At Henley Royal Regatta this summer I found myself chatting (as you do) to Andy Triggs Hodge….Double Olympic Medalist and all-round “National Treasure” TM. Whilst he’s had a difficult year, recovering from a nasty bout of glandular fever which ruled him out of the whole of 2015, he’s certainly not been sitting about and moping. Over a pimms he told me of a plan he’d been hatching….the RO Sprints.
So what are they I hear you ask?
It’s a fundamental shake up of the traditional rowing competition…drawing on the experience of Red Bull with the innovative rowing contests the “OutRow” (crews of 4+ trying to outrun the Severn Bore) and the “High Stakes” in Boston – it’s a high octane three-abreast 250m sprint for singles and pairs. There’s no restrictions on sponsorship or boat design, the expectations are for some outlandish costumes and (& this is the really innovative bit), audience participation..the winners of each heat will progress but it’s up to the crowd to decide between the 2nd and 3rd as to who will progress…there is even talk of cash prizes!
The first event is being held at Osterley Park in West London on the 11th October….this is billed as a test event to see how the format works.
It’s taken a huge amount of work to get to this stage, Hodgey is the driving force and figurehead of the event but it has relied on a huge amount of support from the likes of the National Trust (Osterley Park is owned by the NT), Red Bull, Molesey Boat Club, Ross Regatta, Moulsford Prep School and London Youth Rowing.
You can find out more about the event here
But…..this event will only really succeed if rowers actually turn up and race. It’s such a great idea and deserves to succeed it really does…so if you fancy some fun get in there and race!
One small fly that potentially “spoilt the ointment” was British Rowing. The RO Sprints organisers had always planned to run their event outside of the British Rowing establishment. As I understand it the bigwigs of BR had been consulted about the event and had raised no concerns. However….this wasn’t taking into consideration the BR bureaucrats. The Rules of Racing reared their head and very nearly scuppered the whle event.
The sticking point was Rule 1.1.4….”Oh yes Fats….Rule 1.1.4….I know it well” I hear you say…..no? Let me remind you..
“No member of a club affiliated to British Rowing may compete in any
rowing race or event other than one that is subject to the British
Rowing Rules of Racing or those of a body recognised by British
Rowing or FISA.”
The RO Sprint organisers had not planned to conduct their races according to the British Rowing Rules of Racing nor to seek approval from British Rowing for their event. But, the cheeky little rule 1.1.4 had other ideas. What it meant was, if any member of a club affiliated to British Rowing (so pretty much all of them) raced at the RO Sprints they ran the risk of breaching the BR Rules and would be subject to sanctions which could include the suspension of their racing licence or even their BR membership….basically meaning you wouldn’t be able to row again (most clubs don’t allow anyone to train without BR Membership). This, potentially spelled disaster for the RO Sprints. Despite having full liability insurance and medical cover they faced the real possibility of being shutdown before they’d even got going.
Fortunately….common sense has prevailed and as I understand it BR have gven their approval for the event. But, the implication is still there….BR is saying “if we don’t approve we will shut you own”. The veritable Sword of Damocles!
To me this does raise some questions about just what the purpose of this rule is…it has the potential to stifle innovation in racing, at a time when all Olympic Sports are under pressure to show they are moving with the times and innovating to generate new interest in competitors and the public. I just find this smacks a little too much of the Blazzerati for my liking….what do you all think?
Anyway….I really, really hope that the Osterley event works and this is the start of something positive for our sport.