British Club Rowing is dying. Can we stop the rot?

15 Reasons to be Grateful by A Rowing Parent

A guest post by Richard Philips, London Rowing Club. Photo credit: odt.co.nz

Whilst sitting in the sun on a training camp I have put together some thoughts about the state of the sport that, for better or worse, has become part of my life. They are my personal thoughts and do not reflect any official point of view.

A look at the British Rowing web site would have you believe that all is well on our rivers and lakes. There are, however some serious problems that could, unless addressed, lead to the death of the traditional amateur sport.

International British Rowing

I suppose the one should start at the top. Great Britain’s rowing team has won medals at the last 11 Olympic Games and is now the envy of the rest of the world. The professional set up, talent ID schemes, training venues, coaches and other support staff swallow a budget that many other countries can only dream of.

  • Does this money come from within the sport? No.
  • Does a significant sponsor make it possible? No.

The sport at this level is almost entirely dependent on government funding, via agencies such as Sport England and the lottery. It should be remembered that back in the 1970s we complained bitterly how unfair it was that we had to compete against state sponsored athletes from East Germany and the Soviet Union.

What if, as an election promise, one or more of the political parties were to suggest that they would divert some or all of the money currently spent on elite sport to other worthy causes such as social care?

The Conservative party under John Major introduced the National Lottery Scheme partly as a consequence of Team GB’s lowly performance at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. (1G; 8S; 6B). Buying success at the Olympics is a vanity project that, once every four years, makes us look and feel good. The Olympic effect of attracting more of the population into a healthier lifestyle has not been proven.

Growing Participation

To be eligible for the money British Rowing gets, it does have to tick some boxes. Results at the top end are obviously part of the equation. Attracting and encouraging juniors and other designated groups into the sport is also a key element for securing the funding. British Rowing has, by laying claim to any activity that can be associated with the traditional sport, shown increased participation levels. Gig Rowing, Indoor Rowing (Ergos) Ocean Racing etc. are now all activities that appear in the almanac. The inclusion of all these branches of rowing hides the reducing numbers in the original core group of the sport.

It is worth observing that, for a number of reasons, the entry for the eights head of the river race in 2017 was significantly less than the entry ten years ago. There was a time when the event was limited to 420 crews and there had to be a cull of entries to get them down to that level. This year the entry was about 363 which represents a 20-25%  drop in entry numbers.

Club rowing suffers

The state funding is now having a negative effect on the layer of the sport that is not part of the national team and not tied to a funded high performance or talent ID centre. I am looking at the 30 – 50 or so clubs that make up the Club and Student events at Henley Royal Regatta. The athletes at these clubs have, for most part, to combine a full time job or studies with their rowing training. It is likely that they will have to pay a significant amount of money to train and they will have to find the time for any trips such as training camps.

The talent ID pathway and the High Performance centres are able to subsidise athletes to a point where ordinary club athletes cannot compete with them. There are two knock on effects of this

  1. Firstly large numbers of experienced “club” rowers, who are not identified as future Olympians, get to a point where they decide that they have reached a glass ceiling and, without becoming a full-time athlete, there is no future for them in the sport and they give up and leave.
  2. Secondly, few of those who are lucky enough to be identified and nurtured, as a future Olympian, ever see the inside of an ordinary boat club that relies on its own members and efforts for funding. With the opening of Caversham, they are tucked away in their own little bubble with little or no contact with the world outside. Occasionally they might be allowed out to row for their club in one of the Head of the River races, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Ordinary club athletes no longer get the opportunity to train alongside and gain experience from international athletes. When these internationals retire, the chances are that they too will walk away from the sport.

Beginner Rowing

Away from the International level of events, at the opposite end of the sport British Rowing is making great efforts to attract beginners. Clubs are offered incentives to run “learn to row” courses and other taster type packages. To give credit where credit is due, these programs look like being highly successful. However, the system breaks down once the basic few weeks in big wide stable recreational boats are over.  The first issue is that there is now a whole world of difference between recreational rowing “messing around in boats” and wishing to compete. It is difficult to explain to an adult novice, who has just completed a six week taster course, that many of the “Masters Crews” of the same age will have decades of experience under their belts and that they will need more than a few weeks to reach the same standard, if they ever can.

