Millions will watch as Boat Race is re-branded as ‘world-class event’
Here’s the schedule of events for today’s Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race:
2011 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race Day Schedule
14:55 River Thames Closure
15:05 ISIS Goldie Toss
15:15 The Boat Race Toss
15:42 Isis Boat Race
15:45 BBC TV goes live
15:47 Goldie Boat Race
15:50 Oxbridge Waterman’s Challenge
16:30 Isis Goldie Race
17:00 The Xchanging Boat Race
In terms of sheer weight of numbers, the biggest attraction of a busy sporting Saturday takes place tomorrow afternoon, not in Cardiff or Colombo, but on a suburban stretch of the River Thames between Putney and Mortlake.
The 157th Varsity Boat Race, an event competed for by amateurs at several rungs below world class level, will once again attract six million UK TV viewers, with 250,000 watching from the river bank and a further multitude tuning in via BBC website streaming and TV coverage in over 200 countries.
At last week’s weigh-in at City Hall the London mayor Boris Johnson described the student race as “a world-class sporting event that is huge for London”. He seems to be at least half right. Part nostalgia pageant, part emerging talent showcase, the Boat Race has in the last two years made a visible effort to reposition itself as a high-end London heritage event.
Selling it has been the lot of Boat Race Ltd, the company responsible for dragging this unique sporting “property” — an unavoidably class-bound two-horse race — into the modern world of high-end revenue raking. “It really is a part of London’s history,” says David Searle, the company’s executive director. “The mayor has been incredibly supportive. He’s there to promote London as a centre of all things and the Boat Race is considered one of the top 10 annual events in London.”
Menaced by the loss of its ITV rights deal two years ago, the race has since promoted itself aggressively and is now brought to you by title sponsor Xchanging, plus a slew of commercial partners. Despite all of this Boat Race Ltd maintain the race is still financially under-geared. “Running it is very expensive,” Searle says. “We pay the clubs [Oxford and Cambridge] to turn up and row. That’s very expensive. There’s travel and coaching for teams. We don’t get any money at all from the colleges.”
If the Boat Race has perhaps been more energetically sold, paradoxically today’s race is one of the more parochial of recent years. The race is often maligned as a sub-standard event. This is perhaps unfair: with the national squads yet to be formed, and thanks to the unusual intensity of Varsity race training, these are still currently the two finest eights in the country. On the other hand, with London 2012 now officially looming the pool of available talent is at a four yearly low. Currently the priority for potential Olympians is national competition. Hence the unusual absence of jobbing overseas rowers in today’s field; 13 out of the 18 competitors are British with just one American.
On the plus side both of today’s eights are unusually well-stocked with young British talent, including six undergraduates whose chief rowing experience has come through their colleges. Cambridge are fancied by many to repeat last year’s triumph. They are the heavier eight, by 13 kilos, and also the more experienced, with four previous rowing Blues. But even in the light blue boat there is a fresh-faced tinge. Cambridge’s Dan Rix-Standing didn’t even try out for the race last year. There is also undergraduate colour: David Nelson, an Australian economics student, likes to hunt crocodiles in his spare time back home in Brisbane.
In the Oxford boat the teenage old Etonian Constantine Louloudis is flagged up as one to watch. Dark Blue cox Simon Hislop, a 26-year-old testicular cancer survivor and a campaigner for awareness of the disease provides the most heartening story of a race that, true to its own branding as an annual rite of spring, seems set to take place on an unusually placid River Thames.