First of all let me start off with an apology that I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog for the last few months. Anyone who follows me on twitter (@fatsculler) will know I’ve had a few health issues recently. Fortunately I’m on the mend although it’s going to be a long and slow process of recovery.
Anyway, there’s been quite a bit going on in the last week or so, so I thought it was high time I “got back on the horse” and wrote a bit. There are three things to talk about in this blog;
- New events at Henley Royal Regatta
- Proposals for rowing at the Tokyo Olympics
- UK Sport funding for the Tokyo Olympiad
Big changes for Henley Royal Regatta
Earlier this week a press release landed in my inbox that took me by surprise. Henley Royal Regatta announced four new Stewards and three….THREE new events. This was unprecedented (as far as I can tell) for the Regatta. Not only was this more new events to be introduced at any one time they are all for women. For the 2017 Regatta the Stewards, led by Chairman of the Regatta Sir Steve Redgrave, have introduced the following:
Women’s Double Sculls
These are effectively “Open” events aimed at senior International crews. The Women’s Fours has the same qualification criteria as the Remenham Challenge Cup (for women’s 8’s) “Open to eligible members of any club established at least one year before the closing date for entries). The Women’s pairs and Double Sculls have slightly different wording to the entry criteria aligned with the rules for the Princess Grace Challenge Cup (for W1X): “Open to eligible members of any club established at least one year before the closing date for entries, subject to the following: No crew shall compete in this event unless, at the date of entry, it is at least of British Rowing Senior status, or equivalent standard, in rowing.”
So, the upshot of this is that for the first time in its history Henley Royal Regatta has an equal number of open events for men and women. Hopefully this will make the Regatta even more attractive to national teams to compete in between the 2nd and 3rd World Cups. It should be fascinating to see even more world class women’s rowing and sculling on the Thames. I would imagine that this will also make the Regatta more attractive to broadcasters like BT Sport to establish regular coverage of the Regatta. It does, however, remain to be seen what impact this move has on Henley Women’s Regatta. Given that the Chairman, Miriam Luke, has just been elected as a Steward of Henley Royal I would think the interests of the Women’s Regatta are being ably addressed. These new events may indeed help the Women’s Regatta. Whilst the date of HWR usually clashes with the 2nd World Cup (meaning they don’t tend to attract a large number of senior international entries), the fact there is now three more Women’s events at the Royal may attract some top US University and national U23 crews to race at both the Women’s Regatta and the Royal. We shall see, So far there’s no word on how many places will be available in each of the new events, or if any of the current events will have their number of places reduced to accommodate the three new women’s events. But my expectation is that for the first year at least it’ll probably be limited to 8 crews and have no impact on the current events.
Whilst this is excellent news for the Regatta I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that there is still no event for club standard men’s quads. To me this is the one glaring omission in the regatta programme. The introduction of a club quad would allow a clear development path from the Fawley (Junior Men’s Quads), to the club quad then to the Prince of Wales (Intermediate quads) and then the Queen Mother (Open Quads). Currently there is too big a jump from the Fawley to the Prince of Wales to offer a pathway to any but the very talented (guys like Jack Beaumont). How would this event be squeezed into the programme? Well, I said it before, and received quite a lot of criticism for it but I’ll say it again…..I’d be happy to see the Britannia Challenge Cup for Club coxed fours be changed to a club quad event. I think the coxed four is a bit of a dead-end event, yes it’s raced a lot at the lower levels of club rowing and it’s a great boat to help rowers develop. But, should it be a key event at one of the most prestigious Regattas in the world? I don’t think so. Sacrifice the M4+ in favour of the M4X. I’d even go as far as suggest the Prince Albert (for student M4+ be changed to a M4X as well!)
Time will tell, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that we’ll see even more radical changes to the 2018 Henley Royal Regatta….put a bet on 2017 being the last time the Britannia Challenge Cup is competed for by coxed fours…..
Rowing at the Tokyo Olympiad
Also this week FISA announced the final two proposals for changes to the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020. The delegates at the Extraordinary Congress in February 2017 will have to decide between two options:
- Replace the LM4- with the W4- This is the proposal from the FISA Council
- Replace the M4- with the LW4- This is the proposal supported by Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Switzerland
The decision will be down to an absolute majority.