A few learn to row graduates are of an age and ability where they might have a future in competitive rowing. They will however soon realise that they are up against those who have rowed since the age of fourteen. Whilst physiologically they could be on a par with oarsmen of the same age, no amount of training and coaching can replace the ingrained technical advantage that those who learnt at a young age will have. A look at the results of the qualifying races at Henley for the Temple shows that several of the big schools can produce a second eight that is significantly faster than quite a few University and college crews.

Competition Rules changes

Under the old competition rules, which are now being phased out, there was a protected “Novice” Status. This category allowed beginners to compete in an environment where they would not meet highly experienced juniors and masters. So far as I understand, this status is now done away with. Thus a rower, who learnt in the autumn and competed in a head race in the spring, would now have Ranking points that might not fully reflect his or her true racing experience. Some regattas might offer a Beginner status, but it is far from clear how this is to be applied.

Many who take up the sport stay in the bottom 75% of the old statuses because they do not have the time, or inclination to progress. To move out of the old Novice/IM3/4 level required a level of commitment, ability and resources that they do not have. There is a log jam at the bottom because the standards and requirements further up the ladder have gone  up and, some would argue, are now above and beyond the reach of the traditional club athlete. This is another reason why we lose too many people from the sport. They like to be competitive in a sport that does not take over their life.

The new ranking system does not address the “big fish/little pond” issue, where an athlete from the remote regions picks up points/ranking above and beyond their real ability. Neither the old status system nor the new ranking index does anything to “value” wins. Should a win, in elite pairs with 4 entries over 2000m at a regatta at Eton Dorney have the same weighting as win with four entries IM1 at a Sprint regatta in the late summer? Now that head races are to count to the ranking index, should a national/international event such as the Eight’s Head of the River carry the same weighting as a local event.    Over the years, proposals have been put forward to rank regattas and or particular events but nothing has ever become of it because regattas tend to have a NIMBY approach to change.

Whilst Henley Royal Regatta is not a British Rowing event and British Rowing has little or no influence on the decisions that the Stewards take, they have recognised and accepted that winners of events at Henley have reached a standard, where their points under the old system were topped up to 12 for the elite events; 10 for the intermediate events and 9 for Club events. At Henley Women’s Regatta, the tariff was set lower with elite events only attracting 9 points. It can therefore be argued that a precedent has already been set and, to misquote George Orwell, “All wins are equal but some are more equal than others”.  How this is to be related to the new Ranking index system has not been made clear.

Domestic competitions

University crews have a championship event BUCS, Juniors have both the National Schools Regatta and a Junior National championships.  The Masters have their own championships. Senior Club athletes have no such event during the main season. The Senior British Championships in October is an attempt to create an event for senior club athletes, at a time that allows the international level athletes to also compete. The event does not offer the full range of boat classes and the typical senior club athlete will find that they are outclassed by the full time funded athletes from the High Performance clubs and Talent ID schemes. Most club and university training/rowing programmes kick off their season in September, so an event in October is far too early in the year to be taken too seriously. I suspect that if it was not for the team management at GB rowing imposing a three line whip on FISU, U23 and Worlds team candidates entering, few would bother and the event would wither and die.

In the introduction to the competition review report, that is available on British Rowing’s web site, they state that Of the 26,000 British Rowing registered oarsmen and women who raced in 2014, 85% of Women and 71% of men  had fewer than two sweep rowing points and that 90% of both had less than two sculling points. The new system still separates sweep and sculling and gives athletes a Ranking Index for each discipline. Whilst this may be reasonable for the large majority of competitors, who under the old system had less than two points, it is unrealistic at the other end of the scale.

Most successful sweep athletes will, as part of their training, spend time sculling. They may not compete in external heads and regattas, thus picking up ranking points but, by no stretch of the imagination, can they be described as Novice.  I can remember, many years ago, taking a group of oarsmen, all of whom had competed in a Henley Final that year to a late summer regatta weekend and entering and winning almost every sculling event from Novice to Elite. Whilst within the rules, it was perhaps not quite within the spirit of the events. It does however illustrate the need to tie sweep and sculling ranking indexes so as to ensure that the index is a true reflection of an athlete’s ranking in both disciplines.

