Varsity rowers will thus be beamed out to over 200 different countries.
Potentially the most significant implications of these changes are the effects they could have on the profile of women’s rowing, and women’s sport in general. The event on the Thames attracts crowds of up to 300,000, whereas the race at Henley is normally only spectated by around 7,000.When combined with the BBC’s decision, it is expected to substantially raise the profile of OUWBC.
Martyn Rooney, head of CUWBC, stated that this will impact on the standard of Oxbridge rowing, as it will “encourage more international women to want to come to Cambridge to row, as is prevalent in the men’s discipline.”
Lauren Bruce, treasurer of OUWBC 2011-12 concurred, commenting, “The Henley Boat Races have always been a great event and The Women’s Boat Race is very well supported. However, it is fantastic to have this increased recognition for women’s rowing and we believe this will continue to improve the standard within Oxford and encourage more women to participate in this great sport.”
She added, “OUWBC are very excited about the decision to race the women on the Tideway from 2012. Newton have given us fantastic support since they began sponsoring us and this has enabled us to make this move.”
Moving the race to the Thames should also help address the discrepancies between women’s and men’s funding in rowing in general. Rooney told Cherwell, “There’s a lot of work to be done to build the infrastructure to support the women’s rowing because at the moment it’s been under-funded.”
Representatives from Cambridge’s Boat Club seem equally enthused, with President Izzi Boanas saying, “It is going to be very exciting and there is a hard ride ahead with a lot of challenges to face.”
One of the main challenges facing the women will be adapting their race training for the 4.25 mile course, which is over triple the 2km course at Henley. This will also have an impact on squad selection, as training will need to be different for the first and second boats, the latter of which will still race the shorter course.
There are further logistical issues to be addressed. A Boat Race Company spokesperson said, “It is not yet clear whether the women’s race will take place before or after the men’s reserve team race. The logistics of that haven’t been worked out yet and that’s part of the reason why it’s going to take until 2015 to get women onto the river”.
However, teething problems aside, St Anne’s Men’s Rowing Captain Eddie Rolls said, “Finally women’s rowing has been welcomed to the 21st Century”.
This year’s clash between the men’s crews will take place on the 7th of April, and the Henley Races are weeks earlier, on the 25th of March. Cambridge will be looking for vengeance, having been defeated by the Dark Blues in both races last year.