Reading Amateur Regatta responds to BritChamps double-dating
Last month we published an article “Don’t mention the B-Word” which looked at some of the arguments for and against the decision by British Rowing to move BritChamps to June 15/16. One of the casualties of this move may be Reading Amateur Regatta, held on the same weekend. Nick Haskins is a committee member for the regatta and has submitted the following article.
I read your article “Don’t mention the B word – British Championships”. It made some comments about Reading Amateur Regatta and I thought was important to put our side of the story across. I should point out that I am not a rower, but I hope that your readers understand that sometimes it’s useful to get a view from outside of the sport.
I note that your article suggests that Reading Amateur Regatta 1842 could be one of the biggest casualties of the move of Brit Champs. It is certainly true that the move of British Senior Championships creates a number of logistical problems for the RAR 1842. Our biggest issue is actually the lack of consultation and the short time frame that we have been given. The announcement came only four months prior to event The RAR 1842 is a complex event to host because umpiring is done from a series of scaffold towers and it’s a two-day event over different distances. That means the plans for the race are actually made in January/February. As a result, making changes this late on is problematic. It is that lack of consultation that I just can’t understand. I just hope that the competition calendar review next year doesn’t create yet more problems for events like ours. There has to be some consultation!
We have had to make some key pivots to the event, but as our Chairman said “it is only world wars that have stopped us in the past”. Our President also said that long-term the changes that we will make to the RAR could ultimately be the best thing that happened to the race, however, it doesn’t feel like that today.
One of the key issues we have is ensuring we have enough umpires. I note that the WEROW article said that the event might not run if it is held under British Rowing rules. I’m not sure where that comment came from, however, we have a backup plan, but we hope that we won’t have to use it. One of our committee members reached out to the local umpires as soon as he was made aware of the clash of dates. The response we have had to this has been amazing. You have to remember, that over 50% of the multilane umpires are in the Thames region. Regardless, we’ve had a huge number of umpires saying that they will be at our event. We’re not quite there yet, so please keep those responses coming, but we are confident that we will get there. And we are not doing this in a vacuum, it is vital that we help Barnes & Mortlake and Marlow Town as well, so we are coordinating with them.
It is worth pointing out how important those umpires are to every rowing event. These men and women are amazing, they give up their Saturdays and Sundays to ensure that Heads and Regattas occur week in, week out whatever the weather. They’re completely unpaid and do this all in return for a breakfast and a packed lunch. So if you’re down at the river this weekend please stop and say thank you to the umpires and volunteers of the race, better still offer them a cup of tea. I promise you that they will thank you for it.
We’ve also had a great response from the coaches at schools, the universities and the rowing clubs telling us to make sure that we run the regatta. They all tell us just how important races like Reading Amateur Regatta 1842 are in keeping club and regional rowing alive and vibrant. We owe it to those clubs to run the best regatta ever. Again so many of these coaches are completely unpaid. They are the lifeblood of the sport. If you think about any sport, for it to be successful it has to be built around a pyramid. There needs to be a really strong base which in this case is the club and regional rowing. The top of the pyramid is the elite level of the sport but it can only succeed if the base supporting it is strong, otherwise it will topple over.
This is why I was disappointed when I heard that Rowing & Regatta magazine would write an article covering why British Rowing Senior Championships have been moved to June. In my opinion, that is a lost opportunity to use that magazine space to promote the races that have been affected. That’s why I’m so pleased that WEROW agreed to talk to us. So let me say what I think is unique about the events that were already on the weekend of June 15th and 16th;
Firstly you have the very successful British Rowing Masters Championship. I don’t know whether the regatta has been moved to Strathclyde from Nottingham or not, but I note a number of clubs saying that they will struggle to get to Strathclyde. I have read comments from crews in places like Cornwall. It’s a shame that crews like the one in Cornwall are saying that they cannot make it to Strathclyde given the change at such short notice because it’s a great event.
Next you have Stratford Junior Sprints. Again a great race supporting the future stars of regional and club rowing. Then moving to the Thames Region, you have three events. The first is Barnes & Mortlake, another great local race with a really strong junior presence and of course it’s on the Tideway. Then you’ve got Marlow Town Regatta and Festival. Don’t forget the festival! Marlow does an incredible job of promoting rowing to those outside of the rowing community. That’s vital if we want to grow the sport. It’s also one of the few para events and Naomi Riches does a great job of supporting this event every year. It is actually a two day event and on the second day there are a lot of races aimed at novices. Again hugely important if we want to grow the sport.
