Major changes made to Boat Race

The Women’s Boat Race will move to the same day and be given parity with the men’s competition from 2015 after landmark changes were announced to the competition on Wednesday.

The historic step, which organisers hope will breathe new life into the 157-year old event, will see the female Oxford-Cambridge clash move forward a week to within an hour of the men’s race where it will follow the same Tideway course down the Thames and be televised live on BBC TV.

Traditionally the Women’s Boat Race is held at Henley a week or two before the world-famous Boat Race, which will soon become known as The Boat Races. Henley will continue to host the lightweight men’s and women’s divisions, as well as the women’s reserve boats, Osiris and Blondie.

Natalie Redgrave, a member of last years victorious Blues crew and daughter of Olympic legend Sir Steve, said: “It’s a great deal and everyone’s really pleased. But the Boat Club’s got a long way to go to close standards between the two clubs.

“It’ll be a bit strange with the Blues and reserve crews not racing on the same day but it’ll make us push harder to get in the Blue boat and get to row on the Tideway. However, we’ll be putting lots of effort into making sure the Henley event is still a big day.”

The difference in dates between the women’s first and reserve boat races has caused concern with some rowers because the final crews are usually chosen just weeks before the event and rowers for both follow a similar training schedule, which will have to change. Currently the men’s Blue Boat and reserve Isis crew race on the same day over the same Putney to Mortlake [Tideway] course on the Thames.

David Searle from Boat Race Company Ltd said: “It is true that the fact that the women’s UWBC’s will have to adapt their crews’ training to accommodate the 4.25 miles of the Championship Course and the 2,000 metres at Henley. They have a couple of years to work out how to do that: crew selection may have to be made earlier than may have been the case in the past, the second crew will have to switch their training to sharpen up for the shorter distance at Henley. These are not insurmountable problems and they have two years in which to consider them.”

Women have competed on the Tideway course since 1981 as coxes but never with the oar in hand. Current arrangements will remain in place for the next three races and the changes will begin from 2015.

The announcement came as BNY Mellon were revealed as the new sponsors of the Boat Race from May, replacing Xchanging, who have been title sponsor since 2005. Newton, a BNY Mellon company, will continue to sponsor the Women’s Boat Club under a new five year agreement. Newton’s CEO Helena Morrissey is known for her views on boardroom gender equality.

Sir Matthew Pinsent, a former President of Oxford University Boat Club, was present at the press conference unveiling and said: “I rowed the race 20 years ago and it’s great to see the Race, the crews and the spectacle go from strength to strength. I know that it’s a stated goal for BNY Mellon and Newton to bring the women’s race to London, which is a fantastic development and challenge for both University Women’s Boat Clubs. They will be a worthy part of the London race and a big addition to the event.”

Other recently created Varsity boat races, in Newcastle, Manchester and Scotland, already give parity to women’s crews.

Somerville College rower Sarah Billingsley said: “Women train as hard as men and it’s only fair they should be represented on par with them. They row very differently and may not be as fast but it’s still as entertaining to watch. This move is good for women as it shows they’re not inferior to men, especially in an Olympic year.”

Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor Prof Andrew Hamilton also hailed the plans: “The enormous dedication shown by our student crews in the face of demanding academic programmes is inspiring and brings a real sense of collective pride to our university. We are delighted to welcome BNY Mellon to the Varsity family, especially as it features the continued sponsorship of the Women’s race by Newton and the very exciting move to the Tideway for the women in future years. Oxford and Cambridge strive to be world class in all that we undertake, mixing heritage with cutting edge innovation.”

This year’s men’s Boat Race will take place on 7th April while The Henley Boat Races are on 25th March.