So, what does this mean? Fundamentally the FISA delegates are deciding the future of Lightweight Sweep rowing. If they accept option 1 then there will be no lightweight sweep rowing at the Olympics. Without the Olympics as a showground it’s likely that lightweight sweep at a World Championship level will wither and ultimately die. Some would say this is no bad thing, lightweight rowing is a “failed experiment”. Part of the problem for the LM4- is actually they’ve gotten too damn fast. The best of the LM4- are now competitive with all but the very best heavyweight men’s fours. To the average viewer there isn’t enough to differentiate between the lightweight and heavyweight fours. The other major consideration to be factored in is the attitude of the IOC. They have gone on record a number of times to voice their dislike of weight-restricted events (outside of combat sports and weightlifting). If FISA propose a 14 event programme with 10 open-weight and 4 lightweight events there is the very real possibility that the IOC will reject the 4 lightweight events and rowing will be left with just 10 events at Tokyo. Make no mistake, if a lightweight event gets rejected it won’t be replaced by another open weight event. The other thing I find slightly odd about the 2nd proposal is it champions an event (the LW4-) that hasn’t even been raced at World Championship level since 1996. I understand why the LW4- has been suggested as it gives parity with the lightweight men’s version, but it does feel a bit like clutching at straws. What will be crucial come the voting in February, is the attitude of some of the “big” Eastern European nations, the likes of Romania, Belarus and Ukraine – countries who have a very strong tradition of open weight women’s sweep rowing but next to nothing for lightweights. There is also the fact that option 1 is the preferred choice of the FISA Council, a lot of nations would be reluctant to vote against their governing council’s preferred option. So, as sad as it may seem to a lot of people, I think Messer’s Gyr, Niepmann, Schuerch & Tramer of Switzerland will be the last ever Olympic LM4- Champions. Let’s just hope that the IOC (who are the ultimate arbiters of what is and isn’t included in the Olympic Rowing Programme) agree to retain the LM2X and LW2X…although I fear they won’t.
UK Sport funding for the Tokyo Olympiad.
Also announced this week is the funding provided by UK Sport for each of the Olympic sports for the Tokyo Olympiad. The headlines make good reading for GB Rowing’s Performance Director, Sir David Tanner. Rowing once again is the best funded of all the Olympic sports receiving a total of £32,111,157 for the four year cycle. But behind the headlines this is actually a reduction of £511K versus the Rio Olympiad. This is despite rowing officially missing its medal target in Rio of 6 medals. Its fortunate for British Rowing that the quality of the medals were better than expected, 3 golds and 2 silvers beats 6 bronzes every day of the week. I don’t think it’s stretching the point to suggest that the silver medal won by Katherine Grainger and Vicky Thornley saved GB’s bacon. Theirs was an unexpected medal, whereas more “expected” medals (the M4X, M2- and lightweights) missed out.
Other “headline” sports have fared worse. Cycling, often seen as GB’s “Olympic Medal Factory”, has seen its funding cut by £4.2m (14%) v Rio. The argument put forward for the cut to Cycling is that the sport has significant opportunities to generate income itself from sponsorship so needs less from the public purse. It’s somewhat surprising that British Rowing is still hasn’t had a title sponsor since Siemens pulled out after the London Olympics. Given the success of British rowers at London and Rio it does seem odd that a major sponsor isn’t on board. The biggest winner in the funding round is Shooting. They have seen their funding increased by 78% v Rio to just over £7m, given the Shooting team comprises 11 athletes that equates to nearly £640K per athlete (compared to Rowing with 100 funded athletes @£321K per athlete). The biggest loser is Badminton which loses all of its funding, despite meeting its medal target at Rio. The argument put forward is that the funding is based on medal potential at Tokyo, not performance at Rio. This is pretty soul-destroying to the Badminton squad as it basically says that UK Sport do not believe they can win any medals in Tokyo. The Rio medallists have taken to social media to express their shock and disgust at the cutting of funding and the fact this may mean the end of their careers. I’m sure we’ve not heard the last of this, an appeal will surely be winging its way to UK Sport.
Funding is always an emotive issue, and with sales of tickets for the National Lottery declining UK Sport have a smaller pot to play with, they will be looking to sports to generate their own sources of income. In this respect rowing may come under increasing scrutiny if it fails to deliver strong performances during the next four years.
As always, if you think I’m talking rubbish please let me know in the comments section!