British Student Rowing

Each year, less than 864 oarsmen and coxes compete in the club and student events at Henley Royal Regatta. If one includes those who do not qualify, the total entering is probably in the order of 1,000 – 1,200. This represents a very small percentage of those who compete in the sport. However this minority are vital to the sport and matter for a number of reasons.

Within the UK only the Oxford and Cambridge Boat races and Henley Royal regatta get any significant media coverage and  even these events get a fraction of the coverage that they used to. Gone are the days when all the broadsheet papers had a Rowing Correspondent.  Henley is therefore, for the moment, the shop front of British Rowing. If you are a potential sponsor, there has to be some kind of payback for the money you might invest in the sport. Henley Royal Regatta would not be the event that it is, if it were not for the clubs and athletes who enter. I doubt the stewards would be very pleased if the standard of the Thames Cup crews dropped to the equivalent of the old IM1 standard. They want to have 32 of the best possible club crews competing and showcasing our sport. So the Oarsmen with more than two points under the old system matter.

Lack of Volunteers

Last year, there was report in the press that the Boy Scout movement in the UK had a waiting list of over 35,000 due to a lack of volunteers. Rowing has a similar issue. Without the club officials, coaches, regatta umpires and other volunteers we will not have a sustainable sport. To run a club, be a coach or umpire requires a degree of experience of the sport at all levels. Therefore long term members matter. Many of the coaches in the successful clubs came from the group that had a long active rowing career. By providing incentives to stay in the sport it can be possible to build up a sound base of volunteers. One has to accept that the pressures of work, families and other commitments often take athletes away from the sport. However we to need to ensure that we are not driving people away before they reach their sell by date.

Whilst one welcomes the competition review, I am not sure that it has truly addressed some of the long term problems and issues facing our sport.

36 thoughts on “British Club Rowing is dying. Can we stop the rot?

  1. Rachel says:

    Some inconsistencies about funding streams. Funding for the elite programmes (international stuff) and club programmes (national level) are totally separate and based on entirely different KPIs. International rowing takes nothing from national rowing in terms of funding. However, UK sport (international) is based on medals whereas Sport England (Club) funding is based on participation numbers (bums on seats). Rowing is not a mass participation sport like cycling (as an example) so does not get the funding. That said, my club has not seen a decline in numbers…far from it. But we need to embrace the fact that society is changing and senior rowers simply cannot commit to what they used to be able to. ‘Normal’ (9-5) people simply cannot train to a level where they can be highly competitive at HRR unless they go part time and fit in the 4-5 hours of training required each day. Rowing in Britain appears to be very healthy but it all depends on how we measure success….if it is merely on how fast people are going then we are excluding the thousands of recreational rowers that clubs are now embracing (or should be if they know whats god for them!)

    • Rebecca Caroe says:

      Rachel – please tell us what your club is doing to attract and retain these enthusiastic members? Other readers will be able to put similar processes in place to aide their own club (if needed).

    • James Joy says:

      This is unfortunate. This is what killed American rowing the take over by the Universities in the 1960s out went the old Waterman’s stroke from Gt. Britain anfd in came the University Theorists with square blade rowing. Sculling went out as well and the rich history from England. from the Pococks.

    • Craig Allely says:

      Some interesting aguments posted over this subject
      Its about a great sport Rowing ,and the competitiveness its breading,and someone says well your getting more support than I am
      The reality is Rowing is competive its about winning races .The sport is competiitive you cannot line up six indivdiuals in a line and tell them that its not competitive the winner takes all.
      The bottom line is I guess if you are in a National Supported Athletic envoiroment and this is what you want to do and you are with like minded individuals you will have a better chance of success .
      If you are not and are not as well resourced then perhaps you will need some reason to keep going .The better things look around your Rowing Club the increased chances of individuals and groups of people feeling better about there time in a Rowing life .My feeling is National Champions should Row for their clubs at National Championships Mahe Drysdale does he is one of the best single scullers the World has every produced . the movie He still rows for the West End Rowing Club where he started I think its been good for the that club because they had already produced three Olympic Gold Medalists .
      So why does a Country with about so little people produce so many winners .The reality is the dream take away from the club
      the media takes over ,and all the self interested people get involved.Unfortunately the bottom line is the you dont support the bottom end of the pyrimid them then the top end suffers.
      I no what I Am talking about I coached Olympic Champions and So Did my father
      Name

      Emailng

    • Craig Allely says:

