Yesterday cheers went up not only from the packed crowds along the river bank, but from sport equality supporters around the country. At 4:50pm two crews, one from Oxford and one from Cambridge, jumped in their boats and took to the water to row the four mile 374 yard iconic route down the Thames from Putney to Chiswick Bridge. The same thing has happened year in year out for over 150 years, however this time there was one key difference – the uni students in the boats were women. For the first time since 1927 women were able to row the same course as the men, on the same day, with the same television coverage.
Prior to 2015 the women’s Oxbridge varsity race took place over a much shorter course out in Henley, with very little media coverage and people generally not really knowing it was happening unless you were a) in the boats themselves b) out walking your dog along the riverside as the race started. I’m not too sure why it’s taken nearly 100 years to convince the race organisers to make the women’s race on a par with the men’s. Maybe they thought that the women’s weak lady arms would not be able to cover such a distance, despite the insane number of hours training in all weather put in by these girls. Or maybe they worried that one of the team may be distracted by an onlooker’s fabulous shoes and steer off course, regardless of the fact women have been rowing at the Olympics and on the world circuit for many years without any fashion distraction disasters. Otherwise it could have been a fear that having that many girls in one boat would lead to synchronised periods and that the pressure of being more visible to the public whilst hormonally unbalanced would just lead to a crew of uncontrollably weeping women, again not taking into account the whole Olympics/world championships etc and the sheer mental strength and determination it takes to row at Blues level. Your guess as to the lack of equality up until this point is as good as mine really, but the more I think about it the angrier I get.
So instead we will celebrate this achievement, driven through by Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment Management and Clare Balding (all round favourite person). Of course it shouldn’t be an achievement really that in our modern society a group of sportswomen are finally on an equal billing with their male counterparts, however such is the media and social landscape we live in so we have to take a victory where we can.
This milestone in women’s sport has led not only to an increase in interest for funding the women’s teams due to the exposure, but also to an increase in women wanting to take up rowing. Yesterday saw women grit their teeth, fight through the pain and complete the same race as the men in a pretty similar time. It wasn’t a stellar race as far as the actual competition went with favourites Oxford storming to a six and a half length victory over Cambridge in 19 minutes 45, but the mark it will make in the sports equality history books will more than make up for that.
Images from the Guardian (thanks!)