Summer Eights was mired in controversy after Oriel’s M1 team subbed in their coach, a member of the Great Britain Squad with no formal connection to Oxford, before bumping Pembroke.
An emergency Captains’ Meeting was called last night to discuss the issue and to debate possible rule changes.
On Thursday of Eights Oriel College Men’s First VIII became the centre of attention after illness prevented Blues star and GB rower Olly Moore from competing. Oriel captain David Woods, who has declined to comment on the issue, chose to bring in Oriel’s coach, Henry Bailhache-Webb.
As a former member of Oxford Brookes 1st VIII, medal winner at Henley Rowing Regatta and member of the GB Senior Squad, the choice of Bailhache-Webb, who has no formal connection with the University of Oxford, caused much consternation throughout the tournament, as he was alleged to have been chosen to replace Moore ahead of other less experienced but more legitimate rowers.
The three person Race Committee found that Woods’ decision was legitimate in accordance with the Oxford University Rowing Clubs Constitution. The constitution states, “In exceptional circumstances (e.g. sudden injury) the Race Committee may permit substitutes…but only if the proposed substitute does not represent an enhancement to the crew. It is the responsibility of the person making such a substitution to alert the Race Committee to the fact that the substitution is being made under this rule.”
An appeal against the substitution on Thursday morning was eventually turned down and Oriel M1, including Bailhache-Webb, subsequently bumped Pembroke, with Christ Church’s famous ‘Gun Boat’ marginally inside distance on Oriel. After the race, the bump was appealed against by other captains. A meeting between OURCs and Oriel rowers led to a decision to uphold the original acceptance of the substitution.
A further appeal by representatives of Christ Church and Pembroke led to a lengthy meeting of the Senior Umpires, Rachel Quarrell, Lenny Martin and David Locke, but the original decision was upheld.
They later commented, “The Senior Umpires feel that while it may well be against the spirit of the competition of Eights for Oriel to choose an associate as a sub instead of one of their lower-boat rowers, they are absolutely entitled under the current rules to do so when exceptional circumstances are deemed to apply, as they did on Thursday. There is no sliding scale of eligibility (one type over another) and the race committee was entitled to make the decision they did.”
Opposition teams, incensed by Oriel’s substitution and frustrated by OURCs’ acceptance, showed their disapproval in other ways. For the remainder of the tournament, all Oriel boats were booed as they passed the Pembroke and Christ Church boat houses.
To make their point even more publicly, rowers from those two Colleges all wore t-shirts bearing the slogan ‘I’m At Oxford’. OURCs Secretary, David Pallot explained, “The controversy came because many people in the boats around (most notably Christ Church and Pembroke) felt that it was inappropriate for him to be rowing in the boat despite the rule that meant it was technically allowed.”
Pembroke College Boat Club President Jonathan Ross agreed. “Obviously the event was tarnished by Oriel’s actions and although they may well have been operating just within the letter of the law they quite clearly broke the spirit.
It was a pity for Oriel because they had produced a genuinely quick crew but have once again managed generate very little goodwill about their success. Contrast this with Balliol who had the support of the entirety of boathouse island on Saturday and fully deserve their Headship with a fantastic performance.”
The hostile atmosphere that hang over Eights has continued into sixth week. Tom Cassidy, captain of Christ Church M1 commented, “That someone can row in Eights without being a member of the University is absurd. The rule that allows this is so vague and open to abuse that it needs to be changed.”
Moves are under way to do this at this Thursday’s meeting. The agenda demands a review of the events of last week and potential rule changes. Hunter Harris and James Green, captains of Balliol and Pembroke respectively have proposed to tighten the restrictions on who can be substituted into boats, ensuring that captains must prove to the Race Committee that all other possible options had been exhausted.
They also want to ensure that rival crews are all informed of the change at least five minutes before the start of racing and that ‘exceptional circumstances’ ought to require a the signing of a form and swift online publication.
The Senior Umpires acknowledged that changes to the rules had to be made. “This decision has been extremely hard, and involved a huge degree of subjectivity just to interpret the rules,” they said.
“We feel that whatever decision the race committee had come to earlier in the day, we were always likely to be appealed to, and the SUs have had to consider their verdict very carefully. In light of this difficulty and the subjectivity involved, the captains may wish to consider amendments to the exceptional subs rules in the 8th week captains meeting. More precise rules give less wiggle space to multiple interpretations and therefore fewer unhappy boat clubs.”