      Some interesting comments from a number of different points of view.
      What we have now is two distinct sides of Rowing the top of the pyramid and the bottom ,in some countries such as New Zealand and the UK the top of the pyramid is fairing better than the bottom .
      Every club will have a different angle as to what will make them successful
      Traditionally clubs feed the higher level but with the growth of masters rowing there will be less of the type of person that
      goes to the next level.
      Ideally a National Club Championship should be for club crews ,but composite crews negate this in a way ,so success is on a shared basis.Clubs when they get success they may have to share it with another club that essentially they are in competition with.
      The top level gets funding based on success ,the club situation will struggle for support if its not successfull.
      I think overall Richard Phillips is correct and finding a remedy for the problem is complex

  2. Petra Saxby (ex-London Rowing Club squad member '2015-'16' says:

    Hi Richard, I believe you know me well, in fact you were coaching the two men I was out sculling with during a squad session when they accidentally capsized me and you drove off in a launch with them without stopping.
    I was a novice when I joined LRC and was taken on into the squad, by choice, after assessment from your 3x olympic head coach.

    He had assessed my abilities and specifically allowed me to go out sculling alone on tideway stating, ‘you know what you’re doing, you’ve been out at night with us and you know the rules’. He then backtracked some moths later when I brought up the issue of lack of support of women, of all standards, in the club.

    I disagree with you on your comments around people coming into the sport at a later age on two accounts. Firstly, both Helen Glover and Charlotte Taylor were not junior or university rowers and came to the sport in their early/mid 20s, Secondly, there are many people who have attended Learn to Row courses who have gone on to do very well very quickly and you yourselves state on your website in your FAQs on the senior men’s rowing page:

    ‘ I’m worried I might not be experienced enough to row at London.

    Don’t worry. Firstly, anyone can join London. We have a squad system, which allows us to accommodate varying levels of experience. For example, those who haven’t rowed before would join the “Learn2Row” group on a structured course, then continue to row casually until competent enough to join the Senior squad.’

    So what you have just written completely contradicts this.

    Lastly, I grew up doing sport, but I also grew up doing something far more technical and intricate, and I can quite comfortably state that rowing technique does not have to be ingrained for years for someone to get it, and get it very quickly. It is then about honing this, which as your website quite rightly says, can be done over a period of 2 years with commitment. In fact, I would argue that ingrained technique is not necessarily a good thing, as it is always evolving and the sport understanding what actually makes a boat go faster, and it is the largest reason I love the sport, because of the technical, and also physical challenge.

    From my experience London Rowing Club does not do enough to warrant state funding, in supporting already current athletes of all ages/standards from novice to masters, and also in your refusal to support women.

    Just my tuppence worth from an outsider who doesn’t ‘get’ rowing.

  3. Petra Saxby says:

    I would also add that club rowing is actually in rude health and overly subscribed, due to the Olympics. British Rowing and Sport England could easily capitalise on this and provide clubs willing to provide resources the funding to do so. I am a big believer that this is a sport which can provide a platform for people of all ages and backgrounds to achieve in at all levels if you just provide the resources.

  4. Petra Saxby says:

    It is in fact precisely this elitist attitude that only a few can attain any decent standard in rowing if they come from a background where only a narrow group of people have access to rowing, that you can achieve.

  5. Ash says:

    An interesting read. I admit I do not know the full workings of the funding systems in place from Sport England, British Rowing and their like, however from my perspective as a masters rower at a club that regularly produces GB crew members the funding system is both a blessing and curse.
    Great a chance for more money into the club, however the reality is that if you are not in a group that attracts funding then you have to fend for yourself.

    • Petra Saxby says:

      Ash – Sport England is for participation funding (rowing for all), UK Sport is for national squad funding (elite)

  6. Nigel van Zwanenberg says:

    where are the data that might (or might not) support these musings and particularly the headline claim? – and maybe data which is a bit more representative than the entry numbers to a couple of random years of HORR

