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 Fours
- Women’s Pairs
- 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…..