Oxford's oldest student newspaper

Independent since 1920

Boat Race rowers warned not to enter the Thames after E. coli discovery

High levels of E.coli have been found in the River Thames, where the Gemini 2024 Boat Race between Oxford University and Cambridge University will be taking place on Saturday afternoon. The organisers of the race have issued warnings to the competing rowers about entering the water. 

The bacteria was found near Hammersmith Bridge by a World Health Organisation-approved E.coli analyser. Average levels of 2,869 E.coli per 100 millilitres of water were recorded, which is over double the recommended quality standard.

The Boat Race organisers have given rowers a list of health advice in their briefing packs. This includes wearing plasters to cover any open wounds, wearing footwear when getting in and out of the boat, and taking caution not to allow any splashing water to enter their mouths.

They have also been told not to enter the water at the end of the race. This means annual celebratory traditions, such as the winning coxswain being thrown into the water, will not take place this year. 

The advice is accompanied by contempt from the pressure group River Action. The chief executive, James Wallace, said: “our water quality results show what happens after decades of neglect by an unregulated water company, Thames Water.”

Thames Water has emphasised that “taking action to improve the health of rivers is a key focus for us and we want to lead the way with our transparent approach to data.”

Meanwhile, The Boat Race has acknowledged the discovery of E.coli and issued a statement saying “we will also be taking on board British Rowing’s recent Poor Water Quality Guidance, issued in partnership with River Action, as we look forward to the Gemini Boat Race 2024.”

Louis Corrigan, president of the men’s Oxford University Boat Club, told Cherwell that this discovery is “alarming, but sadly unsurprising.” He notes the extent of this contamination describing how: “over the years I have seen plenty of teammates or friends on the embankment fall ill while training here as a result of the water cleanliness.” 

While the Boat Race will still be going ahead on Saturday 30 March, the high level of E.coli in the River Thames will have an impact on the event. Corrigan told Cherwell “for that to be the norm is shameful…there are some serious questions for the water companies to answer.” 

Check out our other content

Most Popular Articles