  7. Neil smith says:

    I am struggling to accept this article as it is written by a guy called Richard who is a member from London RC, they have had their membership numbers bottom out in recent years (it was the talking point of the tideway a few years ago). I think I even remember seeing some advertisement for cheap rent in the LRC flats to entice rowers to the club. I also find it hard to believe that club numbers can be connected to the Eights Head entries. Without any written research by the person who wrote this it would be hard to deny that the eights head has had it’s challenges with weather over the last decade, my assumption would be that a big % of the lower entries is because of frugal rowers who don’t want to risk traveling to an event and know if they will be able to race due to cancellation. When you look at all the logistics involved in traveling to this event, including where to park (and park your trailer), if you should stay or travel back home from London, it is pretty easy to understand why clubs don’t want to risk sitting on the water for a long time in the cold for their race number to come up and with the risk of cancellation. The event is almost a victim of it’s own success, too many crews, no where to move and long wait times no matter where you are getting on the water. Not my idea of a good time, except when you do actually get to the point that are racing.

    I remember in 2000 Thames Rowing Club was basically a women’s club, with a very small men’s squad who were mainly sculling. Now Thames probably has more men in their active squad than London RC. So are national club numbers actually down or are some/all clubs just going through the normal wave of numbers up/down?

    You are never going to get huge numbers at elite level club rowing, most people have jobs/family and will only commit at that level for a short period of time. If numbers are down at the elite level is this just a wave, like what all clubs go through in regards to performance or is there actual evidence on numbers that elite level entries are down for a period?

    So last question is this a click bate article from someone from LRC/Rowperfect or is there other evidence that club numbers are down? Apart from some very good points there is not any % research involved in this article.

    • Rebecca Caroe says:

      Neil – if you follow Rowperfect’s news blog, you will understand that this is not click bait. We work hard to help the rowing community have the discussions the sport needs. We don’t always agree (as you demonstrate) and so by providing the platform for discussion we believe we are helping the sport to continue to develop and grow.

      You will note that it’s a “guest article” which means we didn’t write it. I will ask Richard if there’s any research data to back up his points.

    • Petra Saxby says:

      Hi Neil

      No, I think LRC are lobbying for state funding, which should be point blank refused. There is a reason their numbers are low.

  8. Peter says:

    Observation: Lightweight and Efficient equipment means rowing has become and is accessible by very lightweight people, e.g. teenage girls, dramatically expanding the addressable base, further democratising the sport, and as an example with,Women’s Henley, WHORR, and Women’s Boat Race there exist a growing number of pathways for amateurs to achieve their realistic potential.

  9. Lubo Kisiov says:

    Rebecca, you nailed it .
    This problem is not only in UK but all over the World.
    I think that rowing has to change a lot to become more attractive to young people and adults as well as to TV and sponsors.
    We are training a lot and racing not that much, and our races are boring to the general public.
    We need more action during racing for the general public so they could pay attention to rowing and ask to try it.
    If we go to a shorter distance racing (500m or 1000m), things will change for us.
    I just open a huge new topic.

    I believe that after 2020 Olympics, we will no longer have lwt rowing events and soon after that we’ll have to move to a shorter distance racing.
    We have to be ready to change a lot if we want to make our sport wanted.

    Best regards.
    Lubo

    • Petra Saxby says:

      Hi Lubo

      Interesting comment there. I work in broadcasting and TV, I’ve also been an avid fan of sports like Tennis (which I play occasionally), and also motorsport (which I don’t play at all 🙂 ) all because of TV. I’ve had this conversation with a very prominent person in rowing and my response was ‘if two people hitting a ball back and fourth can become so popular, why not rowing?’, which I find a great sport to watch and have been watching it since childhood and is part of the reason I took up the sport in later life.
      Tennis has had years to develop an audience and you have to start somewhere. I would say a bigger audience can be developed from the major events and championships around the world, there just has to be an appetite within the sport to do this and appeal to a wider audience.

      • Rebecca Caroe says:

        Petra – I hear that the BBC neglected to showcase the excellent rowing from the Thames pageant and Gloriana as part of the preamble to the Boat Race. Seems your influence could be usefully employed lobbying the producers there.

        • Petra Saxby says:

          Hi Rebecca

          I don’t think it’s TV that needs convincing. When hasn’t TV gone mad over a bit of pageantry! I think the sport thinks too small, which is why it doesn’t grow. Look at golf, that has a much bigger reach because it thinks outside of the club life, even though it could still do better on the inclusivity front. What happened to entrepreneurialism in sport? Which is exactly the issue, because apparently money corrupts sport. That couldn’t be further from the truth. People corrupt sport. Look at the Olympic athletes who dedicate years to a sport and can’t get a mortgage because their grant isn’t considered income. I honestly think being an athlete should be a profession, not a vocation. I also think this approach would enable more athletes to transition from Sport into a different career, if they so choose. A bit if a broad topic I know, but it all ties in together. If rowing wanted the attention and the extra interest it would go after it, it doesn’t.

