The Boat Race – a rant

Right, time for a little rant….every year at Boat Race time there is the round of detractors who try and belittle the race, and frankly, this year, I’ve had enough. It’s time to put these people (some of whom should know better) in their place.

In particular there were two specific instances that got my goat this week. First of all it was an article in the Daily Telegraph by Alice Arnold – wife of Clare Balding who is fronting the BBC’s coverage of the race

This article is primarily about the women’s race and the move to the same Tideway course as the men. But what really got on my nerves was this little gem:

in recent years, it’s been obvious that the crews for each team are made up of postgraduates from America, brought in for their rowing rather than their academic acumen. (The in recent years, it’s been obvious that the crews for each team are made up of postgraduates from America, brought in for their rowing rather than their academic acumen. (The Winklevoss twins, anyone?)”

This is just so condescending and demeaning to the athletes involved. To suggest that anyone can get a place at either Oxford or Cambridge if they are not academically qualified is just ignorant. I challenged her about this on twitter:

v disappointed your piece in saying crews are mostly post-grad yanks with no academic acumen. Total rubbish. 1/2

no-one gets into Oxford or Cambridge without rigorous academic qualifications. 2/2

to which she replied:

more than half the crew are American and nearly all postgrads…don’t tell me they get in purely on academic achievement!

I’d love to see her tell some of the Boat Race athletes (male and female) that they are not academically qualified to be there! Yes, there are lots of top rowers who decide to further their academic and rowing careers by studying at Oxbridge and trying for a Blue. There will be a few who want to win a Blue and try and find a course that will allow this. But to suggest that they are not academically qualified is very disappointing.

The second instance was a twitter post by the MP for Huddersfield, Barry Sheerman. He responded to a tweet from Clare Balding with this:

Shouldn’t these meaningless boat races be changed to include other universities & genuine sporting competition?

oh dear, oh dear…..let me explain something to you Baz…The Boat Race is a private competition between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and has been going on since 1829. Mr Sheerman and his ilk cannot abide the perceived elitism that Oxford and Cambridge represent. Of course they are elitist…the are 2 of the top 5 Universities in the World (according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings), and sport is, by it’s very nature, elitist – and long may it continue. Mr Sheerman seems to imply that “they” (whoever “they” may be – he doesn’t elaborate) should open up the contest to other Universities. Perhaps he thinks the Boat Race is run by British Rowing or by the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS). IT’S NOT….it is a PRIVATE race. If the television cameras, the sponsors, the crowds all disappeared overnight, the race would still take place. There are an increasing number of other Varsity races around the UK as universities take on their local rivals, some of which (like the Scottish Boat race between Edinburgh & Glasgow have been contested for over 100 years).

Now, I didn’t get into Oxbridge (despite trying) so I went to UL instead. Now when I was at UL (at the end of the 80’s) UL were, without question, the best university rowing club in Britain and possibly the world. It used to drive us mad to see the sort of exposure that the Blue Boats were getting and we used to try and beat them wherever, and however, possible (you knew there would be fireworks in any UL v Oxbridge fixture when the UL coaching launch always carried a couple of spare oars!) When people talked of Oxford or Cambridge being some of the best crews in the world we would respond in the same way that John Lennon did when asked if Ringo was the best drummer in the world…”Best drummer in the world? He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles”. The best crews in the world? They’re not even the best crews in Britain”. But it would never cross our minds to try and muscle our way into the race. It is, always has been, and I hope always will be, a truly unique British sporting event.

My apologies for what has been a bit of a rant, and as this is a rowing blog I’m probably preaching to the converted, but I just needed to get that off my chest.

Thank you for listening…well…reading, but you know what I mean.


6 thoughts on “The Boat Race – a rant

  1. Guest

    “There are an increasing number of other Varsity races around the UK”. Yes there do seem to be, but considering the nature of this article it might have been prudent not to use the Scottish Boat Race as an example. It may have been an imitation in 1877 when it was first held, but to present it as an example of the recent rise of match racing amongst universities is in itself patronising. I agree with the rest of what has been said, but please practice as you preach!

  2. Jon Blunt

    I am glad that Mr Sheerman is not my MP, certainly would not vote for him. Not because he is bigoted, which he appears to be, but because he has done no research and MPs that shoot unthinkingly from the hip should not be representing the people of this country. BUCS regatta meets his wish, and does so well.

    And let’s be honest, is there a university crew in UK that could beat OUWBC this season or last? It is setting a new benchmark for women’s club and university rowing in GB. The only elitism in the Boat Race is the dedication and discipline these 36 oars people show. Mr Sheerman could well have made his ludicrous statement from a bar after a good few pints; these rowers don’t have time for a social life, their athletic and academic commitments are too great.

    At least he is a comic, of sorts…….

  3. Richard

    “don’t tell me they get in purely on academic achievement!” It is a cliche she has used there rolled out every year, with no thought or wisdom. No wonder it got your goat.

    Not sure anyone gets into any university based purely on academic achievement do they?

    If she produced students that were rejected for the Post Grad course that each rower is studying. Showing the rejected had excelled in everything more so than the rowers apart from rowing then she can make that assumption of fact.

    Out of interest as well as yourself are there any other excellent rowers (Olympians maybe) that did apply to Oxford or Cambridge and did not get accepted? Not that Oxford or Cambridge rowers go on to be Olympians. With research could you find an all time great eight of Olympic rowers that applied to Oxford or Cambridge but were rejected?

  4. PJ

    Actually, I think that Alice Arnold has a point.

    There is a bit of a history of SOME participants clearly there more for their rowing prowess than their academic achievement. For example, Andy Triggs-Hodge on a one year ‘Water Management’ course having previously been at Staffordshire University.

    While I agree that it is a private match and they have every right to hold a private match, much of the TV coverage is ridiculous. You wouldn’t know that there are any other rowing universities. You would think that these two crews were the pinnacle of rowing. When they introduced the women’s race to the Tideway/TV where did they admit that they weren’t even the best two women’s university rowing crews in the country at the time (they probably will be, in future, because they will attract more top rowers from elsewhere simply because the race is on TV)?

    What’s more, the crews generally consist of oarsmen (and it will soon be the case with women) who were already excellent oarsmen, developed elsewhere, before they went to either Oxford or Cambridge. Very few have been developed at these universities (unlike other university crews). This does make it a slightly artificial event.

    So I think that TV coverage is fine but the coverage and presenters should retain their critical faculties just as they do when covering other sports, instead of all the uncritical puff we get.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s