Rowing: girl power!

On Saturday May 11, history was made when the men’s and women’s Cambridge and Oxford University Boat Race were held on the same day, both rowing the same course. Not only that, but 90 years since the first-ever women’s race and both squads finally received the same television coverage and sponsorship funding, too. A momentous occasion but one that is long overdue I’m sure most of us would agree.

I never properly considered the gender bias in sport and the ideology of male superiority until recently but clearly it’s always been there. You only have to look at televised sport to see how male dominated it is – football, rugby, golf, cricket, cycling – all major tournaments always focusing on the male competitors.

I guess, without even thinking about it, I’ve always considered women as equal when it comes to sport. When I was at primary school my older sister was a fantastic footballer, who actually ended up being selected to play for the boys A team. Growing up, my sister and I both took part in martial arts, and she regularly kicked my butt. And today, my fiancé is a competitive rower who trains as regularly (and as hard, if not harder) as I do. I’m lucky in that sense – because she’s as devoted to the sport as I am, it makes things a lot easier when it comes to our relationship. We both understand the commitment levels, and we never question each other when it comes to the time we spend apart out on the water. But it was during last year’s rowing season that the gender bias really struck a chord.

I’d witnessed the huge amount of training and hard work my fiancé and her sister had put into rowing in a pair together pre-season, and I’d watched each race as they dominated their division and were victorious on a number of occasions, only to find that their event was not a championship (unlike the male equivalent) and that they would not receive a trophy for any of the races they’d won. I think I was probably more disappointed than they were, but still it just goes to show how widespread the bias is.

So it meant a lot to her, to me, and to rowers everywhere that the women’s boat race was held on the same day as the men’s. The BBC produced a short video entitled Boat Races 2015: The story of the women’s race that showed how much it meant to those directly linked to the race, with some emotional testimonials. It’s worth a watch if it’s something you’re interested in (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rowing/32230707?fb_ref=Default).

And does this mark a shift that will continue throughout sport in general? Perhaps not at the highest level, but I’m pleased to say that the women’s event my fiancé raced in last season has now officially been made a championship event by the Hants & Dorset Amateur Rowing Association from the 2015 season onwards. And seeing as her and her sister will be competing once again after another hard winter of training, I’ve already put up the shelf ready for the silverware.

Of course there will always be a degree of separation between the sexes for obvious reasons (even though there are a number of mixed gender races we have throughout our own rowing season) but hopefully the boat race will inspire more women to get involved in rowing. And if more sports recognise our female competitors and offer them equal coverage, it might inspire a whole generation of women to take up a sport they never would have considered until they see someone just like them competing on TV.


If you’re interested in giving rowing a try, don’t miss Westover & Bournemouth Rowing Club’s ‘Learn to Row’ course taking place on Saturday April 25 at Hengistbury Head Outdoor Centre. Email admin@wbrc.co.uk for details.






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Dominic Brancaleone

Dominic Brancaleone

Dom completed a BA (Hons) degree in Arts & Media and gained a number of professional credits working on film and TV productions before heading to Bournemouth to complete a screenwriting Masters degree. Now he spends most of his time rowing and producing video content for national and international brands.

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