        • Petra Saxby says:

          They also don’t need help from the likes of me, why just last summer LRC got themselves an interview with BBC sport to promote the club. They’re more than well connected enough to make it happen themselves.

    • Rebecca Caroe says:

      Thanks Lubo – and what a shame it’s a worldwide problem.

      I note that Cycling worked hard to ‘reinvent’ itself with new formats and has done well broadening appeal. By contrast, Guin Batten (who I interviewed in RowingChat) has started work on a new format of Beach Rowing. This has the benefit of being easy to enter, the regatta provides the equipment, and the race format has uncertainty built in so the result isn’t a foregone conclusion after the semi finals.

  10. Stephen Walker says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    What a great summary of the current situation. Well done. I agree with much of what you have written. I too was alarmed to hear of the reduced entry to the HORR this year. That is a clear indicator.

    Then there is the effect of demographics. Looking through most regatta and head race programmes you can see significant entries in the older masters age groups where the post war baby boomers are. And hardly any entries in the younger masters age groups. Many of the younger ones are in denial about being old enough to be masters and continue to race, and do well, in senior events.
    Universities now abound and 50% of the population now studies for degrees. It was 5% in my day!

    BUCS success is a big factor. Students now regularly go on training camps at Easter and focus on BUCS as their main event before turning their attention to exams, apart from the few dedicated ones who are aiming at Henley regattas. And clubs hardly have any members of student age because they are mostly at Uni. But we have to get away from the crazy situation where a crew can beat 75 others and yet not win their novices. The same applies really to bumps races at Oxbridge. After three or more years of that one is clearly no longer a novice.

    I don’t think that regattas need to be classified per se. They can be self classified, event by event, simply by taking into account the number of competitors. If there is a big entry the event is worth more than if there is a small entry. I think that is what the new system has set out to try and achieve, I believe.

    However, if people persist in trying to manipulate their status by not entering events then it will not work. When I was young everybody wanted to become elite. Nobody thought to try and hold down their status. And people were accused of pot hunting if they entered events that were clearly beneath their abilities. How things have changed.

    I agree that there should be a link between sculling status and sweep and the two should never be allowed to get too far apart. Personally I spent a whole season as a novice sculler getting to finals and semifinals and at the last regatta of the year I reckoned I could beat everybody there except for one guy that I didn’t know anything about. He turned out to be an elite sweeper who had just stepped out of his Henley crew and had spent the summer sculling. Needless to say he beat me. Ever since then I have held a deep conviction that Novice events should be for beginners, possibly restricting them to people in their first year of sweep or their first year of sculling.

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  11. Peter says:

    Observation: Lightweight and Efficient equipment has opened the sport to lightweight teenagers – expanding and democratising the sport – and creating a base from which young people can achieve their practical potential, e.g. WHORR, Women’s Henley, Women’s Boat Race, etc.

    • Rebecca Caroe says:

      Good point, Peter. do you think womens rowing is still growing while mens is shrinking in the UK?

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  13. Chris Kenyon says:

    I wonder if the reduction in entries in what we in the provinces tend to refer to as “The Tideway Head” can be attributed to factors other than a “crisis in club rowing”? Like many club rowers I have over the years taken part in numerous Tideway Heads – my first in 1960. As a young person it was an adventure, later on it was a great boys weekend out but in recent years, with seemingly regular weather related cancellations, it has become an expensive (time and cost) gamble and as a result lost its attraction. It would be an interesting exercise to see if the reduction in entries is in direct proportion to the distance clubs have to travel.. I would suggest that an increasing number of the more far flung provincial clubs now prefer to support other significant Heads nearer to home.

    I suggest that club rowing is flourishing but not in the way in which we have previously defined “flourishing”. It is not so long ago that we believed that a flourishing club was one that won the most pots. Now it must be judged on the number and variety of participants. Yes there are still the senior racers – not as many as before – but there are lots of juniors, vastly more women, many veterans and a growing and significant number of recreationals.

