British Rowing Champs: ‘we need to try something new’

At a meeting on 26th November, Council congratulated the British Rowing Championships working party on its proposals to restore the status of the Championship as the premier event in the British Rowing calendar. Improving the racing experience for all, encouraging a greater range of entries, and showcasing the sport. These were the challenges the group set out to tackle, and Council gave full support to the view of the working party that they could not be resolved by ‘tinkering around the edges’.

The working party explains the processes it went through and the reasons behind the proposed changes to the British Rowing Championships. This was a considered decision, and there has been discussion and consultation – both now and in the recent past – with both staff and volunteer-based groups within British Rowing.

1) What we have done?

We started with a consultation/discussion process that involved;

  • Setting up a working group of predominantly volunteers with an extensive range of expertise across the sport to explore if change was needed and, if so, what to do.
  • The previous Competition Review conducted a thorough evaluation with clubs, athletes and coaches across the country – the working group considered the outcomes of this substantial piece of work and reflected the desired outcomes for Elite athletes in the proposals.
  • A Consultation Meeting was held at the British Rowing Conference – attended by coaches, BUCS, BR reps, regional and div reps and others. The key point we took from this was “we need to try something – the existing system doesn’t work”. Those present gave us a clear message that they wanted a top-class club event, and accepted that the current date couldn’t achieve their objective. The date had to change.
  • We looked at models from other countries as asked by Council, and took them into consideration in our proposals.
  • We sought the views of members of the BR Council including regional reps.
  • We considered the outcomes of the discussion and consultation undertaken by the Coaching and Junior commissions.
  • We consulted with the head of BUCS.
  • We discussed the proposals with the Welsh Rowing and Scottish Rowing reps on the BRC committee.
  • We consulted with national and international staff at British Rowing.
  • We gathered feedback from a number of clubs including some of the larger clubs who are not attending the event at present.

We hope this shows that we have done a considerable amount of consultation. We accept we could have done a wider consultation with clubs, but we have seen that the outcomes of the previous review are still valid and we are under a certain degree of time pressure if we want to make these changes in 2012 (see below for our explanation for a change in 2012).

2) The rationale for change and our key objectives

Our aim was simple; improve race quality and increase the opportunities to race.

The BRC committee is excellent and runs a smooth and efficient event, but it is hindered by the date and format of racing – which currently offers almost 70 events. With the exception of J16 events and younger, we have the difficult situation where winners at the BRCs are not necessarily the fastest crews in the country as our international, university and top club athletes are sometimes not able to compete at the event.

The timing of the event creates a problem, and the Championship has lost its identity following on so soon after Henley Royal Regatta and Henley Women’s Regatta. This has meant that, although the junior events are thriving, the senior events are slowly losing their relevance and diminishing entries over recent years (coupled with ever rising costs) means that the event is under threat of further decline.

The J16 and younger events have been a great success so it was decided to leave them alone and focus on improving the senior and J18 events only. The J16 and younger events will stay on the same date and location as before, with their own dedicated event.

So what for the rest? From all our consultation work came a series of options that can be broken down into three distinct groups;

  • To stay as we are
  • Move the event to the end of May or early June
  • Move the event to later in the season – October

To stay as we are was the conclusion of the last review and – despite a lot of hard work from the event committee – it has had little effect itself, so there was universal support for a more radical change.

If we opted to move the Championships to earlier in the season we would be trying to squeeze in yet another regatta into an already busy period and upset those events that are established already in June if we ask them to consider moving their dates. Secondly, although, yes, we would be pre-Henley, this would remain the primary focus for most clubs and would only work if HRR made it a requirement that crews had to enter the British Rowing Championships as part of the HRR qualification. However, this would then be the main reason for crews entering rather than the Championships having our own identity. We would also still be excluding internationals, universities and J18’s (who would be taking exams at that time).

Therefore crews will potentially enter to gain qualification at HRR, rather than the championships having their own identity.

The third option is to move the event later. We would be extending the racing season and essentially become the grand finale to the season. We do acknowledge that this requires a change of traditional training patterns for clubs, but there is nothing to say that physically fit people cannot compete through into October, it is just not what we are currently used to. Universities and J18’s could participate as the academic term will be underway and it will provide a good incentive for them to get into training. October also dovetails in with the International year for those aspiring to higher levels, and those who have been in the squad that year will be able to race for their clubs as they do at the HORR. This would support development in the clubs and link domestic rowing to the selection process as happens in other countries, e.g. NZL, GER and AUS. We know it does not fit in with our traditional training patterns, but October is the only date where we can include everyone.

2012 will be an experimental year when we trial the revised format. This will then be developed further following the Championships for implementation in 2013.

Why so soon? During the consultation process we were getting universal support for the October move. The original plan was to start in 2013 but then if we are looking at a bold new change then why not next year after the Olympics? Showcase the changes in what we are sure will be a ‘golden’ year with a one off move to Dorney (before the event returns to HPP and Strathclyde as before). There is a commercial motive to doing this for 2012, as the event needs a sponsor and we feel this maximises our chances of achieving that.

3) Your concerns

We have heard many concerns in the last few days and we want to answer all of those. Here are some answers to the main themes of feedback we have heard so far –

Lack of consultation with clubs
We know we have not done as much consultation as the last event review, but we hope you can see from the above that we have gone into considerable depth when developing these plans.

Pointless clubs racing against internationals
Our aim is to increase standards at the championships, but we do understand clubs’ concerns that international crews will dominate the event. Therefore, we will limit the number of squad members per crew, to promote competition.

Other events suffer when we change date
Any change of date was going to cause a clash, but we are going to do our best to minimise that and we are looking closely at other events’ entries to make sure we have as little an impact as possible.

What happens to J18s in 2012?
J18s in July will not be in October, so we know we have a problem to work round here. We have a number of solutions we are working through which we are consulting about.

2012 is an experimental year. We know this is a huge change however there has been much discussion about the quality of racing at the event over many years. We were asked to raise the standard and improve the quality of racing for you, the rowers. We think this change will be positive and enable us to achieve the key objective, but we are equally sure that we will need to refine things in coming years, so we want to hear your views.

Please e-mail us directly at [email protected]

Fiona Dennis, Chairman of the Working Party

Jim Harlow, Chairman British Rowing Championships