Henley Womens Regatta – how to improve it?

I’m a male rower, my girlfriend is a rower, and she trains just as hard as I do. Just because the strength of depth of her opposition is lesser doesn’t demean her efforts. But she feels, as I do, that the comedy display of the qualification races tomorrow morning doesn’t do anything to improve the situation.

Yes, we all know that women’s rowing isn’t as strong as men’s rowing. But I feel that Henley Women’s Regatta actually makes the standard worse. Whilst Henley Royal isn’t perfect, and the bottom end of the Wyfold, Brit and Thames can be fairly poor, the standard is still much higher than what you can see in the last-16 races at Henley Women’s in the IC and IA 4s and 8s.

The number of events is also much higher, particularly so given the number of people participating in women’s rowing compared to men’s rowing. I have no figures but I reckon it’s about 2:1. However there are 16 events for men at HRR, and 26 events at HWR. On that basis it’s about 3 times ‘easier’ to win a HWR medal than a HRR one, and that’s not even taking account that the ‘Elite’ events are only in reality ‘Ladies Plate’ standard in their entry, even though they are Open events similar to the ‘Grand’ in their entry criteria.

I think the points rules and other entry limitations (WeHORR results, Nat Champs results, etc) weaken women’s rowing, forcing coaches to make difficult decisions and play ‘points limbo’ to get into Intermediate events, and having some of their best club athletes, who are good but by no means ‘Ladies Plate’ standard oarswomen, sitting on the sidelines or forced to race U23s or Varsity crews, rather than racing in a ‘Thames’ standard event. These athletes then retire, wanting to race but unable to find opposition as they are avoiding racing and picking up points. These athletes want to achieve something similar in credibility to a Thames Cup win, but are barred from doing so having not even reached anywhere near that standard.

HWR has its own character. It is more informal that HRR, and I like that. It isn’t blazerati, it’s a nice regatta by the river. But if it wants to be the pinnacle of women’s rowing in the UK it needs to change in my view.

My proposed changes:

  • In reality, ‘Elite’ is Ladies Plate standard, and Senior is below Thames Cup standard. Intermediate is, frankly, a joke, and should be dispensed with.
  • Have Elite 8, 4-, 4x, 2-, 2x and 1x events
  • Have Elite Lightweight 2x and 1x events only
  • Have ‘Senior’ 8, 4- and 4+ events with qualification rules in line with the Thames Cup
  • Have ‘Academic’ 8, 4- and 4+ events with qualification rules in line with the Temple
  • Have combined senior and academic events, at the same standard of the above two events, in 4x, 2-, 2x and 1x.
  • Have the range of Junior events currently offered, these do not detract from the standard of the senior events of the regatta.

Anyone got any thoughts on this?

[This discussion started on Talk Rowing]
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4 thoughts on “Henley Womens Regatta – how to improve it?

  1. Caroline Gooch says:

    Good suggestions. I also can’t understand the reluctance to bring in a minimum points requirement for Henley Women’s. It’s the presence of maximum points cut-offs, but no mimumum that causes this points limbo and it’s incredibly detrimental to women’s rowing. A minimum points requirement means you have to get out and race, it also means you can dispense with qualifying races because effectively you are using the domestic regatta circuit as the qualifier.

    • Rebecca Caroe says:

      Caroline – you make a great point here. I’ve always thought that would be a good way to improve the “incentive to race”. It’s frustrating to see crews NOT entering regattas in order to avoid gaining points – frankly, why race at all if that’s your attitude!

  2. Matt Stallard says:

    The Competition committee of British Rowing have been complaining of the Limbo system for at least 5 years. I think single handed HWR has killed off womens senior status rowing by this means as nobody is willing to increase their points load. We introduced top-up for winners and double points for large entry winners, but this only affects a very few crews. Of course HWR should go onto a HRR system that is above points. The committee’s starting point was that the definition of Senior status was Henley entry.

    • Rebecca Caroe says:

      Matt – thanks that is very interesting. Are you on the competition committee?

      I question one of your statements. Are you certain that a ‘system that is above points’ will serve UK womens rowing well? I’m guessing that readers realise “Henley Entry” for HWR and HRR are not the same standard? I have three HWR medals and was once a losing finalist at HRR…. I think this reflects the difference in standard between the two regattas. HRR winners in womens events are international quality IMO.

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