And then finally you have Reading Amateur Regatta 1842. As you said, we are only three years younger than Henley. In my opinion, this is one of a few opportunities the top crews to get to practice side-by-side racing before Henley Women’s, Henley Royal, and Henley Masters regattas. It’s amazing racing. This is side-by-side as it is meant to be. As I said before, I am not a rower, I’m just one of the army of volunteers who loves to watch rowing on my stretch of the river. Side-by-side racing is like two gladiators getting into the ring. There’s only one winner. If you lose, you are out. We know this style of racing can be a hugely popular spectator sport. Just think about the Oxford Cambridge boat race, over 100,000 people go to watch that race. The winning crew is feted and victorious, the losing crew goes home with nothing. A whole season gone in 20 minutes or even less if you are the women’s lightweight crews.
Think about Henley Royal and Henley Women’s and the enormous crowd support there. Again it’s side-by-side, winner takes all. You get that at Reading Amateur Regatta 1842. We know that the crews come to the RAR to practice, particularly before the amazing Henley Women’s Regatta. Miriam does a great job of attracting top clubs from all over the world to race at Henley Women’s. I am immensely proud that many of those crews going to Henley Women’s choose to race at Reading Amateur Regatta and then stay in Reading and train on our stretch of river before rowing through the locks on their way to Henley Women’s Regatta.
My favourite sporting moment was from 2017 when St Paul’s USA won the junior women’s eight at Reading Amateur Regatta. I spent a lot of time talking to the coaches and the parents of St Paul’s USA. We followed them to Henley Women’s Regatta and supported them there, right up until the final when they came across a local crew, Headington School, also a long-term supporter of Reading Amateur Regatta. Then we cheered for both crews in the final. It was one the best races ever seen with the UK crew forced to break the course record to win. The American crew were dejected that they lost. However I remember introducing the two coaches to each other, and in turn the two strokes to each other, who in turn introduced each crew to each other. It turns out that some of the UK crew and US crew were going to the same university the following year. I was just so proud of both crews. It doesn’t get any better than that and we were part of it.
We should remind ourselves that it is in the British Rowing constitution to promote club rowing and to promote friendship with clubs from different nations. We are so lucky that at Reading Amateur Regatta that we get crews from everywhere including Ireland, the USA, Mexico, as well as the top clubs and university crews in our region and from across the UK. That is amazing for me, as a local, to be able to watch that on my doorstep.
So what is new for the RAR this year?
We will be offering masters racing for a start. A number of clubs have contacted us saying that they can’t make it to Strathclyde. So we will make sure that we can offer them top-level racing as so many want to race that weekend. I know that at Masters Championship you may have a time trial, a heat, and then a final. As a committee, we will, therefore, think about whether clubs can double up. That may be more useful for those clubs coming from a distance. I have a feeling, it might be useful for the junior competitors as well. You will see an increasing amount of information about the race in the lead up to the regatta. We will also be reaching out to even more of those crews in the United States. We know many UK female athletes who will be racing at Henley Women’s are currently studying in the United States owing to Title IX. It is a shame that the funding opportunities to train appear to be better in the USA and as a consequence, many of our top athletes, particularly female ones, appear to be choosing US universities. However, many of those top athletes raced at Reading Amateur Regatta in the past couple of years. It would be great to attract even more of those crews to the RAR 1842 prior to their visit to Henley Women’s. Then looking forward you should expect to see the RAR 1842 raising its game in terms of branding and merchandising. We owe it to everyone who has reached out to us to offer us support.
Is there anything else you would like to say to WEROW?
Yes, I really feel that we have to support Club and Regional rowing at the moment. The debate surrounding the future of clubs like Thames Tradesmen is really worrying. So, just a massive thank you to all the coaches, all the volunteers, all the umpires, all the clubs, the Schools the Universities, the photographers and the competitors that keep club and regional rowing alive. Regattas such as Reading Amateur Regatta 1842 are vital for promoting racing and raising funds to allow clubs to offer grassroots coaching. So please get out there and support your local race, whichever one it is. The committees of all of these races will be delighted for every bit of help they can get. And if you are coming to Reading Amateur Regatta please let us know #atTheRAR.
And thank you to WEROW, it’s great that you are out there telling the story and promoting the sport. You have run some great stories such as September 2018 “The future for Olympic rowing is looking short, heavyweight and mixed” and the comment that resonated with me is “the demise of lightweight rowing should be resisted” to “broaden participation” in the sport noting the importance of the Asian Games. I could not agree more, you need to keep the base of that pyramid as wide as possible!
Article by Nick Haskins. Do you have something you want to say about rowing or the governance of our sport? Submit contributions for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org