    Nearly 60 years ago my school coach told us that “rowing should be fun”. If you ask people why they do a particular sport I bet the answer in most cases is that they enjoy it, it is fun. We need to make sure that rowing is fun and these days we have to recognise that rowing fun involves many other things than crossing the line first on HRR Sunday or winning gold medals at Nat Champs.

    Certainly there is no room for complacency but let us not lose sight of the fact that participants in our sport have a much wider spectrum of opportunities than were available in the not too distant past.

  14. Rachel says:

    Speaking anecdotally here – this statement purely relates to my feelings and experience within the sport.

    I can definitely relate to one part of this article – the glass ceiling, and quitting prematurely because you see nothing to aim for.
    I quit rowing at the age of 24 after six glorious years, because I got more satisfaction in running, cycling, triathlon etc. – and in being able to take on a bigger challenge each year.

    If certain issues were seriously addressed I would return to rowing in a flash as the sport is much more enjoyable and there’s a greater reward to be had in training together as a team. I chose a club that was excellent in its support of women’s rowing. I enjoyed volunteering, coaching, maintenance, travelling. However, I still perceive there to be a system that is counterintuitively withdrawing support for lightweight rowing when it should have been developing it (my natural size is not a disadvantage and not actively discriminated against in other sports). I still fail to understand why this strategy has been adopted on a national and global level – it doesn’t do much to widen opportunity or address the coaching bias you see in some clubs (IMO a big part of why lwt events are undersubscribed).
    My specific experience relates to lwt rowing but I see parallels with other rowers’ experiences too.

    I had not much to aim for after winning the main domestic regattas (I won’t make a national squad, and especially when it consists of 2 lightweight women in the whole country). I want to develop as a lifelong athlete, not stay treading water.

    Yes, I do see rowing dying, and yes I do think it is entirely preventable. I love rowing but I can no longer be bothered with the lack of foresight and personal opportunity.

  15. ellie says:

    I’m a women’s vice captain at a large club in the East of England, and my personal experience is that women’s rowing continues to grow in the right direction. I think that Henley Women’s is able to provide appropriate statuses of competition which mean that people are competing against others on a reasonably level playing field, and so have a good end of season racing target. The intermediate categories all seem to do a good job of providing appropriate competition, and separating club and academic also does that. For rowers who aren’t able to perform at the HWR level, there are plenty of other races throughout the summer season that they can aim for.

    I think in men’s rowing, however, because HRR is seen as the main focus for many dedicated club rowers, the standard of the competition and eligibility criteria of events mean that being fast enough to win or even get through 2 rounds require outstanding talent. There’s of course nothing wrong with needing to be talented to win, but it does mean that serious male rowers don’t have A Big Thing to aim for where performing well is a genuine possibility.

    Yes, there are the Dorneys in the run-up, but when all that matters to many male rowers is how they get on at HRR, it can be quite demotivating. I’ve seen many leave the sport, and my men’s counterpart at my club is considering doing so, because they feel that they aren’t getting the results and satisfaction for all of the training that they put in.

    What I think British Rowing really could do with doing is considering what to do with Brit Champs to potentially have a way to address this issue. Moving it back to July (I’m not sure why it was moved to October?) when people have actually been training together, and making it A Big Deal to win it has, I think, the potential to be a game changer. The introduction this year of club pennants which aren’t open to clubs with HP centres was a great idea.

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  17. Steve Dance says:

    Some great reflections on the current situation in the sport at “club” level. – Good to see the subjects raised and debated.

    The international GB team is a brilliant and excellent flagship for rowing in the UK attracting many to try the sport!
    Most clubs seem to struggle to cope with this demand – i.e. they have waiting lists and in many areas there is a greater demand to try rowing than there is capacity for amateur volunteers to manage!
    Its is also great to see the GB internationals and aspirants racing at the British Rowing Champs (now in October) but sad to see the loss of what was a “Club Level ” National Champs that used to be held in July.
    The difference between “full time funded professional ” vs “club level amateur ” rowing/sculling is very significant! This difference is clearly needed to compete and win at the international level; however we do need to continue to develop ways for Club level rowers and scullers to continue to race and train throughout their “rowing careers” .
    Other sports do it – we should be able to!

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